Jane Eyre as a character is a very interesting mix of extremes and contrasts. As she matures we see her traits develop in many different ways, but throughout the course of her life she is a strong-minded person and her morals and basic views on life do not change in essence. The main themes of the novel are centred around her passion, her great need for love, as she was denied it as a child, and her strength of character and rebellious nature in a period when society did not accept the equal rights of women. From this point it can be argued that Jane Eyre is a feminist novel.
As a child Jane was never spoilt or doted upon. She was not the kind of girl that was attractive to adults, because she was sombre and solemn and did not play up to the charade of a sweet, adorable little girl that adults liked to fuss over; in chapter 1 Mrs Reed tells Jane that she should keep at a distance from her until, “she/could discover/that I was endeavouring in a good earnest to acquire a more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner- something lighter, franker, more natural”.
Indeed, in her childhood, she was deprived of love and justice, and these two things are what she craves in later life. She is treated as an inferior to the Mrs Reed and her children and often rebels against this injustice but can only be punished for it, “I told you not to go near her; she is not worthy of notice; I do not choose that either you or your sisters should associate with her”/ “They are not fit to associate with me”. For this remark she is shouted at and Mrs Reed boxes her ears. This scenario is repeated throughout her stay with the Reeds.
She calls John Reed a “slave driver” in chapter 2. She is very passionate about this injustice towards her; she stands up to Mrs Reed on p28 in the novel, “Speak I must: I had been trodden on severely, and must turn”/”I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed; and this book about the liar, you may give it to your girl, Georgiana, for it is she who tells lies, and not I. / I am glad you are no relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again so long as I love.
I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if anyone asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought o f you make s me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty. ” However, Jane realises that, as she is a child, she has no power to oppose her keeper without being punished, “A child cannot quarrel with its elders, as I had done; cannot give its furious feelings uncontrolled play, as I had given mine, without experiencing afterwards the pang of remorse and the chill of reaction. These passage is very relevant in comparing the characters of the young, and matured Jane Eyre. When she is older, Jane goes to visit her aunt on her deathbed, forgives her and offers her peace and an end to the hostility between them, “Dear Mrs Reed/think no more of all this, let it pass away from your mind. Forgive me for my passionate language: I was a child then; eight, nine yours have passed since that day. My disposition is not so bad as you think: I am passionate, but not vindictive.
Many a time, as a little child, I should have been glad to love you if you would have let me; and I long earnestly to be reconciled to you now: kiss me, aunt. ” Mrs Reed refused to kiss her and died that night. Another obvious trait that Jane has as a child is her morbid way of thinking and her pessimistic attitude towards her life. This is hardly surprising considering her circumstances, and I believe that she was truly depressed during her stay at Gateshead, “to achieve escape form insupportable oppression- as running away, or , if that could not be effected, never eating or drinking more, and letting myself die. As Jane matures and progresses into adulthood, she learns to channel her passion into tolerance and will power although she is still led largely by her instincts and feelings.
We see an example of this when she runs away from Thornfield and nearly dies on the moors, “Could I but have stiffened to the still frost – the friendly numbness of death – it might have pelted on; I should not have felt it; but my yet living flesh shuddered at its chilling influence. A pang of exquisite suffering – a throe of true despair – rent and heaved my heart. Worn out, indeed, I was; not another step could I stir. I sank on the wet doorstep: I groaned – wrung my hands – I wept in utter anguish. ” at this point she feels it is far more important to follow her instincts than to torture herself in a place that she is not happy with her circumstances. This is the same as when she was a child, except as an adult she has the independence to take more action, which she does.
There are many more examples of this, when Rivers asks her to marry him she decides to go back to Thornfield instead because she knows that she and Rivers do not love each other, and that practical reasons are not enough for her, although marrying for wealth and security was the main aim for most women of the time. Never in her life does Jane want to be used or treated as an inferior; she needs to be independent and in control of her life. She explains this to Rochester, “Hiring a mistress is the next worse thing to buying a slave: both are often by nature, and always by position, inferior: and to live familiarly with inferiors is degrading.
She longs for a richer life and to explore the world, “I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of lire I had heard of but never seen- that then I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach. ” Jane knows that she is not of a higher class, and does not desire material things; she is insulted when Rochester tries to dress her up in fire clothes.
This could be seen as modesty but I think she associates those fine things with all the things she despises, including the Reeds. However she does have a low opinion of herself at some times, but this could be seen as her being perceptive and truthful with herself about her possibilities and chances in life, “you… a favourite”. This happens again when she compares herself the Blanche Ingram. She always objects to people trying to change her, she says she will “be herself”: ” I am not an angel. ” In this sense she has a great deal of integrity, as she does throughout her life.