Chapters 36-38 Summary and Analysis
Jane wakes up the next morning and makes preparations to go away for a short while. St. John slips a note under her door entreating her to resist temptation and informing her that he will expect a formal answer to his proposal when he returns in a week. Jane thinks about the mysterious voice from the night before and wonders whether it really could have been Mr. Rochester. After St. John leaves, Jane bids Diana and Mary farewell, telling them that she is traveling to see a friend, and boards a coach for Thornfield. As she travels, Jane thinks about how much her circumstances have changed from when she first fled Thornfield. Once the coach draws near Thornfield, Jane exits and sets out on foot, eager to catch a glimpse of the hall. As she finally reaches her destination, she is horrified to see that the house is nothing more than “a blackened ruin.” Jane travels to the local inn and strikes up a conversation with the host in an effort to learn what transpired at Thornfield since she left. The host tells her that the fire was started when Grace Poole drank too much, giving Bertha the opportunity to escape the attic. The host, unaware of who Jane is, tells her that Mr. Rochester had fallen in love with a governess and that after the governess left Thornfield, Mr. Rochester shut himself up in the house, completely desolate. It was during this time that Bertha escaped and set the bed of the former governess on fire. The host says that Mr. Rochester took great pains to make sure all of the servants escaped the raging fire safely and finally went up to the roof in an attempt to save Bertha. Despite Mr. Rochester’s pleas, Bertha jumped from the roof and died. On his way out of the burning building, Mr. Rochester was struck by a falling beam as the hall collapsed. Though he was recovered from the ruins alive, he lost his hand and was blinded. The host reveals that Mr. Rochester now lives in his isolated manor house, Ferndean, with two servants. Jane immediately orders a carriage to take her to Ferndean.
Jane arrives at Ferndean and spies Mr. Rochester from afar. She realizes that he is indeed blind, and though his body looks the same, he now has a desperate and brooding expression. Once Mr. Rochester goes back inside the house, Jane knocks and speaks to Mary and John, Mr. Rochester’s servants. She tells them she plans to stay the night and asks that they tell Mr. Rochester someone has requested to see him without telling him who. When Mr. Rochester refuses to see someone unknown, Jane decides to carry in the tray that Mary has prepared for him. Though he is unable to see Jane, Mr. Rochester recognizes her voice and, clasping her hands, realizes who she is. He claims that he must be dreaming and tells Jane that he often dreams that she has come back to him. Jane assures him that she is real and promises to stay with him. Mr. Rochester demands to know what Jane has been doing since she left Thornfield, but Jane tells him that she is tired and the story must wait until tomorrow. The next day, Jane leads Mr. Rochester throughout the grounds, describing the beauty of the scenery to him. They sit down on a stump together, and Jane tells him what happened after she left. Not wishing to injure him, she glosses over the suffering she endured before she was taken in by the Rivers family. Mr. Rochester is very jealous when Jane reveals that St. John asked her to marry him, but Jane assures him that St. John did not truly love her and that she was not at all enticed by his offer. Mr. Rochester remains gloomy, however, and tells Jane that disfigured and old as he is, he is no better than “the old lightning-struck chestnut tree in Thornfield orchard.” Jane tells him that she still cares for him and, reassured of her love, he proposes. Jane happily accepts, and Mr. Rochester tells her how thankful he is to God for their reunion. He confides that several days ago, he prayed to God and called out Jane’s name. He even imagined that he heard her voice calling out in reply. Startled, Jane realizes that this event happened at the same time that she thought she heard his voice at Moor House. Unsure of the implications of such an event, she decides to keep this information to herself. As they walk back to the house, Mr. Rochester leans on Jane, allowing her to be both his support and his guide.
Jane marries Mr. Rochester in a small ceremony and immediately writes to Diana and Mary, who are both very supportive of her decision. After several months, Jane receives a letter from St. John, and though it does not mention her marriage, it is kind. She reveals that they have kept up correspondence over the years and that St. John now trusts that Jane does not live without God. Jane reports that after the wedding, she went to fetch Adèle from her strict school, intending to teach her herself. However, Jane soon found it too difficult to tutor Adèle and take care of Mr. Rochester, so they sent Adèle to a better and closer school that allowed her to come home frequently. Jane says that Adèle’s education cured her “French defects” and that Adèle grew up to become a fine companion. Jane reveals that she has now been married for ten happy years. She believes that Mr. Rochester’s infirmity and subsequent dependence on Jane for the first few years of marriage made them closer to one another than any couple has ever been. Two years after their marriage, Mr. Rochester began to recover sight in one eye, and by the time their first son was put in his arms, his vision had recovered enough so that he could see his son had inherited his dark eyes. Diana and Mary both married good men and visit Jane every year. Jane notes that St. John stayed in India, and in his last letter, he alluded to his forthcoming death. Though Jane feels certain that she will not hear from St. John again before he dies, she feels “divine joy” in the knowledge that he has no fear of death; he is eager to return to God and receive his “sure reward” for his steadfast faith.
In the novel’s final chapters, Jane is at last reunited with Mr. Rochester. The symbolic fire at Thornfield is an important plot device that, at the most basic level, brings about the death of Bertha and thus removes the primary practical obstacle to Jane and Mr. Rochester’s romantic relationship. More importantly, for Mr. Rochester, the fire is both a destructive force and a redemptive catalyst. The fire is literally and figuratively destructive as it not only disables Mr. Rochester and destroys his home but also represents the very apex of his misery: he has lost Jane, his home, and his independence. It is suggested that Mr. Rochester endures terrible suffering because he has committed great sins throughout his life. Indeed, that his life was devastated by fire symbolizes how his own unchecked passion ultimately burned him and those close to him. Mr. Rochester’s hardship is necessary not only as a punishment for his crimes but as a redemptive trial that allows him to achieve moral and spiritual growth. The fire also reminds us of Mr. Rochester’s inherent goodness as we hear that he risked his life to save not only all of his servants but also the wife whom he despised as well. In the aftermath of the fire, Mr. Rochester has finally acknowledged his sins and errors—especially those committed against Jane—and turned to God:
“I did wrong: I would have sullied my innocent flower—breathed guilt on its purity: the Omnipotent snatched it from me. I in my stiff-necked rebellion, almost cursed the dispensation: instead of bending to the decree, I defied it. Divine justice pursued its course; disasters came thick on me: I was forced to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. His chastisements are mighty; and one smote me which has humbled me forever.”
Forever humbled by the events that have transpired in Jane’s absence, Mr. Rochester is now a more appropriate match for her. She returns to him a wealthy and confident young woman after having proved that she can survive on her own. Having each experienced hardship and trials independently, Jane and Mr. Rochester are now true equals, a change that is reflected in Mr. Rochester’s more respectful treatment of Jane. We see this shift clearly through Mr. Rochester’s simple, honest, and uncalculated proposal—a significant contrast to the cruel mind games he employed during his earlier proposal. We even see Jane get her own small revenge on Mr. Rochester by teasing him with St. John in the same way he used to try to make her jealous with Blanche Ingram. It is clear just how much the tables have turned when Mr. Rochester insists they be married immediately, saying, “Never mind fine clothes and jewels, now: all that is not worth a fillip.” Whereas he used to treat Jane as if she were a toy to dress and play with for his own enjoyment, Mr. Rochester now respects her as an autonomous human being and desires her company above all. Though he often held the upper hand in their previous courtship, Mr. Rochester is now dependant, both physically and emotionally, on Jane. Just as she helped him get back on his horse during their first meeting, Jane once again lends Mr. Rochester her strength—though this time, he openly accepts her help.
As for Jane, we see through her interactions with Mr. Rochester how confident and self-assured she has become. In rejecting St. John and traveling to Thornfield, she has taken fate into her own hands and now confidently pursues love on her own terms. Though Jane’s decision to return to and marry Mr. Rochester can be interpreted as a loss or relinquishment of her hard-won autonomy and freedom, it can also be seen as an extension of her quest for self-discovery. From her time as a child at Gateshead, Jane has always longed for both freedom and love. It seems that in having Jane achieve total independence before choosing to return to Mr. Rochester, Brontë is suggesting that a woman’s journey for self-discovery and freedom need not be defined by a total lack of human connection. In finding herself, Jane realizes that an essential part of her happiness lies in her ability to form meaningful relationships with other people; thus, her decision to forge these bonds of affection is itself a form of freedom as it represents the fulfillment of her own desires.
Some readers have criticized the way the stories of the prominent female characters in the book—such as Jane, Mary, and Diana—end in marriage. While this ending does in some ways support the traditional Victorian idea that the only way for a woman to achieve a “happy ending” is through marriage, it is worth noting that all three of these women forged strong independent identities before marrying. By resisting social conventions and insisting on marrying for love, these women are able to find true partners and form successful relationships. Through these women, we see that being free does not necessarily mean being alone. Though marriage undoubtedly has the potential to be oppressive, a relationship based in love, equality, and mutual respect can be a form of personal fulfillment. Ultimately, the happy ending to Jane’s tumultuous story suggests that those who continually strive for goodness and integrity will successfully emerge from life’s trials to find comfort and bliss.
(The entire section is 2006 words.)