Essential Quotes by Theme: Autonomy

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Essential Passage 1: Chapter 10

“A new servitude! There is something in that,” I soliloquized (mentally, be it understood; I did not talk aloud). “I know there is, because it does not sound too sweet; it is not like such words as liberty, excitement, enjoyment: delightful sounds truly; but no more than sounds for me; and so hollow and fleeting that it is mere waste of time to listen to them. But Servitude! That must be matter of fact. Any one may serve: I have served here eight years; now all I want is to serve elsewhere. Can I not get so much of my own will? Is not the thing feasible? Yes—yes—the end is not so difficult: If I had only a brain active enough to ferret out the means of attaining it.”


For eight years, Jane Eyre has lived at Lowood—six years as a student and two years as a teacher. When her favorite teacher and confidante, Miss Temple, marries and leaves, Jane decides that it is time for her departure as well. While she has come to enjoy her students (as well as the school, following Mr. Brocklehurst’s demotion in control and influence), she feels that it is time for her life to move on. She no longer has the financial support of Mrs. Reed, so she is entirely on her own. Employment for respectable women being limited, Jane knows that she will not free herself from labor, but merely transfer it to another venue. Although she is not free to refrain from having a job, she is free to choose her “new servitude.” She has received a very good education at a time of limited schooling, and she now has experience as a teacher. She decides to remain in that field by placing an advertisement announcing her desire for a position as a governess. Within a week, Jane accepts a position at Thornfield Hall, the home of Edward Rochester.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 12

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them or laugh at them if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.


Jane has arrived at Thornfield Hall to take up her “new servitude” as governess to Adele, Mr. Rochester’s ward. At the beginning, Jane had feared that her situation in an upper-class house might mirror that of her childhood, with the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, being as unpleasant and controlling as Mrs. Reed was. Yet Jane finds that this is not the case. Mrs. Fairfax is extremely pleasant, Adele adores her governess, and the staff is respectful and kind to their new addition. Jane feels like something more than a servant, yet she still has a small feeling of discontent. Things are going too well—she is almost bored. Jane reflects that rebellions often come from such a sense of boredom. Women, just as men do, must have a sense of value in their efforts, beyond the “domestic” duties that are often their sole responsibility. She states that if she cannot find action, she must create it.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter 37

“Mr. Rochester, if ever I did a good deed in my life—if ever I thought a good thought—if ever I prayed a sincere and blameless prayer—if ever I wished a righteous wish—I am rewarded now. To be your wife, is, for me, to be as happy as I can be on earth.”
“Because you delight in sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice! What do I sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. To be privileged to put my arms round what I value—to press my lips to what I love—to repose on what I trust: is that to make a sacrifice? If so, then certainly I delight in sacrifice.”
“And to bear with my infirmities, Jane: to overlook my deficiencies.”
“Which are none, sir, to me. I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector.”
“Hitherto I have hated to be helped—to be led henceforth, I feel I shall hate it no more. I did not like to put my hand into a hireling's, but it is pleasant to feel it circled by Jane's little fingers. I preferred utter loneliness to the constant attendance of servants; but Jane's soft ministry will be a perpetual joy."


Jane finds Thornfield destroyed in a fire set by Rochester’s wife, Bertha Mason, who died in the blaze. Mr. Rochester is now half blind and crippled. Living with John and Mary, the only servants he has retained from Thornfield, Rochester cried out in the night and Jane heard him from the distance of many leagues. She returns to his side, determined never to leave him. Rochester is unsure if staying is wise on her part. She will sacrifice so much by marrying a marred man, he thinks. Jane, however, sees no sacrifice that she is unwilling to make. Because Jane refused to become Rochester’s mistress, holding fast to her principles, she now is free to love Rochester and to be his wife. Rochester acknowledges that he will dependent on Jane to guide and help him in his damaged condition, but he does not see his dependence as a trial. Instead, he believes his life with Jane will be joyful.

Analysis of Essential Passages

Jane Eyre is under no one’s control but her own. As a protofeminist, she makes her own choices, sets her own standards, and disregards the popular notion of dissimilarities between the genders. Her commitment to autonomy from the very first reveals Jane to be something of a static character. She is remarkably consistent; it is others who must change.

As a child, Jane knew that she would not be subservient to Mrs. Reed, nor to Mr. Brocklehurst, and she refuses to be so. When her favorite teacher, Miss Temple, decides to leave teaching and submit to marriage and family, Jane activates her own autonomy by choosing to leave as well. Rather than marrying, which as yet she does not see as a choice to someone as plain and dowerless as she, Jane accepts a position as governess. As Jane adjusts to her new position in Thornfield Hall, she sees that life is more than employment. While she enjoys her new home and the companions around her, Jane rebels against the notion that, in taking care of children and other domestic duties, she has found her true purpose in life. She sees that men are free to make their own choices; she refuses, as a woman, to have society make any choice for her.

Caring for Rochester following the fire, Jane comes to a deeper understanding of the relationship between freedom and service. The man she loves does not have the choice of autonomy and instead must rely on the care of a spouse. Traditional marriage roles are reversed for Jane: the wife must take care of the husband. This, however, is a choice she makes freely. Liberty, she learns, is not a life without obligations. It is not the power to do what one wants to do, but the opportunity to choose to do what one ought to do. The obligations of love are not sacrifice when they are offered freely. By “submitting” to the role of wife and mother, Jane—as the caregiver of a handicapped husband—retains her autonomy. Thus in service to someone she loves Jane Eyre has found true freedom.

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Essential Quotes by Character: Jane Eyre