Upon reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte for the second time, I became aware of conflicts that I didn’t notice before. For instance, the story of Jane Eyre is, more or less, a story of a girl who is pushed and pulled to do what other people believe right for her. She is told by many people hat she is doing something the wrong way. It is a story of holding your beliefs, of maintaining a solid ground, of not being swayed by people, but being guided by the soul.
Jane comes into contact with three people who do this to her. Mrs. Reed, first of all, and with her can be included her three children. Mrs. Reed makes no secret of her dislike towards Jane, going so far as to send her away. When Jane is older, Mrs. Reed tells her that Jane is her torment, a perpetual torture. She died thinking that of Jane, died hating her, yet eager for forgiveness, it seemed. Jane begins to question her standing, whether who she is as a person is good enough, satisfactory. She begins to doubt herself into thinking that all the blame is on her side, that she actually is a born torment. The book follows this vein almost relentlessly. Jane sees herself as alone, insignificant, unimportant.
Mr. Rochester is the second person who challenges Jane’s beliefs. He would have her believe that their love was more sacred than his tie to Bertha. Even after she finds out he’s already married, he tries to persuade her to live with him. Although she knows that the world wouldn’t care, she knows that she would care, that she would be forever under this guilt. Mr. Rochester loves her so passionately that she feels she must leave him secretly. Her resolve builds up, her resolve to do what is right. She could have been blinded by his love and persuasions, she could have easily felt that, because the marriage was mercenary and Bertha was/is a lunatic, the marriage is technically void…. but to her it’s still legitimate and she holds to that fact.
Thirdly, and maybe most powerfully, is St. John Rivers, when he tries to persuade Jane to marry him by telling her it is the will of God. Jane even feels spiritual encouragement towards this, as if it really were the will of God, and she has to use all her strength and will to determine between what God’s will is for her personal life, and what St. John believes to be God’s will. She has to fight between God’s will and St. John’s dominancy, it seems. St. John appears to think that if she refuses him (thus living outside the will of God) she’ll damn herself to hell. The conflict here was the strongest, because Jane feels caged by St. John, and a slave to his will. She feels no freedom, and is tempted to submit only out of weakness.
Helen Burns is an interesting character and plays an interesting role in Jane’s life. Whereas the characters listed above seem to be unconsciously pushing and pulling Jane away from her ideals and beliefs, Helen is the only one who challenges her in a good way. She doesn’t tell her what to do, but what to look for in situations. She points her back to God, and tells her that is the only way she’ll find it in her heart to forgive Mrs. Reed, and to live her life humbly. It is Jane’s faith that carries her through in the end.
The contrast between St. John and Mr. Rochester is also noteworthy. They rather remind me of Narcissus and Goldmund, respectively. Mr. Rochester is a man of the senses, mostly, and St. John is a man of the mind, the spirit, the will. Mr. Rochester is in bondage to Jane. Jane is in bondage to St. John. She can do nothing to sway St. John, emotionally or mentally, unlike she can with Mr. Rochester. It is not so much that she can rule Mr. Rochester as St. John rules her, but that she and Mr. Rochester can compliment each other, can affect each other and agree together. They are more like husband and wife. St. John and Jane are more like the domineering master and slave, which might present a picture of what marriage was like in that century.
Overall, Jane Eyre has an antiquated style, and I did laugh sometimes at the soliloquies, but I began to respect them because there is a depth of passion, resignation, determination, will-power, strength, weakness, love, fidelity, courage, and honour throughout the whole book, and it really is a wonderful classic.
The end is redeeming, but sad. Both Jane and Mr. Rochester are broken, even though the fire at Thornfield Hall signifies the close to the obstacles of their former lives. Mr. Rochester’s physical disabilities prove Jane’s faithful love to him. Though they have both led scarred lives, they are able to find solace in the deep, quiet, and hard-earned love they have for each other. However, there is still the memory of all the feelings, of everything that happened, of how Jane was wronged, and pushed and pulled, and how she forgave people who hurt her, of how much she suffered. And Mr. Rochester, too, with all his pain of his first marriage, and seeking to find fulfillment in his senses, wandering aimlessly trying to find meaning and a filling for his soul, and then after he finally does find Jane, how he lost her, and though he searched heaven and earth, couldn’t find her. However, the actual tone of the book is sweet at the end. She is finally freed from all doubts, she is committed to serving, guiding, and loving the man she has always loved: she is content that she’s done the right thing, and is resting in that contentment.
Jane Eyre has inspired many authors including Henry James and Frances Hodgson Burnette, and deserves to be, as it is, widely read.