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Jane Eyre | Chapter 23 | Summary

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Summary

On Midsummer Eve Jane wanders in the orchard under the rising moon, describing the scene in the present tense. Rochester joins her and tells her he will soon marry (he implies, and Jane thinks he means, to Miss Ingram); Adèle will be leaving Thornfield; and he has found a new situation for Jane in Ireland. They sit under the huge chestnut tree, and Jane is overwhelmed by sadness. Through sobs she speaks of her love for Thornfield. Then she passionately admits her feelings for Rochester. He suddenly asks her to be his wife, but, sure that he intends to marry Miss Ingram, Jane thinks he is mocking her. Rochester finally convinces her that he has no interest in the other woman, emphasizing his and Jane's equality: "my equal is here, and my likeness." Jane accepts his proposal. They sit under the chestnut tree until a storm begins to blow in. A heavy rain falls and thunder and lightning boom and crackle through the sky. During the storm the chestnut tree is struck by lightning, splitting it in half.

Analysis

Rochester uses the fiction that he will marry Miss Ingram to arouse Jane's emotions. He needs to know the depth of her feeling for him before he can propose to her. After Jane accepts, Rochester says, really to himself, "I know my Maker sanctions what I do." With these words he washes his hands of the world's judgment and defies man's opinion. Jane may think he is speaking this way because, in marrying someone who is not of his class or social standing, he will be defying convention. But Rochester's reference to "God's tribunal" suggests a more serious moral transgression.

In determining his sincerity, Jane views Rochester's face in the light of the moon. Once again, as had happened, for instance, on the night that Helen Burns died, moonlight signals her way.

The lightning strike on the chestnut tree, so soon after the marriage proposal that takes place below its branches, is a bad omen for the couple's future. The tree, a symbol of growth and harmony, is split apart by fire's destructive force.

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