Last Updated on July 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 577
While we encourage your class to read Jane Eyre in its entirety, we understand that time is a constraint. These key plot points will help guide you to the most salient parts of the novel.
The Red Room and Gateshead (Chapters 2 and 4): These chapters from Jane’s early childhood characterize the essence of her “true nature” as an independent, passionate, and free-thinking individual. While at Lowood she learns to suppress these tendencies, burying but not eradicating them. Rochester eventually comes to love and foster this suppressed part of her character.
Lowood and Social Conformity (Chapters 7–9): In Victorian England, Brocklehurst’s view that women should be meek, submissive, and self-sacrificing was the dominant attitude. While the novel is critical of Brocklehurst, Miss Temple and Helen embody this Victorian “Angel in the House,” or what Victorians thought the ideal woman should be. To blend in with society, Jane learns to emulate the dutiful Miss Temple and pious Helen and become an “Angel” in disguise.
Jane and Rochester’s Repartee (Chapters 13 and 14): These chapters mark the beginning of Jane and Rochester’s relationship. Engaging in intelligent and enlivening conversation, Jane and Rochester foreground a relationship of equals, despite vast differences in social standing. A key passage is Rochester’s metaphor in chapter 14, in which he compares Jane to a bird in a cage—an individual with a strong and beautiful spirit who should be set free.
A Marriage of Equals (Chapter 23): Jane and Rochester confess their love for one another in this chapter, marking the re-emergence of Jane’s intrinsic individuality, passion, and sense of dignity. Jane’s headstrong monologue in which she declares she is equal to Rochester in “heart” and “soul” is a particularly important passage. This genuine strength of spirit makes her character distinctive and her romance with Rochester possible, crossing all other boundaries. The narrative also begins building to its climax, the storm imagery foreshadowing the disclosure of Rochester’s dark secret.
Here Comes the Bride (Chapters 26 and 27): These chapters relate Jane and Rochester’s disrupted wedding ceremony, the “unveiling” of Rochester’s secret first wife Bertha Mason, and the backstory of Rochester’s first marriage. Chapter 26, the wedding scene, is useful for illustrating the important effects of tone. While a wedding is usually a joyful occasion, Jane’s tone conveys a foreboding sense that something is awry. Chapter 27 is a height in Jane’s character development; in choosing to leave her passionate yet possessive “idol” Rochester, Jane chooses personal integrity and self-respect over desire.
Jane’s Return (Chapters 35 and 37): These chapters are the novel’s climax, and the final part of Jane’s character development. Jane rejects St. John’s marriage proposal, refusing a union without feeling and mutual respect. While Jane leaves Rochester to not fall wayward to evacuated blind passion, St. John is the opposite extreme: he wants to marry Jane for her value as an object or “tool” in his quest for accolades. Ultimately for Jane, real love is a balance of integrity and feeling. Meanwhile, Rochester learns humility through his crippling accident. Before he was blindly possessive; this impulse is now cooled. Jane can look after him in return, and her inheritance eliminates troublesome financial differences. With equality and reciprocity finally possible, Jane returns to marry Rochester. Chapter 35’s telepathic exchange is arguably the crux of the entire novel, relating how their emotional and spiritual connection of body, heart, and soul transcends all boundaries.