During the mid-nineteenth century, the English writer Charlotte Bronte published Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell. Jane Eyre is a novel of the bildungsroman genre, meaning that is follows a character through the stages of their life. This novel follows the emotions and experiences of its protagonist as she develops into adulthood. On her journey, she finds love in the master of the fictitious Thornfield Hall as well as her true identity. Jane Eyre’s strong sense of morality and equality become the backbone of her definition of self as well as the fight between love and passion.
The introduction of love becomes a temptation and develops into an internal battle. The bildungsroman nature of this novel allows the battle to be broken down into the stages defined by the author. Therefore, the first stage is that of Jane Eyre’s time at Thornfield Hall and her courtship with Mr. Rochester. This is the point in which she must chose between herself and her love. Edward Rochester is Jane’s greatest temptation and the largest obstacle to her identity, the battle is most ardently viewed in three separate stages within her time at Thornfield Hall: the inequality of the courtship between Jane and Mr. Rochester, the lead up to the their nuptials and the moral choice after the revelation of Bertha Mason.
Jane’s story is one of the search for love from another. This love is not just in the romantic sense, but in the sense of belonging and being valued as well. In order to gain love, Jane must learn how to love and be loved without sacrificing her sense of self in the process. Therefore, love is the greatest quest in Jane Eyre as well as the greatest temptation to a life without morality and equality.
During Jane’s first few months at Thornfield, her position of governess and her growing love interest for her master become a temptation to her identity and her reverence for equality. Edward Rochester is an established man and Jane’s employer; he naturally designates himself in command. Jane is a passionate young lady, as observed from the beginning of the novel, she therefore has a quick tongue and her intelligence gives sharpness to her words. Her tendency to allow her opinions to fall from her mouth tests the relationship of master and employee between she and Mr. Rochester.
In one instance, he claims authority over her and she responds by claiming that he had “no right to command” her and that his “claim to superiority” depends on the use that he made of his “time and experience (JE 114)1.” Her dismissal of his authority demonstrates her adherence to equality between herself and everyone in her life. She wishes to be seen as someone of equal standing though she has no money and is seemingly powerless. This lack of social status and personal wealth unnerves her as she realizes that she will never be an independent woman.
The nuptials of Mr. Rochester and Jane presents the new temptation to Jane’s identity, that of marriage and wealth. Rochester showering Jane with gifts and the luxuries that come with the ability to provide makes Jane uncomfortable and worry of what she can bring to the marriage. Though Rochester is her love, her being poor and without wealth of her own presents a personal struggle for Jane in this section of her life.
Elements of Jane Eyre are feminist, and her inability to provide money, or even work after her marriage is something that leaves Jane feeling uncomfortable. She asserts herself by making it known that she would still be Adele’s governess after the wedding and earn her keep in the household. This demonstrates Jane’s internal drive for equality and wholehearted reliance on it as a part of her identity. Jane feels that if she obtained personal wealth or an inheritance of her own that she and Mr. Rochester would be an equal match. Therefore, when she is economically equal to her mate she will feel ready to marry him. After she inherits twenty thousand pounds from John Eyre, her lost Uncle, she feels financially independent and eventually marries Mr. Rochester.
The morality of Jane Eyre is tested when Mr. Rochester asks her to be his mistress while Bertha Mason is still his wife. Jane must again chose between love and the image she has of herself. Rochester asks her to accompany him to the south of France and live as husband and wife. Jane believes in the “law given by God (JE 270)” and promptly denies him. The themes of conscience and passion seem to echo throughout the entirety of Jane Eyre and the question of which one to follow. The passion of Jane is inescapable and yet she has a seemingly close relationship with God.
Jane chooses conscience over passion at this point in the novel, up until now she relied heavily on emotion and forgot reason. She was replacing God with her love of Mr. Rochester, and now she must reject the man that she placed on a heavenly pedestal. At this time, she realizes that “laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this. (JE 270)” She knows that she must leave Thornfield Hall and Mr. Rochester in order to find the balance within herself once more. She fears the loss of her autonomy, and this fear motivates her to refuse Mr. Rochester’s proposal of “marriage.” By Rochester remaining legally married to Bertha Mason, Jane believed she would be making herself a mistress and therefore would lose her own integrity and morality.
Jane’s battle of love reaches its climax as she is challenged by choosing herself or choosing Rochester As Jane readies to leave Thornfield she has an internal conflict, between the love she feels and her own identity. “Soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his (JE 270).” Jane argues with herself eventually challenging her identity with “ Who in the world cares for you? (JE 270)”This is the pinnacle of temptation over identity.
Her battle with love comes to its climax, here she must choose between her love for a man who treats her with inequality and immorally asks her to marry him though he has a wife already; or her own strict adherence to herself. Her response to the question of who cares is “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself (JE 270).”Bronte chose for Jane to choose herself over Rochester, by doing so Jane becomes stronger than Rochester. The choice to abandon love and for Jane to find strength in herself is the reason that Jane finds a happy ending. This avoidance of temptation, allows Jane to ultimately reach self-actualization in her eventual marriage of Rochester.
The most noteworthy man in Jane Eyre attempts to establish himself as dominant over Jane and therefore unequal. Jane never allows her independence to be compromised, nor does she allow the temptations that plague her to break her understanding of herself. The only time that Jane submits to a man in the novel is once she knows that she is intellectually, financially and emotionally equal.
Only after she proves that she has reached self-actualization can she happily marry Mr. Rochester and not be dependent on him as her master. Their marriage could only happen if it was to happen between equals, “I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine…To be together is for us to be at once in solitude, as gay as in company…we are precisely suited in character – perfect concord is the result (JE 384).” Jane Eyre is an attempt to deny the patriarchal forces that command and control women and to allow women to find their own voices and their own selves and to follow them. Jane’s self was one of morality and equality, and that was most clearly viewed in her relationship with Edward Rochester, through their courtship, attempted wedding and her eventual decision to leave and find her own way. Jane Eyre’s happy ending is her own doing and her own fight for equality and morality.