In Search of Permanence

In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the setting is used as a tool to reflect the hardships its protagonist, Jane Eyre, experiences. The locations Jane resides in play an integral part in determining what actions she is to take next. Her transient residencies demonstrate her restless desire to find a purpose in life while respecting the nineteenth-century social codes that restrict her. She strives to maintain her self-respect, but is aware of the conventional subservience of woman she is expected to uphold in the Victorian-era England. The constantly changing setting is a manifestation of Jane Eyre’s struggle to find a permanence that satiates her desire for self-fulfillment. It is from Gateshead Hall, the home of her prejudice and insensitive aunt, where Jane begins her journey. The opening of its gates is symbolic of her casting off into the world to experience life independent of guidance. She leaves at the break of dawn and “whirl[s] away toÖremote and mysterious regions”, signifying the beginning of a new life unrestrained by familial ties (35). Her arrival at Lowood, a restrictive boarding school, begins during a bitter winter “stiffened in frost, shrouded with snowÖ[with] mists as chill as death” which mirrors the miserable loneliness of adjusting to the school’s oppressive routine. As the years pass, Jane realizes that experiences essential to her aesthetic needs “lay all outside the high and spike-guarded walls” (68), and that she must break with her life of uniformity to “seek real knowledgeÖamidst [the world’s] perils” (77). The change of scene, the “quiet and lonely hills [that] embrace Thornfield”, where Jane is a governess, offers hope in her search for self-fulfillment (91). The lack of formality under the proprietor, Rochester, allows her candor to be expressed without consciousness of restraint. The “splendid Midsummer [with] skies so pure, suns so radiant” reflects the contentment she feels at Thornfield Hall as an equal with Rochester (234). She is shaken from her complacency, however, with the discovery of his first wife, who is plagued with insanity. As the madness of Rochester’s wife slowly spreads its influence over Thornfield, so too the “black clouds were casting up over [the sea and] the moon was setting in the waves, broad and red, like a hot cannon-ball” (293). Jane decides to leave because “the more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained [she is], the more [she] will respect [herself]” (302). In search of a happiness that does not transgress the laws of God, she departs from Thornfield with the rising of the sun, symbolic of another life she must move on from. After leaving Thornfield, Jane’s transitory dwelling is Whitcross, a stone pillar where four roads meet. This crossroads represents Jane’s aimlessness and uncertainty of where her life might lead her, as well as the vulnerability of her situation; she realizes that until this point she has been financially dependent of others. Moor House, where her three cousins live and where she takes up residency, is a humble abode “very plainly furnished, yet comfortable” (328). Its modesty contrasts with the grandeur of Thornfield, but Jane is able to “comprehend the feeling, and share both its strength and truth. [There were] so many pure and sweet sources of pleasure” (334). She develops an intimacy with Moor House, its inhabitants as well as its pastoral land. Jane’s last residency is in the manor-house of Ferndean, where “so thick and dark grew the timber of the gloomy wood about it” (411). The manor-house, where she cares for a handicapped Rochester, is secluded within “a heavy frame of the forest” (412). This final dwelling reflects the closure of her journey, the permanence she has been searching for since her departure from Gateshead.Jane Eyre’s constant movement reflects her inner struggle to preserve personal integrity in her search for a self-fulfilling happiness. Her mobility finally leads her to a marriage with Rochester in a heavily secluded manor-house. It is here that she at last discovers “what it is to live entirely for and with what [she] love[s] best on earth” (431). She has found her happiness in being with Rochester, and it is with this conviction that her journey in search of permanence ends with the closing of the forest’s iron gates.

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