Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre is typically a novel that revolves around the quest for love. There are therefore several love relationships that emerge throughout the novel, some romantic, others familial or platonic. Most of these relationships centre around Jane herself because she forms the core of the novel around whom the other characters revolve. The protagonist of the novel, Jane Eyre herself, embarks on this quest for love from the very beginning of the book. As the novel opens, we see her long for the love and acceptance of her aunt, Mrs. Reed and her cousins, John, Eliza and Georgiana.
However, all she gets is emotionally and physically hurt. She is constantly chastised and discriminated against by her aunt, while she finds herself more often than not becoming the target of her cousin, John Reed’s ire. Her aunt’s indifference to her pain and need to belong, takes a toll on the little girl who longs to get away from Gateshead. When she reaches school, the first kind of steady affection she actually encounters is by Helen Burns, a girl Jane’s age, who is probably worse treated than Jane herself. Constantly at the receiving end of a teacher’s ire, Helen shows Jane the true meaning of the word forbearance.
She smiles through all the hardships she must endure and subconsciously teaches Jane to deal with her pain and suffering as well. Although Jane does not subscribe to the same kind of patience and tolerance that Helen advocates, she still learns a tremendous amount from her friend and understands what true friendship is when she experiences Helen’s support for her in her must troubled and humiliating moments in school. As she grows older, her next love relationship is probably considered to be the crux of the novel. Her encounter with Rochester marks the beginning of a love story that helps carry the story forward to its appropriate end.
Despite Rochester’s sternness and secrecy, Jane finds herself falling in love with her employer. With him, she finds the freedom of giving expression to her passions and emotions. However, she realizes that by not being his economic and social equal, she will be more of a slave than a partner to him. Moreover, when she finds out about the existence of his wife Bertha, she realizes that by marrying him despite her being alive, she would be nothing more than his mistress, thus violating all the principles and virtues she had set out for herself. She therefore shoes her true courage and walks out of Rochester’s ife.
Thus maintaining her dignity and her integrity is of primary importance to Jane and she does not allow even a passionate love relationship to come in her way. When she runs away from Thornfield, fate brings her to her cousins’ doorstep where she begins to live with them. That is where she experiences the concept of a true family. However this change also brings a new love relationship in Jane’s life. Her cousin St. John, a missionary, wishes to marry her. Although Jane realizes that she can actually use her talent and her hard work for a good cause, she also realizes that life with St.
John would not be anything like what she would have wanted for herself. Marrying St. John would mean denying herself and living in a loveless marriage. He would not only try to subjugate her as much as he could, but he would not allow her to be the passionate woman that she was. A clear indication of his forcefulness is when he is seen pressurizing Jane to submit to his desire of marrying her by using the will of God as an excuse and ignoring her true feelings and decisions. Her decision to walk away from St.
John and his offer for marriage, shows that Jane is not a woman to compromise her own passions and her true identity for the sake of love or marriage. Her second chance with Rochester allows her to enter into a relationship with him on her terms. At this point in her life she is not only his intellectual equal as before, but she is now a step closer to his economic and social status as well. Apart from this, Rochester’s blindness makes him more dependent on her, than she is on him, thus putting her in a slight position of power. The most important factor however, is the death of Rochester’s wife, in her attempt to burn down Thronfield.
Her death leaves Rochester a widower, thus allowing Jane to marry him and be his wife, rather than be relegated to being in the position of his mistress. Thus, Jane Eyre shows us that love, though forming an important part of a person’s life, does not require the compromising of a person’s identity or integrity, just to be experienced or fulfilled. There can be relationships where both individuals are in love and are yet equals, with the same amount of dependence and need for each other, rather than love being made the excuse for subjugation and slavery.