How does Charlotte Brontë incorporate elements of the Gothic tradition into the novel?
In the Gothic literary tradition, the narrative structure of a text is meant to evoke a sense of horror or suspense, often through the use of the supernatural, hidden secrets, mysterious characters, and dark passion. Brontë incorporates each of these elements into the novel and especially highlights the importance of the mysterious Byronic hero in the form of Mr. Rochester. Brontë also emphasizes the Gothic nature of Thornfield Hall and incorporates the figure of the Madwoman in the Attic as the primary conflict of the novel. Brontë uses these Gothic elements as a way to heighten the tension and emotion over the course of the narrative, as well as to reveal an almost supernatural connection between Jane and Mr. Rochester.
Is Jane Eyre a likable protagonist? Why or why not?
Jane is an atypical heroine for the Victorian period, and even for contemporary literature, because she is not beautiful in a traditional sense. Unlike Georgiana and Blanche Ingram, who are each lauded as exceptional beauties in the text, Jane is small and slight, with ordinary features and a slightly elvish appearance. With that in mind, Jane is particularly likable protagonist because she is not an idealized figure; her personal and physical faults make her seem more realistic and allow readers to relate to her more closely. At the same time, however, Jane's firm morality and harsh rejection of Mr. Rochester may seem rather cold and unlikable to the more passionate readers. Still, Jane's independent spirit and courage against all obstacles ensure that she is a protagonist to be valued and encouraged.
How does Jane Eyre compare to Bertha Mason?
As the stereotypical Madwoman in the Attic, Bertha is presented as a clear antagonist to Jane in the novel. Not only does she personify the chaos and dark animal sensuality that contrasts so sharply to Jane's calm morality, Bertha is ultimately the sole obstacle between Jane and Mr. Rochester and their eventual happiness. However, while Jane and Bertha seem to be wholly distinct from each other, Bronte does suggest that the two characters have significant similarities. Although Jane is calm and controlled as an adult, she exhibits much of the same passion and bestiality as a child that Bertha displays in her madness. Moreover, though Jane leaves Thornfield rather than become Mr. Rochester's mistress, she still possesses the same qualities of sensuality as Bertha but is simply more successful at suppressing them.
How does the novel comment on the position of women in Victorian society?
As a woman, Jane is forced to adhere to the strict expectations of the time period. Thought to be inferior to men physically and mentally, women could only hope to achieve some sort of power through marriage. As a governess, Jane suffers under an even more rigid set of expectations that highlight her lower-class status. With this social construct in mind, Jane has a submissive position to a male character until the very end of the novel. At Lowood, she is subservient to Mr. Brocklehurst; at Moor House, she is under the direct control of St. John Rivers; and even at Thornfield, she is in a perpetually submissive position to Mr. Rochester. Over the course of the narrative, Jane must escape from each of these inferior positions in an effort to gain her own independence from male domination. After her uncle leaves her his fortune, Jane is able to achieve this independence and can marry Mr. Rochester on her own terms, as an equal. Yet, Bronte emphasizes that Jane's sudden inheritance and resulting happy ending are not typical for women during the time period. Under most circumstances, Jane would be forced to maintain a subservient position to men for her entire life, either by continuing her work as a governess or by marrying an oppressive husband.
Considering his treatment of Bertha Mason, is Mr. Rochester a sympathetic or unsympathetic character?
Although Mr. Rochester's treatment of Bertha may seem to be cruel, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for his situation. Mr. Rochester married Bertha under false pretenses; he was unaware of her hereditary madness and was swept away by her exotic beauty and charm. After discovering his wife's madness, Mr. Rochester does not cast her out but rather attempts to make her life as comfortable as possible. Although Bertha's chamber in Thornfield seems inhumane, it is important to note that the conditions in madhouses of the time period would have been far worse. Mr. Rochester also is more sympathetic when we consider his extreme unhappiness and loneliness: he was fooled by the appearance of love and has been paying for his mistake ever since.
How does Mr. Rochester compare to St. John Rivers?
Throughout the novel, Bronte associates Mr. Rochester with fire and passion and St. John Rivers with ice and cold detachment. Bronte also presents Jane's potential union with each man as profoundly different. With Mr. Rochester, Jane would be forced to sacrifice her morality and sense of duty for the sake of passion. With St. John Rivers, however, Jane would have to sacrifice all sense of passion for the sake of religious duty. Significantly, Bronte also suggests that St. John may not be too different from Mr. Rochester. He is passionately in love with Rosamond Oliver, and his feelings for Rosamond seem to mirror Mr. Rochester's fiery emotions for Jane. However, St. John forces himself to suppress his feelings in favor of a cold evangelical exterior and, as a result, lives his life in solitude.
Why is Jane unable to stay with Mr. Rochester after his marriage to Bertha Mason is revealed?
Although Jane is very much in love with Mr. Rochester, she is unable to give in to the passion that she feels. Her eight years at Lowood School and her conversations with Helen Burns taught her the importance of suppressing passion and lust with morality and a sense of duty. If Jane were to stay with Mr. Rochester, it could only be as his mistress, and Jane is unwilling to sacrifice her sense of right and wrong in order to placate her personal desires. However, because Jane's love for Mr. Rochester is so strong, she realizes that she will be unable to resist him and her own desires if she remains at Thornfield Manor. Thus, when Jane leaves Thornfield, she sacrifices her personal happiness in order to save them both from committing a sin that would destroy the purity of their love.
What is the significance of Charlotte Brontë ending the novel with a statement from St. John Rivers?
In the last chapter of the novel, Brontë describes Jane's happiness with Mr. Rochester: they have married, had children, and Mr. Rochester has regained sight in one of his eyes. Yet, instead of ending the book on this happy note, Brontë concludes the novel with a letter from St. John in India in which he mentions a premonition of his death. St. John has done his duty to God by working as a missionary in India, but his existence still seems small and lonely in comparison to the joyous life that Jane has made with Mr. Rochester. Brontë suggests that even the most pious life is meaningless if it is devoid of love. St. John has a chance for love with Rosamond Oliver, but he sacrificed his happiness with her because he did not believe that love could co-exist with religion. Jane's ending with Mr. Rochester demonstrates the falsity of St. John's beliefs and reminds the readers of what could have happened to Jane if she had given up her love for Mr. Rochester.
What is the role of family in the novel?
The novel traces Jane's development as an independent individual, but it can also be read as a description of her personal journey to find her family. In each of the five stages of the novel, Jane searches for the family that she has never known. At Gateshead, the Reed family is related to her by blood and, while Bessie serves as a sort of surrogate maternal figure, Jane is unable to receive the true love and affection that she desires. At Lowood, Jane finds another maternal figure in the form of Miss Temple, but again, the school does not become a true home to her. When Jane reaches Thornfield and meets Mr. Rochester, she finally finds the love and family for which she has thirsted: Thornfield becomes her home because of her love for Mr. Rochester. However, because of Mr. Rochester's existing marriage to Bertha Mason (a union which nullifies any of Jane's familial connections to the Manor), Jane must move on and attempt to replace the family that she has now lost. Ironically, when Jane stays at Moor House, she actually discovers her true family: the Rivers siblings are her cousins. Yet, Jane's true sense of family remains with the love she feels for Mr. Rochester and, by returning to him at Ferndean and finally accepting his marriage proposal, she is able to fulfill her desire for a true family at last.
How does the novel relate to Charlotte Brontë's personal life?
Many aspects of the novel are autobiographical. Lowood School is based on the Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge, where Jane and her sisters studied after their mother's death. Brontë's school has similarly poor conditions, and Brontë modeled Mr. Brocklehurst after the Reverend William Carus Wilson, an evangelical minister who managed the school. Brontë also informed the death of Helen Burns by recalling the deaths of her two sisters during a fever outbreak at their school. John Reed's descent into gambling and alcoholism relates to the struggles of Brontë's brother, Patrick Branwell, during the later years of his life. Most importantly, Jane's experience as a governess were modeled directly on Brontë's own experiences as a governess in wealthy families.