Jane Eyre

The ambiguity of Jane Eyre with respect to gender and class actually makes it more interesting to read. It struggles with sensitive subjects, and sometimes it fails to defy societal convention. But its failures are often as interesting as its successes. It doesn’t pretend to offer an ultimate truth of personal freedom. It does not present an simplified picture of achieving freedom and personal integrity; in fact, it presents the very dangers inherent in defying social traditions. Jane suffers through the cruel regimen of Lowood because her aunt wants to punish her for her defiance. She suffers heart-break for her attempt to marry her beloved Rochester. When she chooses her own personal beliefs over Rochester’s desires, she spends three days wandering around as a beggar and sleeping outdoors. She nearly dies for her choice and is saved at the last moment by the Rivers siblings. Her life-long search for a sense of belonging and a loving family seems to have ended with her discovery of her relationship to the Rivers family, but St. John’s controlling and vindictive behavior proves otherwise. Jane suffers an separation from her new-found cousin when she chooses to uphold her belief that marriages should be for love and not for convenience. Despite the pain her choice brings her, she manages to maintain her independence in the face of St. John’s overwhelming power over her. Her resistance to sacrificing her own beliefs for his pays off in the end. She is able to marry for love once she reunites with Rochester.


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Jane Eyre

From the beginning, Jane possesses a sense of her self-confidence and contentment. Her integrity is continually tested over the course of the novel, and Jane must learn to balance the frequently conflicting aspects of her so as to find contentment.

An orphan since early childhood, Jane feels exiled and out of favor at the beginning of the novel, and the cruel treatment she receives from her Aunt Reed and her cousins only worsens her feeling of alienation. Afraid that she will never find a true sense of home or community, Jane feels the need to belong somewhere, to find “kin,” or at least “kindred spirits.” This desire irritates her equally strong need for independence and free will.

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In her search for freedom, Jane also struggles with the question of what type of freedom will make her happy. While Rochester initially offers Jane a chance to liberate her passions, Jane comes to realize that such freedom could also mean enslavementby living as Rochester’s mistress, she would be sacrificing her dignity and integrity for the sake of her feelings.
St. John Rivers offers Jane another kind of freedom: the freedom to act completely on her ethics. He opens to Jane the possibility of exercising her talents to their fullest by working and living with him in India. Jane eventually realizes, though, that this freedom would also establish a form of imprisonment, because she would be forced to keep her true feelings and her true passions always in check.

When she reunites with Rochester, though based on a monetary level, she non-the-less finds herself to be equal to him. It is possible to question Jane Eyre’s equality to Rochester on the grounds that Jane only becomes Rochester’s full equal when he is physically in poor health and dependent on her to guide him and read to himin other words, when he is physically incapable of mastering her. However, the thought of Jane finding herself Rochester’s equal not because of the physical decline Rochester has suffered but because of the independence that Jane has attained, by coming to know herself more fully, is also possible.

Bronte seems to suggest the way in which Jane’s quest for love and a feeling of belonging should not influence her opinion of herselfnor restrict her intellectual, spiritual, and emotional independence. Bronte suggests that it is only after coming to know herself and her own strength that Jane can enter entirely into a well-rounded and loving relationship with Rochester, and finally achieve happiness and self-accomplishment.
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