StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) was a radical and controversial text for its time because it put forward the idea that men and women are equals. The novel divided opinions as it suggested that ‘women feel just as men feel’ and because of this, they shouldn’t be confined to the domestic sphere. Victorian society was shocked by Jane Eyre, and it developed a reputation as a ‘naughty book’ for going against the patriarchal constructs of the 1800s.
As a gothic romance, Jane Eyre has an unconventional blend of genres. It uses dark and mysterious imagery to elevate the romantic tale. The narrative is intricate and complex as Brontë presents a strong, faithful, and moral protagonist.
Let’s examine the message behind the novel, explore each character’s role, and analyse key quotes to strengthen your understanding of this powerful novel.
Here’s an overview of the novel.
|Over of Jane Eyre|
|Written by||Charlotte Brontë (but originally published under the pen name Currer Bell)|
|Genre||Bildungsroman, gothic, romance, mystery|
|Key themes||Love, morals, religion, family, social inequality, education|
|Literary techniques||Allegory, stream of consciousness, metaphor|
|Frequently noted imagery||Earth, wind, water, fire|
|Narrative style||First-person narration|
We can analyse the message of this novel through two perspectives, namely the feminist perspective and the religious perspective.
One of the main messages of the text is that men and women are equals. Women shouldn’t be expected to be angelic beings who sideline their emotions and live to serve men. They have independent will and agency and a God-given right to exert them.
Brontë presents female characters (like Diana and Mary) who find value and happiness outside of marriage and men. Through her novels, Charlotte Brontë asserts that women are capable of living fulfilled lives on their own.
Behaving calmly and rationally and trusting that God will look after you is one of the central messages of the text. Jane is the ideal example of a selfless, kind, Christian woman who acts with her head, not her heart. She has control over her emotions and thinks carefully about every decision.
Helen Burns, Jane’s childhood friend who dies early on in the text, influences Jane to trust God’s plan and use faith to guide her through troublesome times. We see unfaithful and selfish characters, such as John and Aunt Reed, get punished for their foolish and ungodly behaviour. Brontë aims to show us how well it serves individuals to be kind and faithful to God.
Jane Eyre, an orphaned child, lives with her abusive and cruel Aunt Reed and cousins John, Eliza, and Georgiana Reed. All of them dislike Jane and treat her poorly, particularly John. She eventually leaves to become a governess at Thornfield Hall, where most of the novel takes place. Here she meets the brooding Mr Rochester, a notable Byronic hero. Jane’s task is to teach Rochester’s ward, Adèle Varens. Adèle is the daughter of Rochester’s past lover, opera singer Celine Varens.
A Byronic hero is a melancholic and rebellious figure who faces internal conflict because of having committed a wrong deed in the past. The archetype comes from the poet Lord Byron.
Soon after being in the manor, Jane realises that she has feelings for Rochester when he leaves Thornfield and returns seven days later. Pushing their class differences aside, Jane and Rochester develop an intimate bond and eventually decide to get married.
Despite her happiness at Thornfield, the manor has an ominous and mysterious atmosphere mirroring Rochester’s changeable mood, which concerns Jane. On the day of their marriage, she discovers that Rochester has already been married (for 15 years) to Bertha Mason. Bertha has been living in the attic at Thornfield the entire time Jane was there.
Jane then leaves Thornfield and gets on the bus to the nearest village. She almost dies of starvation in the woods, but she is found by two sisters, Mary and Diana Rivers, and their brother St. John Rivers. They kindly offer her shelter, food, and friendship. After receiving an inheritance from Jane’s late uncle, the four discover that they are long-lost cousins. The news delights Jane. She finally has a sense of belonging with her blood relatives, which stands in contrast to her difficult upbringing with the Reeds. Her newfound wealth and family allow her to stand on equal footing with Rochester.
Shortly after this discovery, she hears a distant cry and decides to follow the voice, convinced that it’s Rochester calling out to her. Upon her arrival back at Thornfield, she finds the manor burnt to the ground. Rochester has suffered serious injuries trying to save the people in his household. As a result, he has lost his sight and left hand.
Jane then learns that Bertha, who caused the fire, committed suicide by jumping off the roof as Rochester tried to save her. Now that Rochester’s previous wife has died in the fire, he is an eligible widower, and the novel ends with the pair happily married with a baby boy. Rochester eventually regains his sight to see his son.
Although the novel has autobiographic elements, it is not an autobiography. Jane is very similar to Charlotte Brontë, so much so that George Elliot (a famous author writing under a male pen name) described Charlotte almost exactly the same as Jane: ’a little plain, provincial, sickly-looking old maid. Yet what passion, what fire in her’ (The George Eliot Letters, edited by Gordon S. Haight, 1968).
We have organised the lists of characters in order of significant locations in the novel.
These are the main characters that we meet at Thornfield Hall.
Jane is the protagonist and narrator of the novel. Charlotte Brontë’s life and experiences heavily inspire Jane’s voice. Described as plain, intelligent, and sensible, Jane battles through her emotional turmoil and uses her moral compass to get through her life experiences and overcome abuse and deceit. She sees herself as equal to men and refuses to be viewed as a second-class citizen for no reason other than her gender.
Rochester (full name Edward Fairfax Rochester) is Jane’s employer and future husband. He is a rich and mysterious man who sees beyond social class in his union with Jane. A well-travelled man with reckless tendencies, Rochester is an interesting and alluring figure whom Jane quickly falls in love with.
Food for thought: Many readers regard both Jane and Rochester as progressive figures for their time. However, some feminist readers disagree on the grounds that Rochester locked Bertha in the attic and is responsible for driving her mad. In the 1960s, Dominican-British author Jane Rhys published Wide Sargasso Sea, a postcolonial and feminist prequel to Jane Eyre.
Mrs Fairfax (full name Alice Fairfax) is the housekeeper at Thornfield Hall. She is an old-fashioned woman with a traditional perspective on life. She disapproves of the union between Rochester and Jane because of their age and class differences. Despite this, she is kind and treats Jane with respect. Jane initially thought Mrs Fairfax was the owner of Thornfield. This shows us Jane’s perception of women as capable of doing anything men can do.
Adèle is Rochester’s daughter – a boisterous and bold child whom Jane doesn’t particularly like at first. She is a symbol of Rochester’s international lifestyle (she speaks French). This could explain why Jane doesn’t particularly like her: she represents Rochester’s past, which Jane may slightly resent.
Bertha Mason is Rochester’s first wife. She is a creole woman whose origins are not entirely clear in the text, but it is believed she is of Caribbean descent. Rochester’s family forced him to marry her to gain property. Their marriage broke down, and Bertha started behaving erratically after Rochester locked her in the attic.
Feminist scholars believe her strange behaviour results from Rochester repressing her by imprisoning her upstairs. She eventually burns down Thornfield Hall and has been viewed as a symbol of Jane’s repressed emotions as a victim of the patriarchy.
Did you know? In postcolonial readings of the text, Bertha’s character has been interpreted as a representation of how non-British/non-white people were associated with barbarism in Victorian England. Because of this, Bertha’s heritage as a creole woman would have reinforced her mysterious and erratic character.
Grace is the woman who ‘looks after’ Bertha and stops her from escaping from the attic on the third floor. Her reliance on alcohol causes her to slip up and let Bertha escape. She is blamed for the mysterious sounds of laughter Jane hears coming from the attic.
Richard is Bertha’s brother, and he gets bitten and stabbed by Bertha when he visits Thornfield Hall. After seeing the state his sister has been driven to, he decides to try and stop Jane and Rochester’s wedding, fearing for anyone who gets involved with Rochester.
Blanche is a socialite who dislikes Jane due to her low ranking in society. She hopes to marry Rochester purely for his money. She is there on the night when Rochester dresses up as a psychic to find out how Jane really feels about him.
Here is a table describing each character’s traits.
|Jane Eyre||Moral, rational, child, clever, thoughtful|
|Rochester||Wealthy, elusive, intelligent|
|Mrs Fairfax||Straight-forward, traditional, kind-hearted|
|Adèle||Passionate, wistful, creative|
|Bertha Mason||Powerful, aggressive, unhinged, damaged|
|Grace Poole||Eerie, mysterious, ambiguous|
|Richard Mason||Polite, honest, direct|
|Blanche Ingram||Classist, judgmental, beautiful, rich|
These are some of the most important characters we meet while Jane is attending school.
Helen is Jane’s best friend at school. Although she dies early on in the novel, she has a lasting impact on Jane’s life. Jane remembers Helen’s ability to maintain her composure and remain at peace in times of distress. Helen dies in Jane’s arms, and they look forward to being reunited in heaven.
Mr Brocklehurst is the headteacher of Lowood school. He is mean and hypocritical. He offers his students rations while he and his family feast on plenty of food nightly. He symbolises Christian hypocrisy as he has no compassion or empathy.
Maria Temple is a teacher at Lowood. She is one of Jane’s first female role models. Alongside Bessie, Miss Temple is responsible for one of Jane’s first experiences with a compassionate and kind woman. They form a bond, and Miss Temple makes Jane’s awful experience at Lowood slightly more bearable.
The opposite of Miss Temple, Miss Scatcherd is a rude and cruel teacher. She is particularly horrible to Helen Burns, ridiculing and humiliating her for no particular reason.
Here is a table describing each character’s traits.
|Helen Burns||Faithful, wise, fearless|
Hypocritical, cruel, greedy
Sweet, encouraging, intelligent
Spiteful, vengeful, rude
Mary, her sister Diana, and her brother St. John are Jane’s long-lost cousins. We meet them at Moor House.
Mary is a role model for Jane as an independent and intelligent woman with a purpose in her life outside of marriage. Mary and Jane become close friends and wish the best for each other.
Diana is a kind, intelligent, and independent woman. She urges Jane not to go to India with St. John, being truthful and honest with her cousin. They have a close friendship and support each other.
St. John offers Jane food and shelter as her benefactor when she is lost in the woods. He is a callous and restrained character, dissatisfied with his position in life as the minister at Morton. He wants to obtain more power by becoming a missionary in India. In search of power in other areas of his life, he tries to bully Jane into marrying him.
Top tip: St. John is pronounced ‘sin-jun.’
Here is a table describing each character’s traits.
Educated, compassionate, child
Empathetic, educated, tender
St. John Rivers
Determined, narrow-minded, stubborn
Finally, let’s talk about the characters of Jane’s childhood.
Mrs Reed, also known as Aunt Sarah, is Jane’s cold aunt who neither loves her nor cares for her. She raises Jane until she is ten years old. Later in the novel, Mrs Reed loses all affection from her family, and Jane comes to visit her on her death bed. As the moral and kind-hearted person Jane is, she tries to reconcile with her aunt before she dies. True to her character, Mrs Reed refuses to come to an agreement with Jane.
Food for thought: could the reason that Aunt Reed does not want to forgive Jane be because her husband always admired Jane more than his own children?
Uncle Reed is Jane’s uncle who dies prior to the events of the novel. He was the only member of the family who loved Jane and was kind to her. Uncle Reed asked Aunt Reed to take care of Jane like one of his own children.
John, Eliza, and Georgiana are all Jane’s cousins. Despite the fact they are related, they are spiteful and cruel towards Jane.
John commits suicide halfway through the novel. He was addicted to drinking and gambling, and his mother could no longer pay off his debts. His character has often been read as a commentary on the importance of abiding by Christian values to serve you well in life.
Eliza is jealous of her sister’s beauty. Eliza is a Christian for personal gain, and her character stands in contrast to Jane and Helen, who are good and honest Christians. Eliza ruins her sister’s elopement with Lord Edwin Vere and feels no sympathy for her mother on her death bed. Her resentment towards her sister continues into adulthood when she vows to her dying mother that she will cut herself off from Georgiana. She ends the novel in a religious convent in France.
Georgiana is the beauty of the family. Unlike her siblings, Georgiana apologises to Jane for her previous actions, and the pair become closer. She treats Jane as a confidant later on in the novel.
Bessie is the housekeeper at Gateshead. She is the first character who treats Jane with respect and kindness, telling her stories and singing her songs to keep her spirits up. Bessie eventually marries the coachman at Gateshead, gives birth to three children, and lives a happy and fulfilled life. She is another example of a well-natured character rewarded for her Christian attitude.
Here is a table describing each character’s traits.
Callous, bitter, unforgiving
Caring, understanding, kind-hearted
Spiteful, rude, deluded
Jealous, angry, selfish
Beautiful, spoiled, sorrowful
Empathetic, sweet, good-natured
In this section, we will discuss and analyse some of the most important and famous quotes of the novel.
I am no bird and no net ensnares me.
Jane uses the imagery of an encaged bird to represent how women were treated in the nineteenth century: as objects and men’s possessions. She disagrees with the notion that women exist for male pleasure, claiming she will not allow herself to be trapped by the patriarchy. With this quote, she declares that she is free to exert her independent will in the same way a man would.
Reader, I married him.
This is the most well-known line from the text. It marks the moment when Jane exerts her individual will and decides to marry Rochester after all the difficulties they have been through. The phrasing ‘I married him’ shows Jane’s expression of her independent will. Unlike what women were expected to do in the 1800s, she is not a passive subject who waits for a man who decides to marry her. Instead, she is the active person in the interaction of marriage, and she chooses to marry him.
‘I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me—for you will not get it ...’
The way Jane is immovable in her values yet remains cordial in asserting her wishes is admirable. Through this quote, Brontë comments on the unrealistic expectations placed on women to be angelic, perfect beings at men’s disposal. Jane unapologetically states she is ‘not an angel’ and she is herself, which is more than enough. Brontë believed women were complete and brilliant beings on their own, without male companions, and no woman should change for male acceptance.
Food for thought: Think about the fact that some people disagree with the idea of men and women being equal in modern society. Imagine how revolutionary and controversial Brontë’s views must have been in the 1800s!
... you are inexorable for that unfortunate lady: you speak of her with hate—with vindictive antipathy. It is cruel—she cannot help being mad.
Once again, Jane’s morals and composure are admirable. Despite finding out her fiancé is already married to a woman he has trapped in the attic, she refers to the woman respectfully and sees the mistakes her lover has made. She doesn’t let love or anger cloud her judgment, and she thinks rationally in all situations.
In this quote, Brontë comments on how the mistreatment of women by men and society drove them to hysteria. The notion that men were often responsible for women’s mental instability was a radical suggestion that gave voice to many women who suffered at the hands of their husbands. Brontë spoke for many women who had never voiced their feelings before.
‘I do love you,’ I said, ‘more than ever: but I must not show or indulge the feeling: and this is the last time I must express it.’
This is a sad moment in the text when Jane has to drag herself away from Rochester, despite being completely in love with him. Her honesty with herself and her commitment to her needs are commendable, as she knows that she must do what’s right in the long term, however painful it may seem in the moment. This quote exemplifies Jane’s self-control and discipline over her emotions.
We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence.
Jane relies on God throughout the text, but here we see how she uses Him as a guide and truly feels His presence in her life. Brontë’s Christian upbringing is traceable through Jane’s character, showing the degree to which she (Jane) trusts Him to look after her, especially in times of need (for instance, when she is alone in the woods after leaving Rochester).
I feel your benefits no burden, Jane.
After being abused by her own family and having a negative experience at school, this simple compliment from Rochester is significant to Jane. He explicitly says that he only feels the ‘benefits’ of her presence, no ‘burden’. To be told this after feeling like an outsider her whole life makes Jane feel appreciated and that she can be an asset in someone’s life. Rochester says this early on in their relationship. We could argue this marks the start of their love affair.
I never met your likeness. Jane, you please me, and you master me—you seem to submit, and I like the sense of pliancy you impart; and while I am twining the soft, silken skein round my finger, it sends a thrill up my arm to my heart. I am influenced—conquered; and the influence is sweeter than I can express; and the conquest I undergo has a witchery beyond any triumph I can win.
Rochester’s complete submission to Jane was atypical for a man of this time. He positions himself as a subordinate, stating, ‘I am conquered.’ His willingness to let her master him is a positive for Jane because she is attracted to the fact he sees them as equals despite their difference in age and class.
However, in the latter part of this quote, Rochester reasserts himself as the dominant party, claiming Jane is a ‘triumph’ he can ‘win’. This shows Jane as a prize or a trophy to be won, rather than a human being with thoughts and feelings.
... and I will clasp the bracelets on these fine wrists, and load these fairy-like fingers with rings.
One of the main differences between Rochester and Jane is their class. Rochester is exceptionally wealthy, and after their marriage, it seems he is eager to elevate Jane to his social ranking by offering her fine jewellery and bracelets. Jane isn’t keen on accepting his offer as she is proud of who she is as a simple and practical individual.
Rochester’s excitement at the thought of clasping bracelets around her wrist and loading her fingers with rings arguably reveals that he sees Jane like a doll he can dress up, like an object that he can control. However, Jane soon informs him of her wishes not to be decorated in lavish jewels, and eventually, he is happy to accept her wishes as they remain equals.
Upon further analysis, the imagery surrounding ‘clasped bracelets’ connotates confinement and restriction. Arguably, Brontë represents the control men exert over women through the imagery of the bracelet, as according to Jane, the bracelet represents the shackles of the patriarchy.
‘I am no better than the old, lightning-struck chestnut-tree in Thornfield orchard’, he remarked, ere long. ‘And what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?’
Rochester speaks these words at the end of the novel when he is disabled and blind. He no longer sees himself as worthy of Jane’s hand in marriage, likening himself to the ‘lightning-struck chestnut-tree’, a key symbol throughout the text representing their marriage. Rochester’s losses in the fire allow him to become Jane’s equal, and they get married at the end of the novel. Some feminist critics believe it is a negative thing that they could only get married once they were deemed as equals in class simply because he was an old and ragged man.
Here are some general, notable quotes from the text.
My Maker and yours, who will never destroy what He created. I rely implicitly on His power, and confide wholly in His goodness: I count the hours till that eventful one arrives which shall restore me to Him, reveal Him to me.
Helen Burns speaks these words before she dies. Her trust and faith in God have a remarkable influence on Jane. Throughout the many difficult situations she experiences, Jane has faith and hope in God. Once again, Brontë’s religious upbringing is traceable in the novel.
How it will answer, I cannot tell: I really don’t know. Equality of position and fortune is advisable in most cases; and there is twenty years of difference in your ages. He might almost be your father.
To Jane’s dismay, Mrs Fairfax disapproves of their union, believing her position and fortune to be too different for the marriage to be successful. It is easy for readers to forget the differences between the pair because we hear their romance from Jane’s perspective. Mrs Fairfax is an important character as she reminds readers of how radical Jane and Rochester’s union really was.
A missionary’s wife you must—shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you—not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.
This quote is the moment when St. John asks Jane to marry him. His forceful and belittling tone is revealed by his use of the phrase, ‘You shall be mine: I claim you.’ St John represents male entitlement and stands for the many men who believed they deserved any woman they wanted to possess.
Charlotte Brontë wrote Jane Eyre under the pseudonym Currer Bell. The novel was first published in 1847.
Jane Eyre was written in the 1800s and first published in 1847.
Jane Eyre is a novel about the titular character’s trials and tribulations as a governess until she finally finds acceptance in the mysterious Mr Rochester.
One of the main messages of Jane Eyre is that men and women are equals. Women shouldn’t be expected to be angelic beings who sideline their emotions and live to serve men. They have independent will and agency and a God-given right to exert them.
Radical for its views on the equal standing of men and women for its time, Jane Eyre remains popular because of its universal themes concerning gender roles, the power of love, and Christian morality.
Who wrote Jane Eyre?
Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Brontë under the pen name Currer Bell.
When was Jane Eyre written?
Jane Eyre was published in 1847.
Which cousin was particularly mean to Jane?
All of her cousins were mean to her, but John was the worst as he sent her to the Red Room.
What are the names of the two friends Jane makes at school? How do they benefit her life?
Jane makes friends with Miss Temple and Helen Burns, who change her life for the better. Miss Temple exemplifies kindness and good manners, while Helen teaches Jane about the importance of God and spirituality.
What age is Jane when she goes to Lowood school?
How did George Elliot describe Charlotte Brontë?
George Elliot described Charlotte Brontë as ‘a little plain, provincial, sickly-looking old maid. Yet what passion, what fire in her.’
Why does Mrs Fairfax disapprove of Jane and Rochester’s union?
Mrs Fairfax disapproves of their union because she believes their position and fortune are too different for the marriage to be successful.
Who is Grace Poole, and what is her significance in the novel?
Grace Poole is the woman who ‘looks after’ Bertha and stops her from escaping from the attic on the third floor. Her reliance on alcohol causes her to slip up and let Bertha escape. She is blamed for the mysterious sounds of laughter Jane hears coming from the attic.
Rochester doesn’t believe himself to be a worthy husband to Jane. True or false?
Why is it noteworthy that Jane doesn’t speak of Bertha in a derogatory way?
Jane refers to Bertha in a respectful manner. She doesn’t let love or anger cloud her judgment, and she thinks clearly and rationally in all situations. Brontë comments on how men mistreating women drove them to hysteria.
What does the phrasing ‘I married him’ say about Jane?
The phrasing ‘I married him’ exhibits Jane’s expression of her independent will. She is the active person in the interaction of marriage, and the wording implies it was her choice.
Why is the quote ‘I feel your benefits no burden, Jane’ key to the text?
The quote ‘I feel your benefits no burden, Jane’ is key to the text because it makes Jane feel appreciated (finally after years of feeling like an outsider) and that she can be an asset to somebody.
Which cousin does Jane end up on good terms with at the end of the novel? (Apart from her long-lost cousins Mary, St John, and Diana.)
Georgiana and Jane become better acquainted when they get older as Georgiana confides in Jane.
Why do some feminist critics take issue with the following quote:
‘I never met your likeness. Jane, you please me, and you master me—you seem to submit, and I like the sense of pliancy you impart; and while I am twining the soft, silken skein round my finger, it sends a thrill up my arm to my heart. I am influenced—conquered; and the influence is sweeter than I can express; and the conquest I undergo has a witchery beyond any triumph I can win.’
Rochester’s complete submission to Jane was atypical for a man of his time. However, in the latter part of the quote, he reasserts himself as the dominant party, claiming Jane is a ‘triumph’ he can ‘win’. This illustrates Jane as a prize or a trophy to be won, rather than a human being with thoughts and feelings.
After being bitten and stabbed by his sister, Richard Masson fled Thornfield and never returned. True or false?
Why is Mr Brocklehurst described as hypocritical, and what is the significance of his character?
Mr Brocklehurst can be described as a hypocrite because he offers his students rations while he and his family feast on plenty of food nightly. He is a representation of the negativity surrounding Christianity, with no compassion or awareness for other people’s feelings.
What are some of the complexities surrounding Bertha’s character?
Many critics have argued that Bertha is a representation of Jane’s inner feelings and frustrations towards the patriarchal system and the subordinate position of women in society.
Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.
Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.
Create and find flashcards in record time.
Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.
Have all your study materials in one place.
Upload unlimited documents and save them online.
Identify your study strength and weaknesses.
Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.
Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.
Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.
Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.
Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.
Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.