St. John Jane Eyre
In the novel Jane Eyre as a whole, St. John Rivers is only a subsidiary or secondary character. He can by no means be counted among the principal or leading characters. Actually there are only two principal or leading characters and they are Jane Eyre herself and Mr. Rochester. St. John figures most prominently, in the last but one section of the novel. The section deals, of course, with Jane Eyre’s search for Mr. Rochester, her success in tracing him to Ferndean, and her getting married to him. And it is in the section preceding that St. John plays a most important role in the plot of the novel.
His Crucial Role in Saving Jane’s Life
St. John is the man who saves Jane Eyre’s life when she is starving and would have died of sheer exhaustion and hunger. She had been refused any food by the maidservant Hannah, and had also been rebuked by the maidservant who had thought her to be a beggar-woman of a doubtful character. But St. John renders help and succour to Jane as soon as he witnesses her sad plight. Thus he shows himself to be a kind-hearted man who performs his duty not only as a human being but as a professional clergyman.
His action in providing food and shelter to Jane is one of the most crucial incidents in the novel because her very survival is due to this action on his part. Charlotte Bronte could have brought her novel to an end by letting Jane die at this point, and could thus have made it into a tragic novel, something Tike Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles. But Charlotte Bronte‘s intention was to give the novel a happy ending: and Jane’s life had to be saved so that she could ultimately be united with the man whom she had never ceased to love, and who himself had never ceased to love her.
His Role in Exposing Jane’s Character
St. John serves also to bring out some of the traits of the character of Jane Eyre. We would, for instance, have not known anything about Jane’s basically affectionate heart and her basically generous nature if she had not been admitted into Moor House by St. John. It is during her stay in Morton, near Moor House, that she tells St. John that she would distribute her legacy of twenty thousand pounds equally among the four of them (St. John. Diana, Mary, and herself). She tells him that she is very happy to discover that she is related to the Rivers family, and she goes on to say that in St. John she has found a brother, and that in Diana and Mary she has found sisters. So far we had been thinking Jane to be cynical, and she had ample reason to have developed a cynical outlook upon life and to have become bitter about human nature. But now we begin to believe that the cynicism and the bitterness of her attitude to life and people, were not something native to her nature but a consequence of her unhappy experiences in life. Essentially, she has an affectionate heart, and this becomes perfectly clear from her telling St. John about her need to have a sense of belonging to a family.
St. John’s Firmness and Resolute Attitude
Another trait of her character which comes to the surface, or which receives an emphasis, during her association with St. John is her firmness and her resolute attitude towards people and things. While St. John shows an unusual persistence in asking her to marry him, she displays an equally unusual firmness in declining his proposal. However, in this connection it may also be pointed out that St. John has a greater inner strength than she has because a stare comes when he acquires a strong hold upon her mind and personality, and when she herself becomes aware of his having acquired that hold upon her. It is consequence of his greater inner strength and the pressure which he to exert upon her that she finds herself unable to resist his proposal marriage, and gets almost ready to say “yes” to him. Thus, the intensity and the depth of Jane’s love for Mr. Rochester acquire an even greater force and momentum now because of St. John’s continuing pressure on her to marry him.
Inconsistent Portrayal of St. John
In St. John we find certain contradictions which have produced the impression in the minds of many readers and critics that such a man cannot exist, and that he is an “impossible” person. This view implies that Charlotte Bronte’s portrayal of him inconsistent. The main contradiction in him is that, although he is a devout and zealous missionary, he has no real peace of mind, and has never enjoyed that serenity or tranquility which a true clergyman should be able to enjoy. He talks very little, and he thinks much more than he talks. He sits quiet brooding over nobody knows what. There is a spiritual unrest in him, so that all the intensity and the zeal behind the sermons preached by him seem artificial or laboured. Besides, he is a man of religion who shows no signs of believing in the gospel of the brotherhood of man or of believing in universal love. He is a clergyman who is governed more by reason than by sentiment.
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The Contrast between St. John and Mr. Rochester
St. John Rivers as a character in the novel is important from yet another point of view. He offers a contrast to Mr. Rochester who represents one order of mind while St. John represents another order of mind. As a critic has pointed out, the broad-chested, grim-mouthed Rochester, sweeping past us on his black horse Mesrour, and followed by his Gytrash-like hound, is a modern apparition of Black Bothwell. St. John is the warrior-priest, cool and inflexible as death. St. John’s integrity is austere, and his conscientiousness is relentless. It is impossible to love such a man, while Mr. Rochester, even in his stern moods is preferable to this inexorable priest.
St. John’s: A Pathetic Figure at the End
St. John contributes also to the total pathos of the novel because, at the end, he appears to us a pathetic figure. At the end, we are told that St. John remains unmarried, and that he has decided never to marry. But it is not his celibacy which renders him so pathetic as the fact that “his glorious sun hastens to its setting”. A companionless lonely man, his life is now drawing to its close. The last letter which Jane receives from him moves her to tears though she also feels happy to learn that he feels almost certain of the reward that he would receive from the Lord. He has no doubt that he would receive his incorruptible crown in heaven. Jane feels that no fear of death would darken St. John’s last hour: his mind at that time would be unclouded, his heart would be undaunted, and his faith would be steadfast. He is, at the end, certainly a pathetic figure but one who can also serve as a source of joy and inspiration to many of us because of his certainty about his future state (namely his state after death).
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