Last Updated on November 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1269
Extended Character Analysis
Jane Eyre is a calm, intelligent, and reflective woman who, throughout Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, grows spiritually and emotionally with every life event. Due to the untimely death of her parents, Jane is placed into the hands of her aunt, Mrs. Reed. Unwanted and mistreated by Mrs. Reed, Jane experiences traumatic events throughout her childhood. She is abused by her cousins, who, at the guidance of their mother, dislike and disparage Jane. When Jane is attacked by her cousin John, Mrs. Reed blames Jane for inciting him and punishes her by locking her in the “red room” where Mr. Reed died. This causes Jane to become very ill. The apothecary, Mr. Lloyd, convinces Mrs. Reed to send Jane to Lowood Boarding School—a school for orphans—which Mrs. Reed believes is fitting for Jane’s “position and prospects.” In her last attempt to hurt Jane, Mrs. Reed tells the school’s headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, that Jane is a liar.
At Lowood, Mr. Brocklehurst keeps the school under strict conditions: he stresses religious adherence and gives plain clothing and meager food to the girls. When he sees Jane make a loud noise during his visit to the school, he places her on a stool and publicly shames her for being a “liar.” Despite this, Jane is still able to foster meaningful relationships with those around her, including her close friend Helen Burns. Helen left a great impression on Jane in their short time together, teaching her much about morality and kindness. Helen’s death is yet another example of the hardships Jane faces. Yet, Jane is successful in school, and with the care and attention of her teacher, Maria Temple, she becomes a teacher at Lowood. Jane’s early childhood, although filled with maltreatment, is the reason she grows to be such a steadfast character. Her traumatic experiences at her aunt’s home and in her school give Jane a complex, inward, and careful mind. She is able to understand how and why her aunt and cousins ostracized her for not fitting into their preconceived idea of what a child or person should be like. This background leads to Jane’s independence, self-reliance, and spiritual understanding of herself as an adult.
When Maria Temple leaves Lowood to marry, Jane decides that she, too, should leave. Jane desires liberty, but realizes it is unattainable. She instead settles with finding a new “servitude,” which leads her to become a governess at Thornfield. Due to her past, Jane expects little in life to be pleasant. She is thus surprised when Mrs. Fairfax, Thornfield’s housekeeper, is kind to her and treats her as a visitor. Thornfield, where Jane works as a governess, is home to the next stage of growth for Jane; she meets an equal in Mrs. Fairfax and develops as a governess to Adele Varens. Although she has a comfortable career surrounded by pleasant people, Jane still feels an inward desire to mingle with higher society and to experience more of the world. This desire reflects Jane’s struggle to fit in her given and expected place in society. From childhood to adulthood, Jane is trapped within the constraints that have been placed on her by others. She feels that “it is thoughtless to condemn [women], or laugh at [women], if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.” Jane is not only aware of gendered power differences; she also recognizes that, if the world were better, there would be room for a woman to be as liberated as she desires.
When Jane first meets the owner of Thornfield, Mr. Rochester, she feels that he is “changeful and abrupt,” and that Mrs. Fairfax did not do him justice by describing him as a “peculiar character.” Jane, however, has the resiliency and humor to deal with Mr. Rochester’s quirks, and she finds a kindred spirit in Mr. Rochester and grows to love him. Jane’s time at Thornfield is mostly spent teaching Adele and becoming better acquainted with Mr. Rochester. Her time at Thornfield, however, is interrupted when Mrs. Reed, who is on her deathbed, asks to see Jane. Displaying her understanding and kindness, Jane tries to reconcile with Mrs. Reed, even though Mrs. Reed still shows undue hatred toward her. Jane even puts in the effort to be kind to her two cousins, who were in need of a third companion to buffer their dislike of each other. Mrs. Reed admits to Jane that she lied to one of Jane’s only relatives in an effort to make sure Jane wasn’t prosperous or happy. Mrs. Reed told Jane’s only uncle, John Eyre, that Jane had died of typhus at Lowood. Although Mrs. Reed does not apologize, Jane benefits from this knowledge.
Returning to Thornfield, Jane navigates the stormy waters of loving and courting Mr. Rochester. After making sense of Mr. Rochester’s confusing actions—including his pretended preparations for a wedding with Blanche Ingram, an upper class woman—Jane finds that once she is actually betrothed to him, their relationship is different than she expected. She struggles intensely with the loss of identity that marriage brings. Mr. Rochester begins to treat her differently, giving her expensive jewelry and clothes and placing expectations upon her. Jane, as an always independent, inwardly free woman, has a hard time adapting to this change. In fact, Jane finds it hard to even write her name as “Mrs. Rochester,” showing that the loss of her name is a large part of her loss of identity. When Jane finds out the truth about Mr. Rochester’s wife, Bertha, she leaves him. However, for Jane, the decision to leave Mr. Rochester is one between caring for another and caring for herself. In the end, she decides “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” Jane then places herself in a self-imposed purgatory: with no food or extra clothing, Jane wanders the moors, all her prospects lost. The Rivers family finds her on the moors. They nurse her back to health and, when they learn about her level of education and teaching expertise, they help to establish her as a teacher for a small village school nearby. They eventually learn that they are related to Jane, and they agree to share with her the inheritance that Jane’s uncle, John Eyre, has left behind. St. John, Jane’s cousin, offers to marry Jane and take her along on a missionary trip to India. Although Jane appreciates her cousin’s gesture, she knows that she does not love him and refuses his proposal.
Near the end of Jane Eyre, Jane thinks she hears Mr. Rochester calling her name. Although she is comfortable with the Rivers, Jane realizes she cannot stay with the Rivers family and that St. John would not love her like Mr. Rochester did. Jane decides to leave the moors and return to Mr. Rochester. When she returns, she finds out that Thornfield Hall has burnt down. She then finds Mr. Rochester, injured and living alone in misery and blindness. In keeping with her strong and individualistic character, Jane decides to marry Mr. Rochester. Having lost his sight and his hand, Mr. Rochester has changed drastically from his previous self. He is able to see where his morals led him astray, and he can see the consequences of his mistakes. The decision being hers, the novel’s final chapter begins with Jane’s exuberant declaration of matrimony: “Reader, I married him.”
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