Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1547
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1
“You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mamma says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen's children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mamma's expense. Now I'll teach you to rummage my book-shelves: for they are mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years. Go and stand by the door, out of the way of the mirror and the windows.”
Jane Eyre, orphaned as an infant, had been reared by Mr. Reed, her uncle. Before he died, Mr. Reed made his wife promise to treat Jane as her own child. Mrs. Reed reluctantly agreed to do so, but immediately disregarded her promise and considered Jane an unwelcome burden on the household. The Reed children, especially John, go out of their way to be abusive to their cousin. On the occasion related in the above passage, Jane has taken refuge in a curtained nook, where she hides with a favorite book away from John’s meanness. However, he finds her and berates her for daring to touch the Reeds’ property, including their books. He belittles her position as an orphan, penniless and dependent on the charity of relatives. He makes sure she understands what a great financial and familial burden she is, one which he intends to rectify when he comes of age.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 4
Mrs. Reed's hands still lay on her work inactive: her eye of ice continued to dwell freezingly on mine.
“What more have you to say?” she asked rather in the tone in which a person might address an opponent of adult age than such as is ordinarily used to a child.
That eye of hers, that voice, stirred every antipathy I had. Shaking from head to foot, thrilled with ungovernable excitement, I continued: “I am glad you are no relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.”
“How dare you affirm that, Jane Eyre?”
“How dare I, Mrs. Reed? How dare I? Because it is the truth. You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back—roughly and violently thrust me back—into the red-room, and locked me up there, to my dying day; though I was in agony, though I cried out, while suffering with distress, ‘Have mercy! Have mercy, Aunt Reed!’ And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me—knocked me down for nothing. I will tell any body who asks me questions, this exact tale. People think you a good woman, but you are bad; hard-hearted. You are deceitful!”
Mrs. Reed has decided, on the advice of Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary, to send Jane to school. She has found one suitable, she believes, to rid Jane of her “wickedness.” Lowood is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, a self-righteous, mean-spirited, hypocritical cleric. On visiting Jane to determine her qualifications for Lowood (a school specifically meant for poor and orphaned children), he is met with her obstinance and her willfulness; he thus finds himself in agreement with Mrs. Reed’s assessment of Jane's character, and accepts Jane into Lowood. Coming to say good-bye to her aunt, Jane abandons all self-control and tells Mrs. Reed exactly what she thinks of her. Jane vows never to call her “aunt” again (a vow that she later breaks on her aunt’s deathbed) and promises to tell everyone she meets of her aunt’s cruelty. She points out that, even after John struck her, Mrs. Reed did nothing beyond calling for the apothecary. Jane rejoices that she is in fact no blood relation to Mrs. Reed.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 34
I know no medium: I never in my life have known any medium in my dealings with positive hard characters, antagonistic to my own, between absolute submission and determined revolt. I have always faithfully observed the one up to the very moment of bursting, sometimes with volcanic vehemence into the other; and as neither present circumstances warranted, nor my present mood inclined me to mutiny, I observed careful obedience to St. John's directions; and in ten minutes I was treading the wild track of the glen, side by side with him.
Having escaped from Thornfield after discovering that Mr. Rochester was still married to a madwoman in the attic, Jane finds herself unexpectedly in the care of her cousins, the Rivers—St. John, Diana, and Mary. Although she develops a close, sisterly relationship with Diana and Mary, Jane finds St. John to be distant, unemotional, and righteous. When St. John in effect orders her to take a walk with him, she resents the command but obeys. St. John intends to go to India as a missionary and asks—pracatically demands—that Jane accompany him as his wife. Jane objects for two reasons: first, she does not feel the call to be a missionary; more important, she does not love St. John, nor does she believe he actually loves her. Jane says that she might be willing to accompany him to India, but not exactly as a missionary and definitely not as a wife. St. John tells her that she cannot go as an unmarried woman, that such an arrangement might cause suspicion. He insists that she accept his proposal of marriage, but she refuses. St. John leaves her, and their continuing relationship is strained.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Jane Eyre is, on the surface, a classic Cinderella character. Orphaned at a young age, reared by a wicked aunt (rather than a stepmother), with cousins in the place of evil stepsisters, Jane fits the ancient archetype of a girl who grows up amid unpleasant circumstances, finds Prince Charming, and “lives happily ever after.” Yet in this case, “Cinderella” has a backbone and more than enough self-confidence to help create her own happy ending.
Mrs. Reed makes sure that Jane Eyre understands from her infancy that her place is among the “ashes.” She owns nothing of her own, she deserves no love, and she has no beauty. Importantly, Brontë as author refuses to allow Jane Eyre to overcome her lack of beauty, keeping her heroine “plain” until the very end. In the case of Mr. Rochester as well, physical attractiveness is not present. Discounting the “science” of physiognomy, in which a person’s appearance is an indication of his or her character, Brontë focuses instead on the inner character and the spirited courage that Jane possesses.
Throughout the novel, Jane is a character of complete and blunt honesty, one who reveals the inner truth of the other characters she encounters. Whether it is the shallowness and cruelty of Mrs. Reed or the kindness and love of Mr. Rochester, Jane strips away any self-created beliefs or delusions. Hypocrisy cannot stand in the presence of Jane Eyre.
Although Jane is incapable of dissembling, she does have a complicated relationship with authority figures. She is either in obedience to or in rebellion with the men she encounters. In the case of St. John, she obeys him but does so with obvious resentment. Her obedience is simply to place herself into a position to make her commitment to self-direction clear. She follows St. John on the prescribed walk, half knowing what his intention is, for the sole purpose of making her own position known: she will not be commanded by him, even if it appears that she is rejecting “God’s will." She alone will decide what the call of God is for her; she will not let St. John, or any man, dictate it to her.
While Jane is hesitant to obey anyone, she is quick to appeal to the commandments of God as she understands them. Mrs. Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, St. John, and even Mr. Rochester endeavor to move her away from what she believes is the moral law that governs her life, yet she refuses. While she rebels against those placed in authority over her, she will not rebel against her understanding of her faith in God. Jane thus at times reveals more than a hint of the self-righteousness that she despises in others. Yet she lives out her choices consistently, whereas she sees hypocrisy in the inconsistency of others.
As an archetypal figure, Jane Eyre is a tragic hero who turns tragedy to her own advantage. Mrs. Reed dies, knowing that her children have turned out badly; St. John disappears into the Eastern sun alone on his mission to India; and Mr. Rochester loses an eye and a hand for his deception. For each of those characters, there is no completely happy ending. Only Jane Eyre, who maintains a consistent strength of character, is allowed the possibility of living happily ever after on her own terms.
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