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Passion in Jane Eyre
It is believed that we are born with a predestined personality.
Our spiritual individuality is just as much a product of our genetic makeup
as the color of our skin or our eyes. With our soul firmly planted, we
can then build upon this basis as we are educated of the world. The social
climate and cultural atmosphere shape our personalities, however, it is the
people in our lives who have the greatest influence. Charlotte Bronte's
novel Jane Eyre reveals this idea by the development of the protagonist.
Through a series of character foils, Bronte expresses her idea of self-
development and growth of the human spirit by contrasting passion with
reason. By my interpretation of the novel, Bronte suggests that in one's
life time, they will encounter a number of people and experiences that will
arouse enough emotion in them to have the power to change their direction
in life. St. John Rivers plays one of these life determining foils to Jane
Eyre. His confidence, devotion and reason intrigue Jane almost enough to
silence her inner passionate spirit, but it is the forces of nature that
prove to be stronger than human will.
The life path of a Victorian woman was somewhat limited in it's
direction and expression of individuality. Jane Eyre strongly adheres to
the Victorian morality which was dominated by the Anglican party of the
Church of England in which passion and emotion were kept concealed. Jane's
instinct for asserting herself was stifled at an early age and could only
be expressed through defiance. The defiant declaration of independence from
Mrs. Reed , "You are deceitful",(v.i.37) gives Jane the power of freedom
and opens up a life of "unhoped-for liberty",(v.i.37).
Through the preceding years Jane develops into a highly educated,
well spoken and strong willed woman . She is taught to be patient and
thoughtful during her years in Lowood , and is introduced to the emotions
of the heart and spirit in meeting Rochester.
Bronte makes an emphasis on the spiritual and supernatural
atmosphere of Thornfield. The reference to the "Gytrash" and the mystical
atmosphere she illustrates of their first meeting in the woods (v.i.113)
could suggest that she is playing upon natural imagery and allusions to
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express the idea that Jane and Rochester are a destined, yet mysterious
match of the souls. " I knew ...you would do me good in some way... I saw
it in your eyes when I first beheld you," Rochester tells Jane. (v.i.152)
and the use of the repeated references to fire foreshadow and symbolize
their growing passion for each other. However, it is the symbolic
interpretation of the lightning striking the horse-chestnut tree in half
that hints that their love will not evolve without a crisis. (
It is this crisis that throws Jane into the life of the Rivers
family . Moor House and the values of the Rivers are the mirror image of
Thornfield. Where Thornfield was mystical and romantic , Moor House has a
comfortable and domestic setting. Jane's instant rapport with the "
spontaneous, genuine, genial compassion", of Mary, Diana and St. John allow
her to feel at ease and safe. The contrast between Rochester and St. John
play a major part in the development of Jane's self-fulfillment.
It is in Jane's description of the two men that the reader gets the
most tangible picture of their contrasts. Bronte uses words such as "wild"
and "moody" to describe Rochester, whereas St. John is "compressed,
condensed and controlled", (v.iii.356). A disciplined and educated
missionary, he is focused on his one devotion and remains static through-
out the novel. His ambition drives him and does not believe in the
importance of revealing emotions. As Jane comes to know him , she senses
that ,like her, he seems to be not at peace. They are both restless and
seeking the greater power that rules them; for St. John it is judgment, for
Jane it is passion.
Jane's admiration of St. John is of his thirst for knowledge and
his unresting mind. She has the utmost respect for him and his devotion,
and learns diligently and faithfully under him . However, it is in the
contrasts between them that we see the true nature of Jane. St. John's
moral beliefs suggest that he fears his own sexuality and views female
sexuality as a threat to his purity of vision.(Diedrick 1993) This is
evident in his dealings with Rosamond Oliver, whom he clearly has feelings
for ," Does she like me?' he asked. 'Certainly', Jane replied. ' It is
pleasant to hear this... go on for another quarter of an hour."(v.iii.377 )
He does not give back a reply of his feelings and does not act with his
emotions. It is his reason that he calls upon and instead of asking
Rosamond to marry him, he knows that it is Jane who would be the more
appropriate wife to accompany him in his missionary work. He attempts to
succeed where Brocklehurst failed and render Jane submissive; his selective
praise of her as "docile, diligent, disinterested, faithful, constant..."
(v.iii.355) expresses his desire to subdue her to his needs .(Diedrick
1993) If anything , St. John has taught Jane to act with reason so when he
proposes that she go to India with him as his wife, it is her better
judgment that tells her that , " he prizes me as a soldier would a good
weapon; and that is all." (v.iii 356) She realizes that he could never
love her the way she needs to be loved.
St. John represents a life of Christian servitude and moral
ambition. Jane has only known of a life of serving others, and for a time,
the power of this identity had kept freedom a secret from her. Jane's
experience of a life of servitude is only , "what I knew of existence. And
now I felt that it was not enough: I tired of the routine... I desired
liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer...".(v.i.86)
It is the responsibilities of servitude that suffocate her and constrain
her. Her anger at St. John's demand that she sacrifice all her desires to
his missionary ambition enables her to see him clearly for the first time
and gives her the strength to refuse him.
As St. John persisted in subduing Jane, Jane became weaker in her
fight. Just as Jane was about to succumb, it was as if destiny and nature
were stronger than human ambition. A "freshening gale" created by delirium
and passion blew in the opposite direction of the "counteracting breeze"
of judgment and brought with it the voice of Rochester's love. Jane's "
human affections and sympathies" took a "most powerful hold of her",
(v.iii. 360) and she knew without a doubt that she could not live if she
was forced to stifle her passionate heart. It is in her nature to love
wholly and because of the antagonistic relationship between Jane and St.
John that she was able to become aware of the intensity of her love for
Rochester and allow it to complete her soul. As the symbol of the split
horse-chestnut suggested, their love could be put through disaster, but
they are fundamentaly one at the roots.