Describe and explain Jane’s journey to adulthood in ‘Jane Eyre’.

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Ava Runolfsdottir

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Brontë establishes how Jane’s ambiguous social standing in the beginning of the novel leaves her somewhat lost. She is an orphan, born to one higher class and one lower class parent, and raised in a grand household by her relatives, yet she is routinely mistreated by them and taught she is ‘less than a servant’.  She is immediately shown to be an intelligent, curious young girl, who is driven to a passionate outburst by her tyrannical cousin. This passion is established at the end of chapter 1, and is developed as the novel progresses. We see how Jane learns to control her passion with Helen’s advice, but we also see evidence that Jane knows when to stand up for herself and defend her strong principles. For example, she tells Mr Rochester he is wrong to deceive her when he reveals himself to be the fortune teller:

‘“No; some unaccountable one. In short, I believe you have been trying to draw me out—or in; you have been talking nonsense to make me talk nonsense. It is scarcely fair, sir.”

“Do you forgive me, Jane?”

“I cannot tell till I have thought it all over. If, on reflection, I find I have fallen into no great absurdity, I shall try to forgive you; but it was not right.”’

She also berates Rochester for his cruel treatment of her just before he proposes:

“I tell you I must go!” I retorted, roused to something like passion. “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? […] Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! […] I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!”

Brontë gives Jane many obstacles to overcome, mostly linked to her status as a poor woman who is vulnerable to the more powerful members of society. The way she overcomes these obstacles allows her to grow from a lost, mistreated little girl of low status and no connections, to a strong, principled, independent woman (as much as a Victorian woman could be), who has the money and family she needs to feel safe and free. Brontë suggests that she is able to make this transition thanks to her strong moral compass, such as her decision to place her morals above her love for Mr Rochester, as shown by her leaving Thornfield. She only returns to Rochester once she has denied St John’s proposal and learned enough about herself and grown in confidence enough to know that she deserves an equal partner whom she truly loves. Brontë rewards Jane’s strength by giving her the money she needs to survive comfortably, the family she desires in the Rivers family, and the equal partner she longs for. 

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