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Jane Eyre | Study Guide

Charlotte Brontë

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Jane Eyre | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Chapters 31 and 32 of Jane Eyre, how does Jane's attitude toward her poor students reflect the theme of class?

At first Jane feels "desolate" and "degraded" when she thinks of the low literacy levels and lack of accomplishments of the poor village and farm girls in her school. She reminds herself that her feelings are wrong, and she vows to overcome them by trying to take satisfaction from helping them make progress. However, the language Jane uses to describe her pupils reveals class prejudice. She refers to them as "coarsely-clad little peasants," and she is "dismayed at the ignorance, the poverty, the coarseness of all I heard and saw." In the following chapter, after she has taught them for some time, she finds that many of the "heavy-looking, gaping rustics" are actually fairly intelligent. Eventually she begins to take pride in their work and take on more of a mentor role with them. She even spends time with their families. Still, she continues to reveal class bias when she says she enjoys having the families' and students' "general regard, even though it be but the regard of working people."

In Jane Eyre what is Jane's relationship to Adèle Varens, and how does it change over time?

Adèle is delighted when she first meets Jane in Chapter 11 because Jane speaks French as well as Rochester does, meaning she will be able to communicate with her easily. While she can speak to her nurse, she was unable to talk to Mrs. Fairfax, and readers can imagine that she would have worried that the new governess in this foreign land might not have known French either. Jane is a bit concerned about the girl's upbringing when they first meet, as Adèle sings a song about a jilted lover that seems quite inappropriate for a child. She also finds Adèle "disinclined" to study because she is unaccustomed to it. Over time, though, the two develop a close relationship. At the close of the book, Jane takes great care to find the right school for Adèle, and when the first one fails, she quickly moves her to another.

In Chapter 33 of Jane Eyre, which of the two pieces of news Jane receives is more important to her and why?

Jane learns that her uncle, John Eyre, in Madeira has died and left her a fortune. She also learns that St. John, Mary, and Diana are her cousins. This last piece of news means more to Jane than the inheritance, especially because she can't have a relationship with her uncle; she has always wanted to feel like part of a family. The news that they are family, she writes, is "blessing, bright, vivid, and exhilarating." The inheritance, by contrast, is a " ponderous gift of gold: rich and welcome enough in its way, but sobering from its weight." She's so happy about this that she decides to share her fortune with her new cousins. Given how much Jane values her independence, the fact that she sees having cousins as more of a blessing reveals how desperately she wanted family to love and be loved by.

In Jane Eyre what do Jane's responses to the various ways St. John Rivers tries to dominate her say about her character?

St. John disapproves of the time Jane spends making improvements at Moor House; he thinks she should spend her time on less "selfish" and "sensual" things. She does stand up against him on this, asserting her right to enjoy herself. Later, when he tells her he wants her to give up her study of German to study Hindostanee, an Asian language, with him, she agrees because she wants to be helpful to him. She respects his zeal for religious practice, although she doesn't share it. Jane gradually finds that she's modifying her behavior to avoid annoying him: he wants her always to be serious and industrious. She feels stifled by his demands, but as Jane explains she knows no "medium ... between absolute submission and determined revolt" in her dealings with domineering people; she gives this submission "up to the very moment of bursting," as she had done so long ago with her cousin John Reed at Gateshead. It is intriguing that both have "John" in their names. Though Rivers may be "St. John," he is still linked by name to the cousin who tormented her. When he pressures Jane to marry him, she resists because she does not love him, although she is willing to help him in his work. Yet he wears her down to the point that she is willing to lose herself in the "torrent of his will." It takes supernatural intervention—the sound of Mr. Rochester's voice—to save her from this union.

In Chapter 34 of Jane Eyre, what qualities does St. John see in Jane that cause him to ask her to go to India with him as his wife?

St. John wants to marry Jane because he wants a helpmate who can assist him in carrying out his work, to which he has dedicated his life. After observing Jane for some time, he thinks that her ability to apply herself to a task is similar to his own. He tells her she is "docile, diligent, disinterested, faithful, constant, and courageous." He wants someone he can control, not understanding how independent Jane is. He's not in love with her and doesn't understand how passionate Jane is—and how her heart still belongs to Rochester. He makes it clear that social conventions would prevent her from going with him unless they're married. He dismisses Rosamond Oliver as being unsuitable to such a calling, dismissing her as more interested in "suitors and flatterers."

How is Bertha Mason both a symbol of passion and a foil, or contrasting character, to Jane Eyre?

The madwoman in Jane Eyre, as represented by Bertha Mason, symbolizes uncontrolled passion. Bertha is given no redeeming qualities; Rochester says that, before she became insane, she was debauched, lewd, and a drunkard, so she gets no sympathy for being a victim of fate or bad luck. Rochester even suggests that she brought on her own early insanity through her debauchery. In a society that valued adherence to social conventions, the madwoman served as a kind of warning to women who might be tempted to step outside the lines. She also serves as a foil and cautionary tale for Jane. She is, in many respects, Jane's opposite: foreign, not British; out of control rather than self-controlled; animalistic rather than civilized; vengeful rather than forgiving. She is also similar to Jane in some ways. Bertha is locked in the third-floor room as Jane was locked in the red-room in the opening scenes of the book. Indeed, in those early scenes, Jane considers going mad as a option for dealing with the stress of her situation. Bertha Mason reflects the fate she avoided. She may reflect Jane's better fortune in another way. Bertha is stuck in a loveless marriage with Rochester. Jane escapes a loveless marriage with St. John Rivers.

What meanings are associated with the uses of the recurring symbol of fire in Jane Eyre?

In Jane Eyre fire is used as a symbol of passion. Bertha Mason expresses her hatred for Rochester by setting his bed on fire. Later she sets Jane's bed on fire and burns down Thornfield Hall as a result. In this case fire is a destructive symbol: fire eventually destroys Thornfield, maims Rochester, and results in Bertha's death. Fire in the form of lightning splits the old chestnut tree, foreshadowing the obstacle to Jane and Rochester's marriage and their forced separation. In this case, too, fire is destructive; lightning kills the tree. In a more benign form, a fire in the drawing room or library fireplace is often a backdrop to Jane and Rochester's courtship. The final fire at Thornfield, while it destroys the home, also functions to free Rochester from his marriage and provides an impetus for him to rethink his life, thus making his and Jane's eventual happiness possible. This outcome suggests that even the destructive force of fire can be positive, burning away Rochester's corrupt old life and making possible a better, more moral one.

How do the characters of Rochester and St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre compare and contrast?

Rochester is not handsome: he's stern, brooding, commanding, and passionate. He has a sense of humor and enjoys intellectual conversation. Rochester cherishes Jane and loves her. While there is a sense of superiority in his desire to buy her pretty clothes and jewelry, it also reflects the kind of affection a person feels for someone he or she loves—he wants to give her presents. He also respects her independence, to an extent. When Jane insists on remaining Adèle's governess, Rochester comments on her "cool native impudence and pure innate pride." He does not, however, say that she cannot do as she wishes. In the end, when he is injured, he grows dependent on her. He needs her to survive. St. John is handsome, but he is stern, brooding, commanding, and coldly ambitious. He has no sense of humor and prefers doing good works to conversation. He has a single-minded dedication to his life's calling and is willing to subject Jane's desires to his in order to better fulfill his mission. He wants to control her and thinks he needs her, but in truth he manages in India without her. Rochester, then, is more passionate and playful than St. John; he kisses Jane with passionately, while St. John kisses her like a sister. Rochester is more playful; it is impossible to imagine St. John posing as a gypsy fortune teller. Both are self-centered, willing to sacrifice Jane's interests or needs for their own sake. Rochester grows out of that and regrets the immoral step he asked Jane to take; St. John is thwarted in his desire to bring Jane to India by her refusal and then departure to find Rochester. There is no reason to conclude that he repented. Rochester is also more willing to give Jane some degree of independence. With all his flaws, Rochester loves Jane for who she is rather than focusing on what she can do for him, as is the case with St. John.

In Jane Eyre what is Jane's relationship to Blanche Ingram, Bertha Mason, and Rosamond Oliver, potential rivals for Rochester's and St. John's love and friendship?

Jane's relationship with the three females who serve as rivals, or potential rivals, for Rochester's and St. John's love varies from hostility to friendship. She only has contact twice with Bertha Mason: first is in the scene when Bertha enters her room and destroys Jane's veil the night before the wedding, and then on the day of the aborted wedding itself, when Rochester exhibits his wife for all to see. In this relationship Jane is the target of hostility. She never really reveals her own views about Bertha's condition. Toward Blanche Ingram Jane feels distant and disapproving. She is willing to accept that Blanche has a right to marry Rochester; given their similarity in status and Blanche's beauty, she seems the right match. But the conversation and actions that Jane records from Blanche are not those of a good person. Rosamond Oliver is less of a threat to Jane than Blanche, as she herself has no interest in marrying St. John Rivers, with whom she thinks Rosamond is in love. She befriends the woman and even tries to encourage St. John to marry her.

In Jane Eyre what characters serve as mother figures to Jane as she travels through life?

Orphaned as a child, Jane Eyre must find substitutes for the mother she lost. Mrs. Reed is, of course, no mother to Jane. She abuses her emotionally and acts to thwart a possibility of future happiness when she tells John Eyre that Jane is dead. At Gateshead the servant Bessie provides comfort and advice to Jane; her role as a surrogate mother is reinforced by the fact that, when Bessie has a daughter, she names the girl Jane. She is also the source of many of the folk tales that Jane remembers and that influence her throughout her life. In this way she is Jane's first teacher. At Lowood school Miss Temple serves first as a mother figure, then as a mentor, and finally as a good friend to Jane. At Thornfield Jane is less in need of a mother, as she has matured by this time. Nevertheless, Mrs. Fairfax looks out for Jane's welfare and gives her advice and companionship.

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