Essay on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre - The Character of Jane Eyre
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The Character of Jane Eyre
What we learn of the central character is considerable. Throughout the novel her dealings with those around her reveal her characteristics. As a child at Gateshead Hall we see that she is impulsive, often alarmingly so, but that she also can be sullen and withdrawn. Thse around her do not find her an easy child - she gives very little of herself away, especially to the Reed family, although there is a slight intimacy with the servant, Bessie. She is intelligent and precocious, preferring the make believe world of books to the harsh and often unsympathetic world of reality. She is also perceptive; knowing that the Reeds dislike her, yet not being quite sure why it should be so.She feels her social…show more content…
She has determination and self control, though, when it comes to making her way in the limited world she inhabits. Once settled into Lowood school, she works hard and acquires a reasonable education, becoming a teacher herself. We know also that she can and does take responsibility for her own destiny, making her own decision to advertise for a position, and leave Lowood when Miss T marries.
Thornfield Hall gives her new opportunities and we see that she is capable of making relationships with Adele and Mrs fairfax which are cordial and rewarding. She is sincere in her desire to do the best she can with Adele, although shrewd in her assessment of Adele’s intellect.
Although keenly aware of her position as governess, she is never guilty of undue deference with Rochester when she meets him. She is polite, but not cowed by R,s overbearing treatment. He is often rude and patronising at the beginning of the relationship, but she meets this with calm determination. Never losing her composure, she is able to match his arrogance and pride with irony and a refusal to take others as anything other than she finds them.
We must remember, though that the calm outward composure is also a defence mechanism; hiding her real deepest feelings from the world. It has been hostile to her in the past, and of course will be so again, so she is not quick to show her vulnerable, tender nature to those who, like the Reeds, might hurt her
Belonging to a family is a major theme in Jane Eyre. Family was extremely important to a woman in the Victorian period. It provided emotional and financial support to her as a child and an unmarried woman. Later, it defined her as a wife and mother. As an orphan, however, Jane is cast into a Victorian domestic wilderness, without a mother to prepare her for her proper place in society and without a father to care for her until her husband can replace him.
The absence of family creates a mixed effect in Jane. Her painful solitude spurs her to spend much of her young life in search of a family. Many of the characters serve as symbolic mothers for Jane. The harsh mothering of her aunt Mrs. Reed causes Jane to suffer, forcing her to withdraw into a lonely shell for protection. Miss Temple at Lowood is Jane’s first positive mother figure, showing compassion and caring and leading her on the path to self-fulfillment by encouraging her studies in French and literature.
The novel’s structure buttresses the theme of Jane’s search for a family. Beginning with the false, hurtful family of Mrs. Reed and her spoiled children, Jane encounters increasingly more rewarding versions of family coinciding with her personal maturation. At Lowood, Helen Burns and Miss Temple are a caring sister and mother. At Thornfield, Jane becomes a pseudo-mother to the sweet Adele and Mrs. Fairfax is a comforting mother-figure, but Jane is not yet able to be Rochester’s wife.
At Moor House, she encounters an even stronger sense of familial belonging with Diana, Mary, and St. John Rivers, her cousins. She lovingly prepares the house for their Christmas reunion and shares her inheritance with them. Therefore, the strange coincidence of Jane ending up on the doorstep of Moor House should not be seen as a rupture in realism, but a thematic device. She rejects St. John’s proposal of an authoritative, loveless marriage as a warped confusion of brother, husband, and father roles. Finally, Jane returns to a more enlightened Rochester to start a true family.
Jane’s lack of family also has instilled in her a strong sense of self-reliance and independence. Even as a child in Sarah Reed’s house, Jane recognizes the essential injustice of her predicament. She rejects the qualitative judgments that society makes on the basis of class and recognizes her cousins for the shallow, self-indulgent children that they are. Her personal standard of ethics tells her that Reed’s children are not her superiors. She also balks at Mr. Brocklehurst’s estimation of her as dishonest, recognizing his hypocrisy in demanding that his pupils live humbly and poorly, while his wife and daughters are bedecked in plumes and furs. Jane seems most humiliated and angered when her integrity is in question.
Jane’s self-reliance and personal ethics allow her to recognize the unfairness of many societal conventions. She is belittled and ignored as a “mere governess” by Rochester’s upper-class guests, but she recognizes them as arrogant and self-centered. Although she ranks far below Rochester in social rank and wealth, a profound impediment to a marriage in the Victorian era, she feels equal to him in soul, understanding his true nature. Jane finds his courting of the frivolous Blanche Ingram for her political and social connections disturbing because she knows that she herself is more his intellectual and spiritual equal.
Rochester’s courtship of Blanche is particularly ironic in the light of his marriage to the insane Bertha, whom he was tricked into marrying for the sake of monetary and political gain. It is significant that the primary symbol of hypocritical societal propriety, Thornfield Hall, in which Rochester lives a sham life of decorum, must be destroyed by fire before he and Jane can live together happily and truthfully.
The most convincing evidence of Jane’s strength and independence, however, is her narrative voice. From the very beginning of the novel, the reader is struck by the sense of confidence and control in the narrative voice. Brontë cleverly manipulates reader response through the compelling voice of Jane. At times, one is brought close to the narrator in an intimate relationship in which Jane makes the reader a confidant, revealing inner feelings and weaknesses. Yet she never allows herself complete vulnerability as a narrator. Often Jane addresses readers directly, never letting them forget that she is aware of their presence. Readers are not eavesdroppers as in a third-person narrative, but invited guests of Jane, who is in complete control of the narrative. She creates suspense by withholding information from readers, such as the identity of Rochester when he is disguised as an old gypsy, playing with them to heighten their interest. Jane’s voice is so commanding that her reliability and sincerity do not come into doubt.