Writing- A-Level essay 'Relationships in Jane Eyre'

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Compare the presentation of the relationships between Eyre and Rochester and Eyre and Rivers. Consider the view that Bronte uses them to explore the conflicting demands of passion and principle. How does she reconcile them?


The circumstances in which Jane and Rochester meet for the time, is highly significant to our understanding of their relationship, how it develops, and what draws them to each other in the first place. While she is out alone without a chaperone, of course used to reaffirm her unconventionality to the reader, Rochester’s horse falls and he is badly hurt. Jane is immediately in a physically stronger position, through “He laid a heavy hand on my shoulder” as he uses her for support, although reluctantly as he says “necessity compels me to make you useful” which shows he does not wish to use her as a prop, but he has no choice. Already it is obvious how unusual both these characters act, used by Bronte to show how similar they are in their unconformity towards Victorian virtues, such as Jane hearing him “swearing” under his breath or her refusing to give in to his instruction “I cannot think of leaving you”, which is a vital aspect of why Jane believes them to be equal and wants to be with him.

As Jane’s life at Thornfield continues with the company of Rochester, their feelings begin to grow. He is intrigued by her, obvious when she does not want a present in the way Adele does, showing she does not have a desire for materialistic things, a trait perhaps Rochester was not expecting as he has had the opposite experience with many women. When he summons her one evening, Jane says he was in his “after dinner mood” a phrase which suggests that by only living with him for a short amount of time she already knows him and his habits, and by describing them with the oxymoron “preciously grim”, it shows she is just as intrigued by him. “Grim” is an adjective repeated throughout this section of the novel to describe Rochester to show he is not typically handsome, an aspect of him in which Jane realises she identifies herself with, as she describes herself as having no typical beauty, through “small”, “pale” and “marked”. When she enters the room he asks her a bold question “Do you think me handsome?” to which she applies with an unavoidable “no”. This interaction is again used by Bronte to highlight how equally both characters are very unconventional and it draws them together, as it is a very strange question for an employer to ask a young girl who works for him, and Jane does not answer with something “conventionally vague”.

It is also this conversation which foreshadows why Rochester falls for Jane and eventually proposes, as it is hinted why he has grown to have this personality. He uses the metaphor of an “Indian-rubber ball” to show what he has become, tough without feelings. But now suddenly he feels there is hope of his “re-transformation from India-rubber ball back to flesh” and that hope is Jane. He believes Jane is the answer for him being able to love again, as he realises he has these feelings for her, and for his past mistakes to be forgotten. He was to move away from his past, irresponsible self, and Jane is the one who can help him do it.

Jane struggles throughout the novel to find her identity and a place in which she feels she belongs, and she believes she has found it at Thornfield, and by marrying Rochester. However, the lead up to the wedding proves otherwise, as she begins to have doubts, a huge factor that contributes to the couple falling apart. “I saw a robed and veiled figure, so unlike my usual self” she thinks when she catches her reflection in a veil for the first time, because initially she doesn’t recognise herself. This could be a result of seeing Bertha, unknown to Jane at this point, shredding the veil in the night and therefore this is the terrifying image that plagues her mind at the sight of the veil, and therefore she cannot identify her self with the stranger staring back at her, because it is not the reflection she expected, or wanted. It is this moment in which many speculate that Bertha is in fact Jane herself, or at least a part of her that she has had to suppress, a raging rebellion against the constriction of marriage, a part of herself she doesn’t know how to control. When Bertha is revealed, she attacks Rochester like “a wild animal” and Jane feels she is unable to tell whether she is “beast or human being”, a physical description that is of total contrast to Jane’s, but it can be argued that her actions reflect what Jane felt she should not do, like renting the veil or lashing out at Rochester for lying to her. It is ultimately this that pulls the couple apart, as Jane eventually comes to the conclusion after a period of complete hopelessness, that she cannot stay at Thornfield while he is still married. The end of this devastating chapter shows this, as Bronte uses an extended metaphor of frost to show how all of Jane’s hopes of marrying Rochester and being happy are gone, through “ice glazed the ripe apples” which shows she feels so devastated that she believes they will never being able to recover and reconcile.

When Jane leaves, she is forced to endure the suffering of homelessness and almost starvation, but is saved, by St. John Rivers. When she is taken inside his home and given a bed for the night, she has “a glow of grateful joy” showing how thankful she is and was aware of how close to death she really was, showing the true extent of how much gratitude she must show to her saviour. Unlike her first meeting with Rochester, here Jane is very weak, and didn’t do the saving, an aspect which could have heavily contributed as to why she never has any deep feeling towards Rivers like she did, and still does, for Rochester.

We are also told of her feelings towards him by his physical description, how he was “tall, slender”, had a “classic nose” and was young, he was typically very attractive, something Jane immediately feels inferior to, and therefore cannot feel equal to him. “He might well be a little shocked at the irregularity of my lineaments” shows how she doesn’t feel comfortable around him, almost self-conscious, something she never felt with Rochester as she didn’t see him as handsome, even feeling comfortable enough to tell him so. These are all reasons which contribute to Jane initially saying no to Rivers proposal, explaining she would “abandon half myself”, the half that is still with Rochester and knows that Rivers does not love her.

However, there is a half that is tempted to say yes and agree to go with him to India, as Jane feels she is attracted to Rivers, or mainly the idea of him. Rivers represents what Jane feels she wants, someone conventional, who offers stability after her difficult journey. But deeply she knows she would not be happy and that his proposal is more business than love, as she calls it a “duty”, and she even says that he talks to her like she is an object through “a useful tool”, all suggesting how see cannot say yes, as this marriage would be as if she were going to her “premature death”, indicating she will soon break away from him.

Jane eventually realises she must be true to herself, and cannot marry Rivers. She discovers this at a time when she is momentarily tempted to say yes to Rivers, she he almost hypnotises her into a religious trance, as she is “motionless” and feels “my refusals were forgotten”, realising her temptation and the crisis. It is here where she speaks to heaven and god, asking them to tell her what she should do, asking for a resolution to her crisis “show me a path”. She then immediately hears a voice she recognised to be Rochester’s, and “it spoke in pain and woe”. Whether Jane actually had a spiritual awakening that pulled her out of River’s trance, is debatable. However it is highly possible that her own self-consciousness made her hear his voice, as a way of just proving to her self that it is really him she loves, even with the possibility of a safe and stable marriage to Rivers, the principle, it cannot compete with her feelings of passion towards Rochester.

The end of the novel eventually sees them reconciled. At the secluded Ferdean, Jane discovers he has been badly hurt, a form of his punishment for his past actions. However, as since Jane arrives his condition begins to improve, even his eyesight, which could mean he has been forgiven and Jane had made the right choice of returning to him. Bertha was killed in the fire of Thornfield, Jane is now financially equal to Rochester, and both characters have found their happy ending within each other. Although as readers this is of course what we wanted to eventually happen, is doesn’t seem entirely realistic, and it can be argued that Bronte knew that. This melodramatic, perfect fairytale end to Jane’s difficult and confusing journey shows that Bronte knew this fantasy would never actually happen in real, Victorian life and admits this problem to the reader, through emphatic, optimistic imaginings.

Words by Alice Beatty do not steal or copy without my consent.

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