Jane Eyre is the story of an orphaned girl’s journey from childhood to maturity. Through the course of the novel, the title character faces many trials and by the end, she has not only discovered who she is & where she belongs, but has also found true happiness. The story may be divided into five parts, according to Jane’s places of stay. The novel opens at Gateshead Hall, where the young Jane lives with Mrs. Reed, her aunt, and her three cousins. Jane never felt truly welcome at Gateshead; she was continuously excluded from the family. Of her aunt, she says:
“Me, she had dispersed from the group.”
John Reed is the main antagonist in Jan’es life at this time. He acts as her superior and insists on being called ‘Master Reed’.
“You are a dependent… you have no money. Your father left you none… You ought to beg, not live here with gentleman’s children like us…”
Jane is aware of the ‘ugly and disgusting’ physical sadism of John Reed. She has become accustomed to feeling excluded, degraded and worthless. She is given no importance.
“She (Mrs. Reed) neither saw him strike me or heard him abuse me even though he did both, now and then, in her presence.”
He was his mother’s most adored and spoiled child. Though he persistently antagonized Jane, he was never punished. Instead, she was chastised. Though she ‘strove to fulfill every duty’, she was considered ‘naughty and tiresome’. One example of this is when Jane ‘attacked’ him in the library. He had punched her, after verbally abusing her, and she panicked.
“I received him in a frantic sort. I don’t quite know what I did with my hands.”
Of him, she said: “You are like a slave driver – you are like the Roman Emperors!”
This display of passion and anger led to her confinement in the Red Room, a large chamber that was scarcely used. “She is like a mad cat!” This is where we truly become aware that Jane is a passionate and emotional child. Even at such a young age, she wanted to be respected as an individual.
John Reed was responsible for making her feel such intense fury. She rebelled by ‘attacking’ and was wrongfully confined as a result. His cruelty can be seen wvwn when he refuses to let her read a book because, “everything in this house belongs to me-“.
From Gateshead, Jane is sent to Lowood Orphan Asylum because she is too troublesome to read with any longer. After the Red Room incident, Mrs. Reed ‘drew more marked a line between me and her children’. So they were more than happy to send her away.
After 8 years at Lowood, she accepts a governess position at Thornfield Hall. It is here that Jane meets and falls in love with Edward Rochester, the master of the house. He quickly takes a liking to Jane, often calls her to spend time with him, and she grows to regard him as her own likeness, to the extent that she believes that they are “kindred spirits”. So intense are her feelings that she says:
“He made me love him without looking at me.”
To Rochester, she is “[his] little elf” and he freely admits that she “conquers” him. “It is my pleasure to yield.” In order to strengthen her feelings for him, he pretends to court the beautiful Blanche Ingram, “an accomplished lady of rank”. At this point, Jane’s love for him becomes her greatest weakness as she grows to constantly ridicule and doubt herself. Subsequently, after Rochester has proposed and they are to be married, it is revealed that he has a wife that is yet living. Jane is thrown into yet another whirlwind of tumultuous emotion. Her ‘dear Edward’ has become the antagonist because he has only been able to offer her a bigamous marriage. She is overwhelmed when Rochester asks her to run away with him, as his mistress. Again, her devotion to him becomes her weakness as she fights between caring for him and respecting her principles. In the end, she firmly declares: “I will not be you English Celine Varens.”
To the reader, she says that principles are not made for everyday life where there is no temptation, but for times like this, and she has no right to change these institutions when it suits her. In her moment of weakness, she considered going with him. After all, who would it matter to? But again, she collected her resolve.
“I care for myself – the more friendless, the more solitary I am,… the more I will value myself.”
We see that she emerges a stronger person, refusing to be completely dependent on Rochester, without the protection of an official bond of marriage, both financially and emotionally. She leaves Thornfield quickly, dignity intact. We see that when Jane returns and marries Rochester at the end of the novel, it is only with complete legitimacy, because the invisible antagonist (the secret wife) has died, and Rochester is free to marry. Also, she returns as an independent and rich women, and although she insists on their equality, Rochester is physically impaired and thus the marriage dynamic has actually tipped in her favor.
The next part of her story takes place at Moor House, where she meets St. John Rivers, who takes her in when she is penniless and starved. He appoints her as teacher of a village school, giving her the means to provide for herself. Over the course of many months, he decided he would make a suitable missionary’s wife, ” suited for labour, not love”. He asks her to accompany him to India as his wife, and she refuses.
“Would it not be strange to be tied to a man who sees one but as a useful tool?”
Her grounds for refusal are that they are not in love, and would never be able to love each other. “What a tiresome thing it would be to be his wife.” She realizes that she would continuously have to suppress her inner fire and to “compel it to burn inwardly” would be too terrible to comprehend. He pressurizes her time and again, “inexorable as death”.
Jane remains firm. “As your curate I will go – but not as your wife.” This is her own private revolt against John Reed’s domineering personality. She refuses to live a life without passion.