JANE EYRE CHARACTER NOTES
What we learn of the central character is considerable. Throughout the novel her dealings with those around her reveal her characteristics. As a child at Gateshead Hall we see that she is impulsive, often alarmingly so, but that she also can be sullen and withdrawn. Thse around her do not find her an easy child - she gives very little of herself away, especially to the Reed family, although there is a slight intimacy with the servant, Bessie. She is intelligent and precocious, preferring the make believe world of books to the harsh and often unsympathetic world of reality. She is also perceptive; knowing that the Reeds dislike her, yet not being quite sure why it should be so.She feels her social position as an outcast very keenly; ironically being unable, because of her breeding to form an attachment with Bessie. She is occasionally very angry, as when she lashes out at John Reed, and when she rounds on Mrs Reed after the Red Room incident. She is also afraid and insecure, but tries very hard not to let anyone see this side of her character. it is only at times of great stress that she gives way to fear (Red Room), but note that usually she has, even at the early age of ten, great self-control for most of the time.
A different side of her character is revealed at Lowood school, when we see the tender and trusting nature in her dealings with Miss Temple and with Helen Burns. It is obvious that she has a great desire to be shown love, and when this is given, she is perfectly happy to return it in kind. There is still, however, anger and resentment, especially on behalf of injustice. She cannot take Helen's advice to submit to chastisement and to be submissive and patient, to heart, even though she admits that helen is probably right and she(Jane) wrong, when they speak about forgiveness of those who torment others.
She has determination and self control, though, when it comes to making her way in the limited world she inhabits. Once settled into Lowood school, she works hard and acquires a reasonable education, becoming a teacher herself. We know also that she can and does take responsibility for her own destiny, making her own decision to advertise for a position, and leave Lowood when Miss T marries.
Thornfield Hall gives her new opportunities and we see that she is capable of making relationships with Adele and Mrs fairfax which are cordial and rewarding. She is sincere in her desire to do the best she can with Adele, although shrewd in her assessment of Adele,s intellect.
Although keenly aware of her position as governess, she is never guilty of undue deference with Rochester when she meets him. She is polite, but not cowed by R,s overbearing treatment. He is often rude and patronising at the beginning of the relationship, but she meets this with calm determination. Never losing her composure, she is able to match his arrogance and pride with irony and a refusal to take others as anything other than she finds them.
We must remember, though that the calm outward composure is also a defence mechanism; hiding her real deepest feelings from the world. It has been hostile to her in the past, and of course will be so again, so she is not quick to show her vulnerable, tender nature to those who, like the Reeds, might hurt her deliberately.
As she gains in trust of R. she begins to be more direct, but can still show her contempt of the crass world inhabited by the Ingrams and their friends. During the houseparty she suffers great torments, but never reveals her suffering to those who would capitalise on it; including Rochester himself.
Her passion flares out only when she is pushed to the extreme. At the thought of real separation from R. she declares her feelings for him, but it has taken many months of scheming by R. before she is brought to such a pitch. Her self-control is exceptionally strong. Even having accepted his proposal, she continues to "handle" him with the same blend of irony and waspishness - being perverse this time to control his ardour.
Strength and determination are in control when the disastrous wedding and disclosure of Bertha Mason, force Jane to abandon hope of happiness with R.She is able to command herself to do what is right, and leave Thornfield, despite the enormous temptation to stay and become his mistress.This conflict continues - she is torn between desire and duty until she returns to Ferndean at the close of the novel, but inner strength and determination carry her through the time at moor house and her relationship with the Rivers family.
Generosity is a characteristic which manifests itself in the division of her legacy between the Rivers cousins, and we also see that the need for a loving family and jane,s ability to return affection wholeheartedly have not departed from her character, in her relationship with Diana and Mary Rivers.
Pride is also a characteristic which she possesses. She is proud of her education, and of her independence, but she also shows a balancing humility, being able to acknowledge her failings, when necessary.
All the other characters who appear in the novel 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.
Copyrightę 2000 Val Pope