Jane Eyre’s Personal Development Through Experience
Intelligent and self-aware as a child, the protagonist of the novel, Jane Eyre, grows from an immature youth to a well-respected woman by learning from several different environments that test her character. Jane must navigate society as she progresses from a student to a governess and teacher to her final position as a wife. In the beginning of the novel, Jane is a passionate girl who acts upon impulse, but as she grows she learns when it is appropriate to speak her mind and when she should contain herself. Jane learns to control and evaluate her emotions rather than whimsically acting on them; this process is defined by critic Suzanne Hader as “…long, arduous, and gradual, consisting of repeated clashes between the protagonist’s needs and the desires and the views and judgments enforced by an unbending social order”. The act of maturing is usually a struggle that goes against the nature of a person. Jane, for example, is often hurt by a relentless society full of obstacles. As Jane overcomes challenges, she begins to find her identity and ends up in a permanent situation she desires rather than one that is temporarily acceptable. Jane’s quest for identity reveals several aspects of her character that society deems unacceptable. Jane matures as a person learning to act on reason emotions as well as learning when to contain them.
Jane’s actions and thoughts highlight her immaturity as a child while she lives at both Gateshead and Lowood. As Jane lives with her adopted family at Gateshead, she gets into a quarrel with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, over a conversation her aunt had had with the supervisor of Jane’s new school. After Mr. Brocklehurst departs, Jane aggressively scolds her aunt for falsely portraying her character to Mr. Brocklehurst. After Jane tells Mrs. Reed she does not love her and wishes to leave the house Mrs. Reed solemnly departs the room. Jane gloats in thought to herself “I was left there alone – winner of the field… I stood awhile on the rug… I enjoyed my conqueror’s solitude” (45). As Mrs. Reed leaves the room, Jane feels a sense of pride as if she has won the argument; Jane purposefully made Mrs. Reed display what looked to be regret and remorse. This “victory” is an example of Jane’s immaturity. Jane does argue valid points regarding her treatment at Gateshead, which has been abusive and fowl, but her argument provides no benefit and seemingly hurts Mrs. Reed. Jane verbally abuses a woman who has raised her as a child by herself with help from housekeepers, and even though Jane’s time at Gateshead was not always a pleasant experience at least she was never without food or shelter. Jane does not appreciate what she has been given and instead scolds the person who has kept her safe. Scolding Mrs. Reed hurt Jane in the long run because Mrs. Reed, later on, refuses to forward an important letter to Jane out of spite. It would have been better for Jane to have controlled and contained her emotions in this particular situation. This act of passion was not the only of its kind during Jane’s youth.
While Jane is at school in Lowood her friend, Helen Burns, is beaten with sticks for forgetting to clean her nails. Helen is not mad because she says it helps her to fix her faults but Jane argues, “… If I [Jane] were in your place I should dislike her… if she struck me with that rod, I should get it from her hand; I should break it under her nose” (66). Jane does not commit an immature action during this scene but she ponders one. The teachers use debatably cruel methods in order to correct the students, but this does not justify Jane’s thoughts of retaliation through physical attacks. If Jane were to fight back with the stick it would undoubtedly get her in trouble or, potentially, expelled from the school, but she does not consider this outcome. Jane, at this point, does not know how to evaluate and control her emotions. Jane does not act on this thought like she had in the past, which is a step in the right direction, but she would have if it were her who was hit. Both Jane’s argument with Mrs. Reed and her theoretical plan of revolt speak towards the maturity of her character. In both situations, Jane acts or plans to act based on raw emotion with no thought of repercussions. She has to learn the difference between when it is correct to speak and act on how she feels and when it would be better to withhold her feelings. Jane is immature as a child, but as she goes through school she begins to become a wiser and more mature person. Helen is another intelligent adolescent who helps to teach Jane to be more controlled. Helen understands why she is being punished and helps Jane comprehend the act as well. Helen’s maturity has a strong influence of Jane’s character and guides her to become a more mature person.
Although Jane acted immaturely as a child, it becomes apparent that she is maturing by her pursuit of a desirable occupation as well as her social interaction later in her life. After being a student and teacher at Lowood, Jane becomes unsatisfied and aspires to experience the world. Jane advertises herself as a governess in the local newspaper and shortly receives a response, at which point she reflects: “This [potential job] circumstance was satisfactory: a private fear haunted me, that in thus acting for myself… I ran the risk of getting into some scrape” (105). Jane is worried that this new opportunity may yield a poor result, and because she is following her own instinct she does not know if this is the right decision. Jane does not wish to put herself in a situation that is unadvisable and unfortunate, which is a rational and mature thought. In the past, Jane would have spontaneously acted on her desire to leave Lowood in search of her calling, but Jane has matured and now knows that it is important to weigh the potential outcomes of her decisions. After thorough contemplation of the offer she received, Jane decides to leave Lowood for residence at Thornfield, the location of her new position.
Although Jane has shown signs of maturity, she has yet to gain complete control over her emotions. While Jane is living in Thornfield she is introduced to the owner of the house and her employer, Mr. Rochester. Mr. Rochester asks Jane if she finds him attractive, which she impulsively responds to by saying no. She feels regret for saying no and says to Rochester “Sir I was too plain: I beg your pardon. I ought to have replied that it was not easy to give an impromptu answer to a question about appearances…” (154). Jane, again, acted on impulse and insulted the appearance of her employer. Even if she does not think appearance holds great important, because she, too, is unattractive, insulting Mr. Rochester in not a mature action. She feels remorse for her answer but she cannot take it back. Mr. Rochester claims that he is not offended, but this comment certainly did not make him feel. If Jane were mature she would have considered her answer more carefully. A wise and mature person should not insult their employer, especially during the first few interactions. Jane feels regret for her action, which is a positive sign because it shows that she is starting to understand the possible negative consequences of her actions. Throughout Jane’s later years at Lowood and her welcoming to Thornfield she begins to act more mature, but she still has not been able to rid of herself entirely of her impulsive actions. Jane makes a rational and well thought out decision to leave Lowood, which is mature, but then quickly insults her employer’s appearance, which is immature and rude. Jane is clearly learning to differentiate between what is acceptable to say and what is not, proven by her apology to Mr. Rochester after her blunt comment. Jane continues to grow and mature while she spends the next portion of her life living in Thornfield.
Jane’s character growth, during the second half of her stay at Thornfield, reaches a new level of maturity as she faces and overcomes emotionally strenuous challenges. During Jane’s stay at Thornfield, an affluent and haughty group of people arrives for a temporary residence. One of the nights, while Jane is in their company, a game of charades is being played in which Jane declines to play. A conceited woman, Lady Ingram, makes a snide remark when Jane is invited, “Lady Ingram instantly negative the notion. ‘No,’ I [Jane] heard her say: ‘she looks too stupid for any game of the sort.’ (212). Lady Ingram verbally attacks Jane when the idea of her partaking in the game is mentioned even though Ingram has no knowledge of Jane’s intelligence or character. Lady Ingram makes a snobbish and blatant assumption of Jane that is severely incorrect, but Jane, an erudite with ability in English, French and Art, does not retaliate. Reflecting on Jane’s past, this lack of a rebuttal speaks towards Jane’s maturation. In the past, Jane was so enraged by Mrs. Reed’s comment on her character that she reprimanded her, but in this instance, when Jane is libeled she does not act impulsively on her emotions. A younger Jane may have argued and with Ingram but Jane has become a mature woman and knows that there is no good to come of it. Jane is again challenged emotionally during her residence at Thornfield; this time being more extreme than the last. Jane agrees to marry Mr. Rochester, but on their wedding day Jane is presented with a hidden truth that impedes their wedding. Jane goes against every ounce of emotion in her body when she decides that she has to leave Mr. Rochester and Thornfield. As she is leaving Thornfield she ponders how Mr. Rochester will feel about her decision: “He [Rochester] would feel himself forsaken; his love rejected: he would suffer; perhaps grow desperate. I thought this too” (368). Jane understands that this decision is not only going to take a toll on her but also Mr. Rochester.
Again, instead of making a decision on a whim, like Jane has done in the past, she thinks through the different ramifications that her actions may have. She loves Mr. Rochester whole-heartedly but she knows that the morally correct thing to do is to run away even if it means that she will hurt Rochester. At the end of Jane’s stay at Thornfield she is able to contain her emotions in order to access them. Jane wishes to marry Rochester but given the circumstances she must leave because staying will only cause her more pain. Jane’s action is an act that only an experienced and mature person could make. Jane must knowingly hurt herself and another person emotionally in order to do what is right. Jane has grown immensely as a person during her stay at Thornfield. Jane has succumbed to her emotions more than once during her residence, but in the end, when she leaves, Jane is able to contain and process her emotions in order to make a tough decision that is ultimately correct.
During Jane’s time at Thornfield she proves that she is able to control her emotions, but as Jane continues to mature she learns when it is appropriate to listen to her emotions. While Jane is living in the Moor House, her cousin, St. John, proposes to her as part of an invitation for a mission trip to India. One night Jane thinks she hears Mr. Rochester’s voice, causing her to ask herself “…was it a mere nervous impression – a delusion? I could not conceive or believe: it was more like an inspiration” (486). Jane knows the voice must have been illusion because Mr. Rochester lives far away, but it sparks something inside of her. Jane becomes inspired by the voice, which brings back her feelings for Mr. Rochester. She then feels the need to visit Rochester, in order to make sure he is alive. Jane’s trip with St. John is approaching, but she knows that she would rather visit Mr. Rochester and decides against the journey. In this case, Jane follows her emotions and is rewarded with marriage to her true love, Mr. Rochester. If Jane had ignored her feelings she would have died in India with St. John rather than living the rest of her life with Rochester. Jane followed her feelings, based on a hallucination of Mr. Rochester, because she knew it was what she wanted, which seems illogical but those emotions were deeply rooted for years. Jane has learned that it is acceptable to follow her emotions occasionally. Jane proves that she has become a mature adult while she is living at Ferndean with Rochester and Adele, Jane’s stepdaughter. Adele has been sent to a school that Jane describes as “… too strict, its course of study too severe… I [Jane] sought out a school conducted on a more indulgent system” (518). Adele’s current school is too challenging, which reminds Jane of Lowood. Jane performs a selfless act by switching Adele to a more suitable school. Jane does not have to help Adele but does out of sympathy. Caring about others is a sign of maturity that Jane has not always expressed. Jane has learned to contain her emotions in order to protect her judgment from being clouded, to follow her emotions when they are of pure and reasonable motive and to help others even when it does not benefit her. During Jane’s time in Ferndean she has settled down and found her life’s true calling. Jane has a daughter of her own and has become a selfless, mature woman. By learning when to listen to her emotions and how to care about other Jane has freed herself of any immaturity she had left.
During the course of the novel, Jane grows from a passionate child to a cold, young adult and finally to a mature woman. Jane learns, through experiences that are both her own and of others, what is appropriate behavior and what is not. Jane is able to find herself in the end of the novel and she lives a desirable life.
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