A Literary Research Paper on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronson
Charlotte Bronte’s popular book Jane Eyre presents its readers with a rather critical view ofVictorian life. As her main character, Jane, progresses from childhood through to adulthood, she demonstrates the difference between the Victorian society life that would have her ignore all her feelings and her own personal life in which her feelings are unable to be squelched so rigidly. As Jane grows through the book, this conflict between society’s rules and her inner feelings becomes more and more obvious, finally reaching a resolution at the end in which she has found both an accepting home and status while retaining her own inner fire, an important consideration for everyone regardless of their time period or social standing.
Growing up in an unloving home, an orphan living in her aunt’s house and suffering cruel treatment from her, Jane still manages to convey the depth of her feelings as she flies into a rightful rage at her cousin and then suffers hallucinations while locked in the red room where her uncle had died. Jane’s only hope of realizing her own emotions is through her escape to Lowood School. However, upon arriving there, she finds a world at least as harsh as the one she left behind. In her search for love and affection, she meets Helen Burns and is finally able to express to someone her own inner heart. It is through Helen that Jane is finally able to achieve some sort of physical intimacy with another human being as Helen allows Jane to hold her hand and exchanges hugs with her. Jane tells her new friend, “to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest” (Ch. 8). Rather than being melodramatic, Jane truly feels her affections cannot run deeper than they are and struggles to find the words to express her desire to find someone who feels this same depth of affection for her. However, Helen’s advice to Jane is to bear her sufferings in silence and with patience. “Helen never shows resentment, even when she becomes the favorite target of the school’s nastiest teacher, Miss Scatcherd. But when Mr. Brocklehurst humiliates Jane by repeating Mrs. Reed’s charge against her in front of the whole school, she rebels” (“Jane Eyre”, 2006). Despite her love for her friend, Jane cannot accept the meek and submissive attitude Helen adopts as this would require a submission of herself.
Moving into Thornfield, Jane finds herself falling in love with the house’s owner, Rochester, but fears her feelings will again be subjugated under his domination. Even before she finds out about Bertha, Jane realizes that while she is every bit as capable intellectually as Rochester is, her poverty and social standing would never allow her to be his equal and she would therefore be forced to subjugate her emotions to his wishes at every turn. “Both he and she believe implicitly the things they read in eyes, in nature, in dreams” (Brownell, 1993). She tells him “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you” (Ch. 23). The example has already been set for her in this house in the form of Bertha, Rochester’s first wife, who has gone mad from her enclosure in the third floor of the house. “Bertha is considered insane because of her intense sensuality. Bertha is represented as a sort of taboo sexuality that is forbidden to the others” (Crookston, 1999). Mr. Mason, Bertha’s brother, illustrates the idea that the pair are from Jamaica, a part of the world often thought of as breeding very passionate, free-thinking individuals and Bertha’s madness can be seen as the aftereffects of having to subdue that passion within the Victorian society in which it found itself.
A third individual who brings out the passionate side of Jane and illustrates her dedication to finding a relationship that allows her to both give and receive uncensored affection is found in St. John. In this character, Bronte illustrates the passion for glory and self-aggrandizement inherent in some people at the expense of any true emotion. Although Jane has found a couple of kindred spirits in St. John’s sisters, she also finds herself falling under the cold calculation of St. John himself. “By degrees, he acquired a certain influence over me that took away my liberty of mind … I fell under a freezing spell” (Ch. 34). His proposal of marriage encourages her to sacrifice her emotions in order to fulfill her moral duty as it is defined by the Victorian society, but this type of life is not acceptable to her. “As his curate, his comrade, all would be right … But as his wife – at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked – forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital – this would be unendurable” (Ch. 34). “St. John feels that the proposed union would be logical; he reasons that Jane would be the perfect fit as a missionary wife and entreats her to simplify her various [feelings and thoughts]. … After listening to her adamant statement, St. John shows little emotion, except for a pair of compressed lips, and once again responds very calmly by reasoning why he did not deserve that statement” (Sorenson, 1995).
There is a final resolution to the story, though, when Jane is reunited with Rochester after Bertha is dead and he has been blinded. At this point in the story, she has inherited her own money from her uncle, making her finally Rochester’s social equal as well as able to provide for herself whether he is there or not. Having always been his intellectual equal, she no longer has need to fear subjugation of her emotions by him. Indeed, since he now must lean on her for support in his blindness, she has achieved even more freedom than most Victorian ladies had a right to expect and rejoices in the balance: “I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. . . . To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. . . . We are precisely suited in character—perfect concord is the result” (Ch. 38).
Thus, the novel Jane Eyre reflects not only the Victorian attitudes toward feminine emotion, but points out the importance of allowing that emotion its free expression for the happiness of all. It is only through the affections freely exchanged that the characters are able to attain any true degree of happiness and those characters that encourage the loss of feeling display woeful views on life and relationships. Rather than being able to appreciate the entire woman, characters such as St. John and the younger version of Rochester are only able to see the side of Jane that they wish to possess. As the story closes, we see Rochester enjoying the complete Jane because of who she is rather than as a thing to be owned.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Signet, 1997.
Brownell, Eliza. “Passion, Dreams and the Supernatural in Jane Eyre.” The Victorian Web. (December 1993). Brown University. September 1, 2006
Crookston, Beth. “Bertha Mason: The Enigma.” (1999). Kent State University. September 1, 2006
“Jane Eyre.” Cliff’s Notes Character Analysis. (2006). Tripod. September 1, 2006
Sorenson, Jane. “Conflict Between Emotion and Passion in Jane Eyre and Through the Looking Glass.” The Victorian Web. (May 1994). Brown University. September 1, 2006