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The Minor Characters of Jane Eyre        

 

All the minor characters who appear in the novel, Jane Eyre are only sketched in, so to speak. They are "flat"; not developed in the way that the central three characters are developed. All of them are conventional; behave and speak conventionally, and do not develop at all. They are set merely as foils for the central characters, and they tend to be extremes or stereotypes, behaving very predictably and not surprising us with any unexpected reaction.

 

Some of the minor characters who parallel aspects of Jane's character, like Maria Temple and Helen Burns, are idealised - made to seem saint-like. others, who contrast with Jane, like Georgiana Reed and Blanche Ingram, are grotesque in order to emphasise the difference between them and her.They become, in effect, symbolic and their excesses or virtues sharpen the contrast with Jane.

 

Georgiana and Eliza Reed are described by JE as "feeling without judgement"(Georgiana) and "Judgement without feeling" (Eliza) - both are drawn by CB to show the results of each type of excessive behaviour. JE herself has to fight to preserve the balance in HER character between Judgement and feeling - the Reed sisters therefore provide an indicator as to what happens if the balance goes wrong.

 

Blanche Ingram is a woman without scruples or morality - haughty and proud - very beautiful and priveleged - she is nevertheless shallow and  intellectually inferior. She is a warning shadow to JE, who is soon to be faced with the temptation to give in to her passions and embrace the  shallow life of a courtesan, when Rochester pleads with her to go to the  continent with him after the "wedding". The more virtuous minor characters serve the same function, standing as  moral or spiritual beacons to which Jane may aspire, but may not ever  reach.

 

Maria Temple - the charitable schoolteacher is both an example  and a warning. She can and does serve as a role-model for Jane, but she  is also a powerless female - having to answer for her independence to a  wrathful Mr Brocklehurst, and having no real authority when he is on the  premises. Her position is servile and inferior and she submits to it. JE  later will break this pattern at Thornfield, in her dealings with her  employer, but ironically her habit of submissiveness is gained as a  direct result of association with Maria Temple.

 

Helen Burns is the saint-like Christian child who teaches Jane the philosophy of submission and endurance. Her religious conviction of  Christ as a father and a loving friend is an important facet of the  novel. This, together with Helen,s insistence that trials and sufferings  are to be endured and their perpetrators forgiven, is the essence of the   Christian message. Jane rejects it at the time, but is impressed by it.  She does not live her life in the idealised way that Helen does, but the  BASIS of Helen,s belief is that which makes it possible for Jane to  make an informed choice when she needs to flee temptation, and also to  endure with resignation at least, the sufferings she undergoes during the separation from Rochester.

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