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Jane Eyre | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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How do the characters of Jane Eyre and Blanche Ingram compare and contrast?

Jane Eyre is small, plain, intelligent, self-reliant, kind, honest, passionate, and dutiful. While her attitudes reflect the influence of the class system, she treats members of the lower class, including servants, as human beings. Blanche Ingram is tall, beautiful, accomplished, haughty, scheming, and cold. Her treatment of Jane shows that she is strongly influenced by the class conventions of society. She seems to be interested in Rochester for his wealth and position; Jane, when she inherits wealth, gives three-quarters of it away. Blanche is a foil, or character who serves to amplify another character's traits by offering a sharp contrast to them. Her fixation on social conventions, her materialism, and her mean-spiritedness all serve to highlight Jane's considerable virtues, strengthening the reader's appreciation of and sympathy for Jane. In their cases, the presence or absence of physical beauty bears no relationship to inner beauty.

In Chapter 34 of Jane Eyre, why does Jane offer to go to India as St. John's sister?

St. John wants Jane to go to India with him as his wife, but Jane resists this idea. She cares for St. John as a brother, and she respects his dedication to his ministry, but she knows that ambition is his passion, and she still loves Rochester. In human relationships St. John is kind, but he's also cold and controlling. She knows he doesn't love her, and she doesn't think he'd make a good husband for her. Jane recognizes her own independent streak. She thinks that Rochester has probably left England, so there's no reason for her to stay, and perhaps duty and dedication to a cause would fill the gulf in her life. She is willing to go to India with him to serve a higher purpose. But she is not willing to accept a loveless marriage to someone intent on controlling her. That would be as much a betrayal of her principles as staying with Rochester would have been.

How is the theme of gender and class amplified in Mr. Rochester's party in Chapter 18 of Jane Eyre?

In Chapter 18 Rochester entertains a party of gentry at Thornfield. New servants are hired to tend to the guests, who arrive with their own servants as well, and lavish meals are prepared for them, indicating the kind of deference and privilege that members of the upper class are accustomed to. After one dinner the men and women first go to separate rooms. When they rejoin some of the men talk politics, and their wives listen, showing the sharp distinctions of gender roles within the upper class. Then the younger women talk jokingly about how they tormented their governesses and tried to get them fired. Blanche Ingram says that, while ugly women are "a blot on the fair face of creation," men need only to be strong and brave, another gender difference. Meanwhile, the female servants work to keep the members of the upper class satisfied. Jane watches and listens to the conversations and does not comment, but she leaves the room as soon as she can, indicating her rejection of the wealthy guests' attitudes and her acceptance of the social distance between them. She is reminded of that distance by Lady Ingram's supercilious dismissal of the possibility of Jane playing charades. Though Lady Ingram says that Jane doesn't look intelligent enough to play, she probably thinks this because Jane is only a governess.

In Jane Eyre how is Jane connected to the theme of passion?

When Jane is a child at Gateshead Hall, her main goal in life is to be loved. Having been criticized for being too passionate, she decides to work on what she has come to see as a character flaw. By the time Jane leaves Lowood school for Thornfield, she can describe herself as a calm, serene person. Rochester's attention and kindness awaken her passion for him, but she represses it because he's her social superior. She finally expresses her love for Rochester and is on the verge of enjoying what she thinks will be a happy ending when she learns about his mad wife. By now their feelings for each other are too intense to revert to their previous employer/employee relationship, but she refuses to accept the immorality of his offer to be set up in a house in southern France. In an act of will and morality over passion, she decides she must leave him and start a new life. But the passion remains—her feelings for Rochester are one reason she does not marry St. John Rivers—and eventually draws them back together.

Why does Jane Eyre plan to remain Adèle's governess after marrying Rochester and then later change her mind?

Rochester wants to buy Jane new clothes and dress her in finery and jewelry, but these attentions make Jane feel like a kept woman because she's been supporting herself for a long time. She treasures her independence and sense of some ability to control her own life. If she continues as governess, she would have her own income and feel that she was still her own person, even though her husband would be her employer. Jane rejects the social conventions that make women subservient to men in marriage. When they finally do marry, Jane abandons the idea, but their situation is different. She has gained her inheritance, giving her the independence she craves. In addition, Rochester's injuries make him dependent on her. She must devote her time to him rather than to teaching Adèle.

In Jane Eyre how is the obstacle of unequal status between Jane and Rochester resolved?

The unequal status of Jane and Rochester is resolved when Jane inherits a fortune from her uncle. This puts her on a more equal financial footing with Rochester, helping her overcome her discomfort at feeling that she would be giving up her independence. Also, Rochester's physical disability after the fire puts him in a somewhat dependent position with Jane. As she relates in the last chapter, when he was blind, she was "his vision," and even after he recovered sight in one eye, "I am still his right hand." It is a measure of the great gap in genders in Victorian society that a man has to be disabled for a husband and wife to be nearly equal.

What is the metaphorical meaning of the names of the different houses in Jane Eyre?

The Reeds' home is Gateshead Hall. The word gate suggests the image of an enclosure, but one that can be opened and used to pass through to another place. The word head is used to describe the beginning of a river, stream, or trail. Jane lives a restricted existence in the Reeds' home until the gates open for her and she begins her journey through life. Rochester's home is Thornfield Hall. Just as the word field is associated with pleasant feelings, the home and grounds are beautiful, pleasant places. The word thorn is associated with sharp pain, however, and the presence of Bertha in the third floor of the manor is a constant reminder of Rochester's grief. The name Thornfield thus reflects Rochester's mixed feelings about the manor. The Rivers siblings' home is Marsh End, or Moor House. "Some calls it Marsh End, and some calls it Moor House." A marsh is a dark, wet, boggy place, an unpleasant and unwelcome place to be. Being at Marsh End puts one beyond that undesirable location. The moor is a natural setting where Jane finds comfort. Both names seem to signal that Jane is at a place of respite, where she might find some calm. Ferndean is deep in the woods; ferns grow in shady, tree-sheltered areas. The name suggests lush growth, a positive association that is undercut by Rochester's explanation that he couldn't have Bertha live there because the home is damp and she would become ill and die. How, then, is it a suitable home for the happy-ever-after new Mr. and Mrs. Rochester? The house set in the woods is also isolated from the rest of society. Jane and Rochester are content with each other's company; they do not need social gatherings to be happy. In addition, Brontë may be suggesting that their married life—any human's life—is going to be beset with trials. While Jane and Rochester are happily married, life is not perfect. There are always burdens to bear.

In Chapter 17 of Jane Eyre, why does Blanche Ingram say she wants an ugly husband?

Blanche's family is not as wealthy as it used to be and, hoping to marry into money, Blanche is making a play for Rochester. Because he is not a handsome man, Blanche wants him to know that she doesn't care. She wants to be the only beauty in the marriage: "I will suffer no competitor near the throne." Her word choice is instructive. Ingram sees herself as the dominant partner in marriage; she is not interested in having an equal but wants someone subservient to her. While her declared lack of interest in her husband's looks might be a calculating move, a signal to Rochester that he is a candidate despite his lack of looks, her intention to rule the marriage seems to ring true.

How does Rochester demonstrate an acceptance of faith in Jane Eyre?

In Chapter 38 Rochester tells Jane that he has begun to feel "remorse" and "repentance." He's started to pray; he views what happened to him in the fire as "divine justice," and he has been humbled. As he tells Jane, "Of late ... I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere." He even prayed that he "might soon be taken from this life" so that he could rejoin Jane at least in the afterlife. It was that night that he uttered her name, providing the voice that Jane mysteriously heard and causing her to seek him out rather than going to India with St. John. God's punishment has become God's reward for Rochester's recognition of his errors.

Why does Jane Eyre end her story by telling about St. John Rivers?

Jane always admired St. John, and these last paragraphs, filled with laudatory language, are a tribute to his dedication and single-minded purpose in the pursuit of religious glory. In ending with St. John's final words, she also ends the book by accepting God's will. This is the kind of true piety that Brontë believes her book represents. Ending with St. John's death is also something of a justification of Jane's judgments about his character. As Jane tells Rochester in Chapter 37, St. John is "good and great, but severe." Jane would not be happy married to someone who is as "cold as an iceberg."

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