Chapters 36–38 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1800
The following morning, Jane 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 reflects on how drastically her circumstances have changed since she departed.
As the coach draws near Thornfield, Jane exits and sets out on foot, eager to catch a glimpse of the hall. When 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 her host in an effort to learn what transpired. The host tells her that the fire was started when Grace Poole drank too much, presenting Bertha with an opportunity to escape the attic. The host, unaware of who Jane is, relates her that Mr. Rochester had fallen in love with a governess. 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. 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 left blind. 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 quickly recognizes her voice and, clasping her hands, realizes who she is. He claims that he must be dreaming and reveals that he often dreams that Jane 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 transpired 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.
Jane admits that she still cares for Mr. Rochester, 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 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 has come to accept that Jane does not live without God.
After the wedding, Jane fetched 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 return home frequently. Jane reports 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 her in the first few years of marriage brought them closer 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, he could see well enough to observe that 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 terrible fire at Thornfield is an important development: At the most basic level, it brings about the death of Bertha and thus removes the primary practical obstacle to Jane and Mr. Rochester’s romantic relationship. The fire also serves a symbolic purpose, however, functioning as a redemptive catalyst for Mr. Rochester. The fire is literally and figuratively destructive. It not only disables Mr. Rochester and destroys his home but also represents the very apex of his misery: he has lost Jane, his property, and his independence.
Mr. Rochester's terrible suffering ultimately matches his great sins. It is fitting that his life was devastated by fire, as his own unchecked passion ultimately burned him and those close to him. Mr. Rochester’s hardships are necessary, not only as a punishment for his crimes, but as a redemptive trial that pushes him to grow morally and spiritually. The fire also illustrates Mr. Rochester’s inherent goodness, as he risks his life to save not only all of his servants but also the wife whom he despised. 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, having proved to herself that she can survive on her own. Jane and Mr. Rochester are now true equals, having each experienced hardship and trials independently. This change is reflected in Mr. Rochester’s more respectful treatment of Jane. Mr. Rochester’s second proposal is simple, honest, and uncalculated—a significant contrast to the cruel mind games he once employed. Jane even gets her own small revenge on Mr. Rochester, teasing him with St. John in the same way he used to try to make her jealous with Blanche Ingram. Though he often held the upper hand in their previous courtship, Mr. Rochester is now dependent, 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 welcomes her help.
Jane's interactions with Mr. Rochester illustrate her confidence and self-assurance. 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 could be interpreted as a relinquishment of her hard-won autonomy and freedom, it can also be considered an extension of her quest for self-discovery. Even as a child at Gateshead, Jane has only ever longed for both freedom and love. By having Jane achieve total independence before choosing to return to Mr. Rochester, Brontë is perhaps 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, representing the fulfillment of her own desires.
Some readers have criticized the traditional ending of the book, as all the prominent female characters—including Jane, Mary, and Diana—end up married, seeming to reflect the Victorian idea that a woman's “happy ending” must necessarily be achieved through marriage. This interpretation is complicated, however, by the fact that these three women forged strong independent identities prior to marriage. By marrying for love, they defy the social conventions of their time and discover relationships filled with equality and mutual respect—a source of personal fulfillment in and of itself. 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.