Jane Eyre Summary

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë


     Jane Eyre is a Victorian Gothic novel narrated by a main character, Jane Eyre. The story follows Jane's transformation from the unruly child to an intelligent young woman. Generally, it describes the life in the 19th century, with its oppressive social conventions, addressing the most striking problem- a women role in 19th century. It is not a secret that women were treated unfairly in this period. They were ghostly figures, present but not heard, deprived from independence and self-will. Many of them never got the chance to marry whom they loved. Marriage was pre-arranged aspiration for status and money. In order to rebel against the social system and its rules, Charlotte Brontë plays with characters and institutions by creating Jane, the strong woman who follows her heart.

     The novel opens with the description of the gloomy winter day, allowing Gothic elements to come into the focus right at the beginning. Since Gothic movement is related to primeval connection between man and the nature and got denoted as the paganism in the centuries to come, its symbols are usually associated with nature, darkness and the uncanny. Descriptions of the nature in Jane Eyre serve to set the mood of the scene as well as to warn Jane about the future events. With the opening description, we immediately get the insight in Jane's gloomy and uhappy life. The family who should be taking care of her, the Reed family, is not kind to Jane- her cousins John, Eliza and Georgiana keep mocking and humiliating her, while her aunt excludes her from the family entirely. The only person kind to Jane is a servant Bessie, but she cannot prevent nor protect Jane from everyday violence she faces.

     One day, after a fight with her cousin, as a punishment, Jane is locked in so called "red room," where her uncle, Mr. Reed, died. She is terrified with the room atmosphere-its coldness, remoteness and eeriness. As she believes that she has seen the ghost in the mirror, she screams for help until she faints eventually. Although the scene seems to be there for its own sake, it actually denotes much deeper meaning. The so called "red room" has been a subject of debate since the book was published. Careful analysis show that the room color was not chosen randomly. Since the entire novel serves as a feminine rebellion against the current social state, the color red is a symbol of femininity. With a girl locked inside, it is clear that the writer is trying to present the women imprisonment of the 19th century. Jane is overwhelmed with the fear and passes out, which does not just denote Jane's fear and Mrs. Reed's cruelty, but the cruelty in raising Victorian children in general.

     Anyway, realizing that she had pushed too far, Mrs. Reed calls a doctor, who suggest her to send Jane to a school, hoping that the change would help her recover.

     A couple of months later, Jane is sent to Lowood, a school with poor living conditions and strict rules. Its headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst is a cruel man who deprives children of food, clothes and normal childhood, all in the name of God, while he enjoys the wealthy life. He is a symbol of hypocrisy, both human and religious. The writer strongly implies that his poor management and lack of care leads to typhus epidemic, causing many deaths, while he is nowhere to be seen during the epidemic. This stands for carelessness of the authorities who mistreated lower class for their personal gains during the 19th century. Helen Burns, Jane's friend who blindly obeys rules of Lowood and its version of Christianity is actually a victim of the system, an innocent individual incapable and unwilling to oppose to rules, is a representative of entire social class.

     But let's get back to a plot. Although Lowood has turned Jane's life into survival, with the arrival of new school headmaster things get better, so she spends there eight years in total, six as a student, and two as a teacher.

     Young and ready to start a new life, Jane accepts a new job in Thornfield, as a governess to a girl named Adèle. The master of Thornfield is Mr. Edward Rochester, seemingly unpleasant and dark character, who raises Adèle as his own child, although she is a daughter of his deceased mistress. Jane finds him difficult, but also mysterious and intriguing. He spends most of his time away, but one night, while he is at home, someone starts a fire almost killing Rochester. Jane is the only one who hears strange noises and hurls into his room, saving his life. Strangely, she is told that it must have been a drunken servant, Grace Poole, who did it, but since she was not fired after the incident, Jane is not buying into the story and realizes that something is kept in secret.

     Things get even weirder when one night, after a party, she, as well as the rest of the guests in the house hear a scream. Rochester reassures everyone that everything is ok, but calls Jane for help. As she enters the room, she finds one of the guests, Mr. Mason stabbed in the arm. She is asked to stanch the wound without talking to Mr. Mason.

     Led by Mr. Rochester and inhabited by peculiar servants, it seems that Thornfield Hall is an intriguing place. It is obvious that Rochester and his residents are hiding a dark secret, since every now and then an incident is hushed-up. Yet, Rochester is a man from the upper class, rich and highly respected in his circles, who seems to enjoy his life, so how can it be that he is actually hiding something? The answer should be sought in the matter of society, since its state was the inspiration for this novel in the first place. As a member of a high rank, Rochester is obliged to keep his image spotless, therefore, he cannot allow himself any kind of excess. The only way to hide his problems from the public eye is to lock it away and keep it a secret.

     As the time goes by, Jane finds herself secretly in love with Rochester, who now has a fiancé, Blanche Ingram. Although it seems that he will marry Blanche, Rochester just toys with her and eventually proposes to Jane, who accepts his proposal. The reason why he does not marry Blanche, although she possesses beauty, charm, and wealth is that Rochester seeks true love. He partially accepts the social conventions, but rejects to succumb to it and let it shape his life. Aware that Blanche is a gold-digger, he plays with her for a while, killing two birds with one stone- having fun with Blanche until he decides to inform her that he is not as rich as she thinks and making Jane jealous until she admits that she is in love with him. After Jane and Rochester's engagement, what started as a cute love story, soon turns into a dark period of their lives (marked with many Gothic symbols). Beside mysterious occurrences in Thornfield, Jane is having an uncanny dreams about her aunt and cousins, which she interprets as a bad sign. She soon learns that her bully cousin John committed a suicide, while Mrs. Reed is dying unable to recover from the shock. Hoping to close that chapter of her life, Jane heads to Gateshead and meets her aunt for the last time, who admits her bad deeds, committed out of pure hatred. As a true Christian, Jane forgives her and Mrs. Reed dies peacefully.

     Back at Thornfield, the wedding preparations are over and the ceremony is about to begin. Mr. Mason comes uninvited and spoils the ceremony by shouting that Rochester has a wife, Bertha, who still lives in Thornfield. As a proof, he takes them back to house and reveals Bertha, mad and monstrous looking, locked in a secret room. Although Bertha is not a very active character in the book, she is as important as Jane, since she represents the other side of femininity, Jane's flipside. Bertha is the victim of suppressed femininity, a representative of all women who do not stand for their freedom and self-will, unlike Jane who is ready to give up on her home and job in order to follow her heart, like she does when she decides to leave Thornfield forever after the incident at the wedding day. Since she has nowhere to go, she is forced to wander and starve, until she runs into a home where people decide to take her in. St. John, Mary and Diana Rivers are her rescuers. Not do they only give her a place to stay, but they also help her find a new job and stand on her feet again. Although Jane did not tell her real name, one day, St. John announces that Jane has gained an inheritance from their uncle, John Eyre. She then learns that St. John knows all about her, revealing that they are in fact cousins. Jane decides to share her inheritance with them, as a sign of gratitude. Since St. John is a clergyman, he wants to be a missionary in India, so he wants Jane to be his wife and travel with him, but Jane refuses to marry him, because she is not in love with him. Jane's relationship with St. John is quite tensed. Although St. John is handsome, Jane does not find him attractive, as he is as cold as marble and emotionally dead. By committing his life to God, he gave up on the earthly life, which turns out to be a too great a burden to wear. Thus, St. John is not a true Christian either, although he is far better than Mr. Brocklehurst. Jane accepts him as her brother and cannot marry him, but St. John's vision of marriage differs from that of Jane's and he continues to put a pressure on her with claims that she was not born for love but for work. Although he was so close to his goal, in the last moment Jane is saved by a mysterious scream similar to Rochester's voice, calling her name. This scene is quite important event in the novel, as it hides several hidden layers. On the surface, there is an uncanny scene of Jane being the only one to hear a scream, although she is not alone in the room. The scene is eerie and contributes to the atmosphere of the novel, making it interesting to read, but beneath the surface lays Gothic symbol of superstition and telepathy, inexplicable connection between two people. Furthermore, the scene is a sign that Jane should not marry St. John. The mysterious voice is preventing her from making the biggest mistake of her life, reminding her not to give up on her dreams, for which she fought her entire life. By recognizing the voice as Rochester's, the writer implies how strong their bond and how deep their love is. Jane has no doubts about the importance of the voice and goes back to Thornfield, ignoring St. John's further insistence on the marriage, only to find the house burnt down. She learns that Bertha has done the same thing as before, and this time achieved her goal. Rochester is now blind and lives with only two servants.

     The writer closes a book with happy ending, with Jane and Rochester married and justice being served. However, this should not be interpreted as a cliché. On the contrary, the ending conveys her main idea that only by fighting for our goals and happiness we can achieve them, no matter what kind on obstacle stands on our way, even if the obstacle is the whole society.



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