The theme of love in Jane Eyre covers both the romantic variety and the type encountered within a family, a sense of belonging, and a desire to be needed. The romantic love portrayed by Bronte through her novel is quite apparent. There is her love for Rochester, which eventually wins through, and her relationship and possible love for St. John. Balanced against this love is Jane’s desire for individuality and integrity. It is this desire which leads her to refuse Rochester’s hand once she learns he is still legally married to bertha, Jane will not allow herself to become a mistress just to satisfy her emotional needs. Jane also has a problem with the lack of equality between herself and Rochester; will her individuality allow her to be a kept woman?
The refusal to marry St. John is different to her refusal to marry Rochester in that she knows that it would be a marriage of convenience and thus loveless. This can be seen as love balanced with integrity versus a lack of love balanced with practicality. Jane’s love for Rochester can be allowed free reign only once she has gained independence by inheriting money balanced with Thornfield being a ruin and Bertha has flung herself from the roof; they are now equals in her mind as Jane states in chapter 38 “I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine…”
Jane’s pursuit of love seems stronger when it is the family type. It would appear that her lack of family from an early age deprived her of this sense of belonging; in fact Jane received quite the opposite from the Reeds. Jane first feels a tendril of belonging through Bessie Lee at Gateshead but it is with Helen Burns she feels a definite sense of worth and it is in chapter eight where she says to Helen that she “…would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken,” in order to gain her affection. The quote also included Maria Temple who became a strong role model and a friend after the death of Helen; the quote further states “…or any other whom I truly love…” thus indicating her desperation to be loved and accepted.
The theme of love is introduced by its absence within the Reed house but comes shining through by the end with Jane’s return to Thornfield. With each stage of Jane’s journey we are reintroduced to the theme from Lowood with Helen Burns to Moor House and Jane’s newfound family. Within romantic relationships we are shown the contrast between Rochester and St John. With St John love is again shown through its non-existence.
Jane’s journey from unhappiness to contentment passes different views of Christian values. Three characters personify these views: Mr Brocklehurst, Helen Burns and St. John. The first encounter with Christianity comes in chapter four when Mr Brocklehurst quizzes Jane on her reading of the Bible and tells Jane she has a wicked heart after she tells him “Psalms are not interesting,” .We catch a glimpse of the form of Christianity used to control the pupils of Lowood when Mr Brocklehurst says “Humility is a Christian grace, and one peculiarly appropriate to the pupils of Lowood;” It becomes apparent that Mr Brocklehurst’s approach to Christianity is hypocritical, this can be seen in chapter seven when he claims to be purging pride when he orders the curly hair of one pupil to be cut and yet his own family are dressed and adorned splendidly.
Jane may see Mr Brocklehurst’s brand of Christianity as too evangelical, conversely she finds Helen Burns to be too submissive and tolerant. As we see in chapter four Jane is not afraid to confront Sarah Reed when she feels she has been greatly wronged, Helen on the other hand is more inclined to turn the other cheek and remain passive in the face of cruelty. When Jane tells Helen she should stand up for herself she replies “It is far better to endure patiently a smart…the Bible bids us return good for evil.” Helen’s sense of self is almost puritanical when she goes on to describe herself as slatternly, chaotic and careless. It is on her death bed that Helen shows just how strong her faith is when she proclaims “I am very happy, Jane; and when you hear that I am dead you must be sure and not grieve:”
The third strongly religious character is St. John Rivers. His brand of Christianity is one of glory and fulfilling moral duty through religious devotion, he appears a good and sincere man who plans to go abroad as a missionary. It does become apparent later that St. John is prepared to use religion to force Jane to marry him and accompany him to India when, in chapter thirty-four, he suggests that rejecting him would be tantamount to rejecting God, desperation or just an over-zealous zealot? This re-enforces the feeling within Jane that would be an appendage rather than a partner.
The theme of Christian values appears throughout the novel. It is first shown strongly in Mr Brocklehurst’s quizzing of Jane at the Reed’s house and goes on to be contrasted with Helen Burn’s beliefs at Lowood. The theme of religion runs through the novel when Jane has to keep making decisions between her emotional needs and her moral values.
Jane is seen throughout the novel striving to achieve equality, she is fighting against a patriarchal society and more specifically against three dominant male characters: Mr Brocklehurst, Edward Rochester and St. John Rivers. All three men attempt to be dominant in their relationship with Jane but to varying degrees they fail to make Jane kowtow to them, this is either through her own will or by external influences or a mixture of both.
Our first introduction to a male figure involved in Jane’s life is the odious John Reed; here we see that he makes life for Jane difficult through his bullying and Mrs Reed backs him up. Jane does not take this behaviour lying down and fights back against John; however this act of defence sees her locked in the Red Room where her uncle passed away.
The first adult male who has a significant effect on Jane’s life is Mr Brocklehurst who, through his own brand of inverted Christianity, is a cruel, heartless disciplinarian as well as an unashamed hypocrite when it comes to standards between his school pupils and his family. Things take a turn for the better at Lowood but only after the death of several pupils including Helen Burns. Mr Brocklehurst has his influence at Lowood curbed but due to his wealth, not stopped.
Rochester is determined to marry Jane regardless of the fact that he is still married to Bertha. Even after Mason brings the truth to light, Rochester wants Jane to be his mistress but to Jane this is an intolerable situation. During their conversation just prior to Jane’s departure from Thornfield Rochester asks Jane if it would be wicked for her to love him, to which she replies “It would to obey you.” Being a mistress would be going against Jane’s moral and religious fibre.
Jane was unsure of her marriage to Rochester even before the discovery of Bertha. She was aware of the possibility of being a kept woman as she had no wealth of her own, she was also conscious of the difference in backgrounds relating to social class. This was reinforced by the appearance of Blanche Ingram in chapter 17 where social status and wealth appear all-important. Once Jane discovers her family at Moor House and becomes the beneficiary of an inheritance she sees that she would not be dependant on Rochester for money or love and as such can allow herself to be with him, this time on a more equal footing.
St John’s desire to marry Jane is driven by the same force, which compels him to become a missionary. He lacks the basic Christian value of humility and sees his marriage to Jane as a useful tool to achieving his goals. He does give away the fact that he has certain feelings for Jane when she offers to go to India as his sister to help in the mission he rejects the idea; this would go against his plan. St John sees the relationship in purely pragmatic terms, Jane sees the danger of falling in love with St John while in India and says to Diana in chapter 35 “He would not want me to love him;”
Gender seems to be an important theme to Bronte and the battle between the sexes commences early on between Jane and John Reed. This gender conflict re-occurs throughout the novel in almost every male encounter Jane has. There have been suggestions that Bronte was being quite risque in her approach to feminism at the time this novel was first published. This feminist approach is seen clearly in chapter 12 where Jane states “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel;”
It could be argued that there are more themes within the novel than I have written of above, I feel that these are the more important issues Bronte wished to raise in Jane Eyre and that the themes of appearances, struggles and atmosphere (arguably an intrinsic part of the novel rather than a theme within it) are dealt with under the sub headings above. There is the exception of social class but this will be dealt with in section three.