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The overriding theme of Jane Eyre, is Jane's continual quest for love. Jane searches for love and acceptance through the five settings in which she lives: Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Moor House, and Ferndean. Through these viewpoints, the maturation and self-recognition of Jane becomes evident, as well as traceable. It is not until Jane flees from Rochester and Thornfield, and spends time at Moor House, that her maturation to womanhood is complete. At this point, Jane is able to finally return to Rochester as an independent woman, fully aware of her desire to love, as well as to be loved.
From the onset of the novel, we see the world through the eyes of Jane; a strong character who wishes to overcome her birth rite as an orphan in Victorian times. From this viewpoint, we are able to trace how Jane progresses in her struggle for individuality, as well as for love. At Gateshead, it becomes apparent that Jane is terrifically self-willed and possessive of a fiery temper. An example of this is when Jane stands up to her aunt saying, "You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness, but I cannot live so: and you have no pity" (Bronte, 68). Here, Jane makes her first declaration of independence, contending that she will no longer be a secondary member in the Reed household.
At Lowood, Jane is repulsed by Mr. Blocklehurst and his "two-faced" character and coarseness. However, while at Lowood, Jane finds her first true friend in the form of Helen Burns, another student at the school. Helen teaches Jane of love in the form of religion. By means of instruction as well as by example, Helen is able to convey this message. When Jane is punished in front of the whole school, she tries to accept it as though it has some higher purpose. However, Jane still desires human affection and is deeply hurt when she is scorned. Jane goes as far as to say, "If others don't love me, I would rather die than live." Helen's response, "You think too much of the love of human beings," is a testament to her devout faith (Bronte, 101). When Helen is dying of Typhus later on in the story, she reminds Jane, "I believe: I have faith: I am going to God" (Bronte, 113). Jane is able to draw strength from Helen's faith, ultimately making her (Jane) stronger.
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When Jane finally leaves Lowood for Thornfield, she is both older and wiser for her experiences and yet, she is still unfulfilled. Pursuing a new position as a governess, Jane hopes that her new life will fill that void. At first, Jane is bored by her work, wanting something more out of life. When Jane finally meets Rochester, his presence totally transforms her life, filling the void. For once, a man sincerely pays attention to her and is interested in her opinions. Jane soon falls in love with the eccentric landowner, and yet cannot bring herself to tell him. Due to physical and social shortcomings, Jane does not see herself as Rochester's equal. When Rochester finally proposes marriage to Jane, it totally takes her by surprise. What is even more astonishing to Jane, is that he is the one who actually cites their equality when he says, "It is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal -as we are!"(Bronte,281) The fact that Rochester was so dedicated to Jane is what devastates her so much when she discovers that he is already married. Because it would mean compromising her faith in God as well as her own self-worth, Jane is not willing to have love without marriage and become Rochester's mistress. Jane feels that the only option she has, is to flee Thornfield Manor and pursue a new life.
After arriving at Moor House, Jane is offered marriage without love from St. John; the exact opposite of what had been offered by Rochester. Jane has as difficult a time refusing this proposition as she did Rochester's, saying, "Religion called-Angels beckoned-God commanded- life rolled together like a scroll-death's gate's opening, showed eternity beyond: it seemed, that for safety and bliss there, all here might be sacrificed in a second. The dim room was full of visions."(Bronte,444) By accepting this proposal and going to work as a missionary, Jane would have done right in God's eyes and yet, would still not have been happy. Jane is now called to do what pleases her as a liberated woman; answer the voices and return to Rochester.Finally reunited with her true love, Jane is able to take advantage of circumstances (ie- death of Bertha) and marry Rochester. An idealistic location for the conclusion of the novel, Jane and Rochester move to Ferndean to live out their days and raise a family. Jane and Rochester are perfectly content with one another and happy with the way life has treated them. Jane explains, "All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is in me; we are precisely suited in character- perfect concord is the result." (Bronte, 476)
The novel ends both happily and melodramatically, as all of the "loose ends" are neatly tied. Jane has proven her independence, and yet been able to marry the man she loves. Jane has earned her happiness without violating her integrity or her conscience, and both her longing for love and self-fulfillment have been realized. "Jane suits me: do I suit her?" Rochester asks. "To the finest fibre of my nature, sir," Jane replies. (Bronte, 470) Jane's "finest fibre" is her newfound ability to wholly love both herself and others. This ability is the essence of Jane's maturation and the essence of her womanhood.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Penguin, 1985.