Jane Eyre Analysis
Table of Contents
The novel Jane Eyre has been written in the form of an autobiography, using the personal pronoun “I”. However, it must be kept in mind that the novel is the autobiography of Jane Eyre, and not of Charlotte Bronte. Of course, it is true that some of Charlotte Bronte’s own painful experiences have gone into Jane Eyre’s account of her life; but the novel should not be treated as Charlotte Bronte’s autobiography in disguise. The novel thus reminds us of Charles Dickens’s novel David Copperfield which too contains some of the actual experiences of the author.
Pathos in Jane Eyre
This novel is, on the whole, bleak, sad, and very depressing. The subject of this novel is the trials and tribulations of the heroine who tells the story Jane Eyre is almost a tragic figure from the beginning onwards, and remains one till the very end when at last she achieves the fulfillment of her deepest desire through her marital union with the man, Mr. Rochester, whom she has loved for a long time. Jane Eyre‘s pleasant experiences are few and far between; and the story is, on the whole, very moving and poignant.
A Gripping Story
Jane Eyre is a novel which contains a most interesting, and almost gripping, story. The novel is worth reading for its plot-interest alone, apart from other considerations. We go through the story almost breathlessly and find ourselves unable to put aside the book till we have reached the end. The story has several well-defined stages.
The first stage of the story is Jane Eyre’s experiences at Gateshead-hall where she becomes a victim of the callousness of her aunt Mrs. Reed and her three children.
The next stage is Jane Eyre’s stay at Lowood School where she spends six years as a student and two years as a teacher. Here one of her most outstanding experiences is her friendship with Helen Burns who is a disguised portrayal of Charlotte Bronte’s own sister, Maria, who had died very young of tuberculosis.
The next stage in Jane Eyre’s life is her stay at Thornfield Hall as a governess to a little French girl called Adele. This stage is the most important in the story because it represents the most conspicuous, the most romantic, and also the most painful experiences of Jane’s life. Here she falls in love with Mr. Rochester who happens to be an already married man, having a mad wife living in the same house as he himself.
Then comes Jane’s departure from Thornfield Hall and her plight when weary and hungry, she finds it impossible to get any food or shelter till she arrives at the house of a clergyman and missionary by the name of St. John Rivers. Here she has a brief respite from misery and feels quite comfortable till she begins to be pressed hard, and almost harassed by St. John’s proposal that she should marry him.
The final stage in her life comes when she arrives at Ferndean and gets married to Mr. Rochester who is now a blind man and whose wife had perished at Thornfield Hall in the course of a fire which she had herself started. All these vicissitudes in the life of Jane Eyre constitute a story of unusual interest.
The Structure of Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre has been charged by some critics with being a novel having a very loose structure. But the charge is ill-conceived and not sustainable. An autobiography is inevitably a sprawling narrative covering either the whole or a very large part of the life of the central character who in the present case is Jane Eyre. An autobiography covers the different stages in the life of the hero or the heroine, or of both; and, as such, it cannot be expected to possess a compact or close-knit construction. The word “loose” for the structure of this novel may aptly be used but not in any derogatory sense. An autobiography, apart from narrating the varied experiences of the hero or the heroine, is bound also to contain a large number of characters because the hero or the heroine would naturally and inevitably come into contact with a large variety of persons in the course of his or her life.
In the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens we have a multiplicity of characters, and in Jane Eyre too we come across a very large number of characters. The unity of a novel, written in the autobiographical mode, consists in the fact that our attention throughout the narrative is focused upon the narrator of the story even though the other characters, who figure in the novel, may attract our attention and arouse our interest at various stages in the story. The subsidiary characters in Jane Eyre do contribute, and in a large measure, to the interest of the whole; but Jane Eyre herself remains a towering personality in the novel, and Mr. Rochester comes very close to her in the elaborateness of the portrayal.
A Romantic Novel
Jane Eyre is undoubtedly a romantic novel. In this respect it differs considerably from Jane Austen’s novels which may be described as wholly realistic with the romantic elements intruding only occasionally. Jane Eyre too is markedly realistic; and yet the label “romantic” is more appropriate for it.
The chief romantic element in this novel is the passionate love-affair of Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. Mr. Rochester is by no means a handsome man. Nor is Jane Eyre a pretty girl. Besides, there is a great disparity of ages between Jane Eyre who is just twenty and Mr. Rochester who is approaching forty. In one sense, therefore, this love-affair between a young girl, who is plain-looking and an elderly man, who is physically almost unattractive appears to be an unromantic affair. But the intensity and the fervour of love.com both sides, the constancy of love on both sides, and the almost obsessive nature of this love on both sides make it a highly romantic affair.
Improbabilities and Absurdities in the Novel
Although realistic at the core, Jane Eyre contains, like several of Shakespeare’s plays, a number of improbabilities and absurdities which mar the artistic quality of the work. The very fact the Mr. Rochester’s mad wife is living in the same house as he himself and has been confined to a room in the top storey of the house, without her presence being known even to the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, constitutes a most glaring absurdity. The visit of Mr. Mason to Thornfield Hall, and his going to meet his mad sister Bertha in the room to which she is confined, constitute another absurdity because Mr. Mason had specifically been asked by Mr. Rochester to wait till the following day to meet her.
Mr. Rochester himself is a mysterious figure who remains away from Thornfield Hall most of the time, and pays only occasional visits to Thornfield Hall, staying there only for a few days each time. Mr. Rochester is a riddle to all the servants at Thornfield Hall, and even to the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, who is related to him. Mr. Rochester’s undertaking the responsibility for the upbringing of Adele, with whom he has no relationship at all, is yet another absurdity. Mr. Rochester’s attempt to rescue his mad wife, who had herself set fire to the house, is a most unconvincing act of self sacrifice. In fact, to us it seems to be an act of madness on his part to risk his own life to save a mad woman who had been a source of torment to him always. Then the discovery that St. John and his two sisters are Jane Eyre’s cousins is a glaring improbability. It is a coincidence which does not carry conviction with us.
Dramatic Events and Situations
Jane Eyre abounds in events and situations which are dramatic and therefore, exciting. Jane Eyre’s attitude of defiance towards the boy John Reed and towards her aunt Mrs. Reed constitutes a dramatic episode because she can no longer tolerate the unsympathetic, callous, and even cruel treatment of her by the Reed family.
At Lowood School, Miss Scatcherd’s degrading treatment of Helen Burns, and the manner of the death of that pious girl, are dramatic incidents, as is the humiliation of Jane Eyre by Mr. Brocklehurst who describes her openly as a liar and as a deceitful girl. The outbreak of typhus, and the many deaths which take place at Lowood School because of it, are another dramatic episode. Jane Eyre’s encounter with a horseman who is no other than Mr. Rochester himself is a dramatic event because the encounter takes place under unusual circumstances. The horse slips on the ice-covered pathway, and both the horse and the rider tumble to the ground, much to the dismay of Jane Eyre. Most dramatic is Mr. Rochester’s declaration to Jane Eyre of his love for her after having given her the impression that he is going to marry Blanche Ingram.
Another dramatic episode is the aimless journey which Jane Eyre undertakes along a road over which she had never travelled before. And of course, the final meeting between Jane and Mr. Rochester, with the latter not expecting it in the least is highly dramatic.
Melodramatic Events and Situations
The novel Jane Eyre abounds in melodramatic events and situations as well. A melodramatic event or situation is one which is characterized by a certain degree of exaggeration. A melodramatic event or situation is something thrilling, stirring, and sensational; and such an event or situation excites a feeling of surprise or amazement or bewilderment to an excessive degree, Mr. Rochester’s mad wife coming downstairs in the middle of the night in a stealthy manner and setting fire to his bed-curtains is a melodramatic event; and equally melodramatic is Jane Eyre’s waking up Mr. Rochester just in time to save his life from the fire.
The manner, in which Mr. Rochester’s mad wife is confined to a room at the top of the house, is another bit of melodrama and, though kept in the custody of a maidservant called Grace Poole, the mad woman yet manages occasionally to slip out of the room to do some mischief or the other because of Grace Poole’s negligence caused by her weakness for gin and beer. Much more melodramatic is the mad woman’s wounding her own brother Mr. Mason with a knife and biting him severely on his shoulder, making Mr. Mason howl with pain and awakening all the guests who are sleeping that night in Thornfield Hall, Melodramatic also is the mad woman’s act in setting fire to Thornfield Hall and herself jumping to her death on the ground; and melodramatic is Mr. Rochester’s mad attempt to save the mad woman’s life.
A Realistic Novel
Jane Eyre is an essentially realistic novel. Perhaps the most outstanding piece of realism in this novel is the treatment of the theme of childhood. The manner in which the ten-year-old Jane Eyre’s sufferings and secret thoughts have been described in the opening chapters of the novel is simply remarkable. The description of the conditions, under which the orphan girls live and study in the charity-school called Lowood School, is again marvelous because of its realism. But the most striking element of realism in this novel is the portrayal of characters.
Charlotte Bronte excels in realistic character-drawing. Of course, the most outstanding portrayals are those of Jane Eyre herself and Mr. Rochester. Charlotte Bronte’s delineation of Jane Eyre is most authentic; and Mr. Rochester, although a mysterious and puzzling figure, yet convinces us by virtue of the realism of his portrayal, especially when he gives to Jane Eyre an account of his past dissolute life. The subsidiary characters too have been drawn in a most realistic manner and, among them, are Mrs. Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, Miss Temple, Mrs. Fairfax and, last but not least, Blanche Ingram. And the members of the Rivers family too have been depicted in a realistic manner, among them St. John being the most striking figure.