The protagonist and narrator of Jane Eyre, Jane begins the novel as an angry, rebellious, 10-year-old orphan and gradually develops into a sensitive, artistic, maternal, and fiercely independent young woman. In each stage of the novel, Jane is met with fierce opposition from those around her, often because of her low social class and lack of economic independence. Yet, Jane maintains her independent spirit, growing stronger in her beliefs and ideals with each conflict; Jane's inferior position as a governess serves simply to heighten her thirst for independence, both financial and emotional. She rejects marriages to both Mr. Rochester and St. John because she understands she will have to forfeit her independence in the unions. Only after she has attained the financial independence and self-esteem to maintain a marriage of equality does Jane allow herself to marry Mr. Rochester and enjoy a life of love. This self-esteem is gained through Jane's making her mark in various worlds: Lowood, Thornfield, and particularly Moor House, in which she is valued for her humanity and values. Paralleling Jane's desire for independence is her search for a proper set of religious values. She rejects the extremist models of Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, and St. John, and eventually settles on a spirituality of love and connection. The novel ends happily for Jane: not only does she maintain her independence and live with the man she loves, she is able to overcome the social constraints of her position as governess and become a heroine with which every reader can relate.
The owner of Thornfield Manor and Jane's lover. Mr. Rochester is an interesting twist on the tragic Byronic hero; though not handsome in a strict sense, his great passion and forcefulness make him an extremely appealing and sensual character in Jane's perspective. Mr. Rochester is also a sympathetic character because of the mistakes he has made in his past: deceived by Bertha Mason's external beauty, Mr. Rochester is constantly brooding and rejecting the darkness of his decision. Despite their difference in backgrounds and social status, Mr. Rochester is a kindred spirit to Jane and feels a sort of emotional peace when he is in her presence. Mr. Rochester is also particularly important to Jane because he provides her with the unconditional love and sense of family that she has never experienced before. Although Mr. Rochester is clearly presented as Jane's superior in intellect and worldly knowledge, the revelation of his marriage to the insane Bertha Mason demonstrates that Jane possesses the moral and ethical superiority in the relationship. Jane rejects his marriage proposal after she learns of Bertha, not only because she feels it would flout the law, but perhaps because Bertha's marriage is a cautionary symbol of Victorian marriage: despite Mr. Rochester's best intentions and Jane's equal intellectual standing, he may still end up imprisoning Jane in his own way through matrimony, just as he has imprisoned Bertha. Ironically, when Jane finally does agree to marry Rochester after having gained her independence, the fire Bertha set to Thornfield has blinded him. Thus, he is suddenly dependent on Jane, a fact which nullifies the typical marriage inequalities of the time period and tips the balance in her favor. On a kinder note, Brontë closes the novel with Mr. Rochester's sight regained in one eye: the marriage is restored to equality and Mr. Rochester and Jane can be happy in their union.
St. John Rivers
The evangelist who takes Jane in at Moor House, brother to Diana and Mary and, it turns out, cousin to Jane. St. John is the last of the three major Christian models Jane observes over the course of the novel. Stoical, cold, and strictly devoted to Christianity, St. John's religion is far too detached for Jane. He refuses to give in to his love for Rosamond Oliver out of a warped sense of duty to God, and Jane concludes that he still knows little about God's love. Although St. John does not love Jane, he believes that she would be suited to missionary work in India and thus, asks her to marry him. While Jane admits that she would gladly accompany him as his cousin (or adopted sister), marrying him under such circumstances would mean forfeiting her rights to a life of passion and love. Losing her autonomy in such a way is unacceptable to her, while accompanying him without marriage violates St. John's sense of propriety. Jane's rejection of St. John's advances seems to spur her return to Rochester, her one chance for spiritual passion. While Rochester is described in terms of fire and flames, St. John is constantly associated with ice and cold, a connection that heightens the lack of passion and joy that would come with a marriage to him. Although the book ends happily for Jane and Mr. Rochester, St. John's ending is far more ambiguous. Although he has traveled to India to fulfill his Christian duty, Bronte still gives the impression that St. John's life could have been more meaningful if he had ever accepted love.
Jane's friend at Lowood School. Though she dies early on in Jane's time at Lowood, Helen is perhaps the fourth-most important character in the novel for her symbolic value. Upholding the extreme Christian doctrine of tolerance and forgiveness at all costs, Helen serves as a foil to both Mr. Brocklehurst, with his cruel lack of Christian compassion, and Jane, with her anger at those who mistreat her. Helen espouses a Christianity in which faithfulness and compassion are rewarded in Heaven. As an orphan like Jane, Helen believes that her true family is waiting for her in the kingdom of Heaven. With that in mind, she faithfully turns the other cheek when accepting all the cruel punishments handed down at Lowood. She faces especial torments from Mrs. Scratcherd, and, though Helen is distressed by the treatment, she remains unwavering in her beliefs. When Helen dies, Jane absorbs the lesson that the meek shall not inherit the earth. While Jane initially rejects Helen's brand of religion, she does incorporate it in her life later on, especially when she relies on the spiritual kindness of strangers after leaving Thornfield.
The stingy manager of Lowood. Mr. Brocklehurst hypocritically espouses Christian morals in his evangelical sermons and then treats the students at Lowood with disrespect and cruelty. The starvation-level rations and poor condition of the school come in sharp contrast to the luxurious and well-fed existence enjoyed by Brocklehurst's family, and it is discovered that Mr. Brocklehurst has been embezzling school funds to line his own pockets. He is eventually replaced as head of the school.
The kindly housekeeper at Thornfield. Distantly related to the Rochesters, Mrs. Fairfax is extremely welcoming to Jane upon her arrival to Thornfield and serves as another surrogate mother for Jane in the novel. She warns Jane against marrying Mr. Rochester because she is concerned about the differences in age and social class. After Jane's departure from Thornfield, Mrs. Fairfax retires with a generous pension from Mr. Rochester.
Rochester's insane wife and Richard Mason's sister. A beautiful Creole woman from a prominent West Indies family, Bertha was married to Mr. Rochester in an effort to consolidate the wealth of the two families. Suffering from hereditary insanity that had been kept secret from Mr. Rochester, Bertha began to spiral into madness and violence shortly after their marriage. Eventually, Bertha is imprisoned in the attic at Thornfield under the guard of Grace Poole, a confinement meant to ensure both her own protection and the protection of the other inhabitants of the house. Bertha occasionally escapes from her prison and wreaks havoc in the house; her last outburst involves setting fire to Thornfield and leaping to her own death. As the representation of the classic Gothic figure of "The Madwoman in the Attic," Bertha is both pitiable and terrifying and supports Bronte's critique of gender inequalities and Victorian marriage during the period.
Jane's aunt. Although she promised Mr. Reed that she would treat Jane as her own, Mrs. Reed favors her own spoiled children and harshly punishes Jane for her seeming impudence, even locking her up in the "red-room." When Jane is ten years old, Mrs. Reed sends her to Lowood and then tells John Eyre that Jane has died of typhus fever at the school. On her deathbed, Mrs. Reed reveals that she hated Jane because Mr. Reed loved Jane more than any of his biological children, and she refuses to apologize for mistreating her.
A servant at Gateshead. Bessie is Jane's only comfort during her time at Gateshead and occasionally sings her songs and tells her stories. Acting as a surrogate mother for Jane, she is particularly kind after Jane's experience in the red-room and even treats her to a tart on her favorite plate. Bessie visits Jane at Lowood several years after her departure and is impressed with Jane's gentile demeanor. She marries the Gateshead coachman, Robert Leaven, and has three children, the youngest of which she names Jane.
Jane's cousin and brother to Eliza and Georgiana. The spoiled darling of his mother, John constantly bullies Jane and is ultimately responsible for her confinement in the red-room at Gateshead. John becomes an alcoholic and avid gambler during his adulthood and commits suicide in order to escape from his massive gambling debts.
Jane's cousin and Eliza's sister. The prettier of the two Reed girls, Georgiana's beauty makes her a spoiled, selfish child, though she befriends Jane as Mrs. Reed dies. She blames Eliza for her failed plans to marry Lord Edwin Vere and shows a similar lack of compassion during her mother's illness. She eventually marries a wealthy man.
Jane's cousin and Georgiana's sister. Described by Jane as headstrong and selfish, Eliza is extremely jealous of her sister's beauty and vindictively breaks up Georgiana's engagement to Lord Edwin Vere. She becomes a devout Christian, but, rather than espousing compassion and humanity, she believes only in the importance of "usefulness." After her mother's death, Eliza breaks off all communication with Georgiana and enters a convent in France. She eventually becomes Mother Superior and leaves all of her money to the church.
The French-speaking, scampish ward of Mr. Rochester that Jane is hired to tutor. Adèle is the illegitimate child of the opera dancer Céline Varens and an unnamed gentleman. Although she lacks discipline and intellect and suffers from many "French" traits, Adèle improves greatly under Jane's tutelage. She studies at a school of Jane's choosing and grows into a sensible and docile woman who becomes a good companion for Jane.
Bertha Mason's keeper at Thornfield. As the guard for the third-story prison, Grace's fondness for gin and occasional alcohol-induced naps allow Bertha to escape and wreak havoc in the house, including setting fire to Mr. Rochester's bedchamber, ripping Jane's wedding veil, and causing the fire that destroys Thornfield. Jane is led to believe that the strange goings-on in Thornfield are caused by Grace Poole. It is only after Mr. Briggs and Richard Mason reveal that Mr. Rochester is already married that Jane understands Grace's true position at Thornfield.
The young and beautiful society lady who is Jane's primary romantic rival. Jane is convinced that the haughty Miss Ingram would be a poor match for Mr. Rochester, but she believes that Mr. Rochester prefers Blanche's beautiful appearance to her own plainness. Mr. Rochester is aware that Blanche is only interested in him for his money, but he pretends that he loves her in order to make Jane jealous. Blanche's comments about governesses during her visit to Thornfield are particularly upsetting to Jane and demonstrate the popular beliefs about governesses during Charlotte Bronte's time.
The beautiful and kindly superintendent of Lowood. Miss Temple is presented as the foil to the cruel and stingy Mr. Brocklehurst and strives to treat the students at Lowood with as much compassion as possible, even providing them with extra bread and cheese to supplement their meager meals. Miss Temple is particularly kind to Jane and Helen, providing them with seedcake during their tea together and giving Helen a warm bed to die in. As one of the novel's surrogate maternal figures for Jane, Miss Temple demonstrates the lady-like demeanor and inner strength that Jane wishes to possess as an adult.
Adèle's mother and Mr. Rochester's former mistress. A French opera dancer, Céline pretended to love Rochester but actually only used him for his money. Rochester overhears a conversation between her and one of her other lovers and, filled with rage at his personal humiliation, promptly severs all ties with her. Although Adèle is not his biological daughter, Rochester takes her in as his ward when Céline abandons her to run off to Italy with a musician.
The brother of Bertha Mason. The handsome but weak-willed man, Richard met Mr. Rochester in the West Indies and encouraged him to marry his beautiful sister without mentioning her hereditary madness. Richard comes to Thornfield in order to check on his sister and is brutally bitten and stabbed by Bertha when he goes to her room alone. When he later learns of Mr. Rochester's bigamous plan to marry Jane, Richard arrives back in England with the solicitor, Mr. Briggs, and stops the marriage.
Jane's cousin and the sister of St. John and Mary. Charismatic and independent, Diana is forced to work as a governess in a wealthy household because of her family's financial difficulties. Along with her sister, Diana reveals the injustice of society's treatment of well-bred, intelligent women who are unmarried. Diana supports Jane's decision not to marry St. John and helps Jane to maintain her independence. She marries a navy officer.
Jane's cousin and the sister of St. John and Diana Rivers. A strong and independent woman, Mary is forced to work as a governess after her family's loss of wealth. Despite their misfortunes, Mary is kind and compassionate, particularly when Jane begins to live with them at Moor House. Mary and her sister both exemplify the type of independent woman that Jane desires to become. She marries a clergyman.
The kindly apothecary who suggests Jane attend school at Lowood after her traumatic experience in the red-room at Gateshead. Mr. Lloyd also sends a letter to Miss Temple that clears Jane of Mr. Brocklehurst's charges that she is a liar.
The solicitor from London who publicly reveals Rochester's marriage to Bertha Mason. Briggs is also instrumental in giving Jane her proper inheritance after her uncle dies.
The elderly servant at Moor House. Hannah initially refuses to allow Jane to enter the house because she believes that Jane is a lower-class beggar. Jane chides her for her class prejudices, and the two eventually become good friends.
The daughter of Mr. Oliver. The beautiful and angelic Rosamond is the benefactress of Jane's school and is overcome with love for St. John. Although he secretly returns her love, St. John cannot allow himself to marry her because of their differing circumstances and his intention to become a missionary. Rosamond ultimately marries the wealthy Mr. Granby.
Rosamond's father. Mr. Oliver is the wealthiest man in Morton and attempts to use his wealth for the benefit of the town, particularly in terms of helping St. John Rivers with his school.
Jane's uncle (as well as the uncle of the Rivers siblings), John made his fortune in wine in Madeira. He intended to adopt Jane but was told that she was dead by Mrs. Reed. Although he dies before they ever meet, John leaves his vast fortune of 20,000 pounds to Jane.
The history and grammar teacher at Lowood. Miss Scatcherd is generally unkind to her students, but she is particularly cruel and abusive to Helen.
Mr. Rochester's faithful dog. Pilot foreshadows Mr. Rochester's presence throughout the book, appearing immediately before Mr. Rochester falls off his horse and maintaining his loyal companionship after Mr. Rochester has lost his eyesight and hand.
Jane's other uncle. Because of his great affection for his sister (Jane's mother), Mr. Reed took Jane in when her parents died and intended to raise her with love and kindness. While he was dying, he made Mrs. Reed promise to raise Jane as one of her own, but Mrs. Reed breaks the promise. Although Mr. Reed does not appear as a living character in the novel, Jane constantly feels the presence of his "ghost" during her childhood at Gateshead.
John and Mary
A married couple who works at Thornfield and then cares for Mr. Rochester during his convalescence at Ferndean.
The coachman at Gateshead and Bessie's husband. After John Reed's death, Robert comes to Thornfield to bring Jane back to Gateshead with him.
One of the teachers at Lowood. Miss Miller greets Jane on her initial arrival to the school.
A teacher at Lowood who instructs the students in sewing.
The French instructor at Lowood.
Jane's roommate and fellow teacher at Lowood.
An orphan who is hired by Rosamond Oliver to assist Jane at the school in Morton.
Jane Eyre Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Jane Eyre is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Many people feel that Mr. Rochester hides his wife away in the attic and trying to trick Jane into a bigamous marriage. Jane rejects his marriage proposal after she learns of Bertha, not only because she feels it would flout the law, but...