Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is one of the most influential books of the 19th century. Its use of the first-person narrative made it the first book that let the reader truly understand the protagonist’s development. Though written over 150 years ago, its themes of the search for family, the meaning of home, class struggles, gender equality, love, and independence still resonate with audiences today. Let's have a look at the themes in Jane Eyre.
Jane’s search for a family is a continuous Jane Eyre theme. Orphaned as a child, looking for a home and a place to belong is a driving factor of her life. The first place she goes after her parents’ death is Gateshead Hall to stay with her aunt and cousins. Instead of a loving family, Mrs. Reed and her cousins treat her terribly and make her life miserable.
Her second home is Lowood School. Despite the difficult conditions she realizes the importance of friends in creating a safe space when she meets Helen Burns. Unfortunately, Helen dies soon after they become friends, deeply affecting young Jane. Things eventually get better at Lowood but Jane realizes this is not home for her.
Next, she uses her intelligence to get a job as a governess at Thornwood Manor. This does not feel like home either initially because of the creepiness of the house and the strict social structure that she enters. It is only when she realizes that she is in love with Mr. Rochester that she starts feeling comfortable. Her dreams of family and home are once again destroyed when at her wedding it is revealed that Mr. Rochester is already married.
At Moor House, she finally finds kindness and acceptance and later discovers that the River’s family, the people she is staying with, are her cousins, giving her a sense of family. She is finally with people who value the same things she does; education and morality. She also finds a man who wants to marry her in St. John, but she still feels like something is missing. She realizes how important passionate love is for her and returns to Thornwood Manor but finds it burnt to the ground.
Jane finally finds a place to call home only when she creates one with Mr. Rochester, not by finding a place or a family to fit in to but by making one of her own.
Jane's search for love starts as a young girl looking for a place where she can feel comfortable and secure. She finds platonic love in friendship with Helen Burns but Helen tragically dies soon after they meet. When she arrives at Thornwood Manor she is young and somewhat naive. She does not enjoy her time at Thornwood until she realizes that she is developing feelings for Mr. Rochester. The love she describes is the love of youth, she pines over a man that she believes she cannot have and never fully expresses her emotions. She experiences all the highs and lows of romantic love and is thrilled to eventually accept his marriage proposal only to be devastated when she finds out that his mad wife is locked in the attic. This triggers another time of difficulty and self-discovery.
At Moor House, she receives a marriage proposal from St. John and though they seem like a perfect match, she does not feel passionate love for him. She has a comfortable life but realizes that something is still missing, yet she does not return to Mr. Rochester. She has learned that she does not want to love someone if she must sacrifice her own integrity and morals to be with them. Returning to Mr. Rochester would have meant becoming dependent on him and giving up her freedom.
She returns to Thornwood Manor after she receives an unexpected inheritance only to find it burned to the ground. She finds Mr. Rochester miserable, blinded, and in a reduced state. She shows that her love does not care about these things, and as an equal free from the shackles of societal norms builds a loving life with him.
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Religion, specifically Christianity is an important element of Jane's life and therefore one of the major Jane Eyre themes. There are three main forms of Christianity that she comes across that influence her. At Lowood school, she experiences a strict disciplinarian form of Christianity. The Headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, preaches a pious form of Christianity but he himself indulges in material pleasures, excess, and cruelty.
Her first friend Helen represents a pure and self-sacrificing form of Christianity. She believes that all things happen according to God's plan and is perceived as almost holy by Jane. Jane realizes that she can never be as selfless as Helen, but her friends' influence shapes her for the rest of her life.
St. John's version of Christianity is intense; he has dedicated himself and his life to serving God. Jane respects St. John's discipline and dedication but realizes that his version of morality is extreme and she can neither be with him as his wife nor be completely like him. She finds her own version of Christianity to follow, one that is a balance between Helen’s and St. John’s, one that aligns with her ideas of morality and integrity.
As with many books written during the Victorian era, social status is a major theme of Jane Eyre. Jane, as an orphan, has low social status and is made very aware of it from childhood. Her aunt and cousins treat her essentially as a servant because they consider her below them. When she moves to Lowood School, social status is equal amongst everyone attending but she is also somewhat sheltered from the real world.
Her job as a governess puts her in a complicated social position. As somebody who is well-educated and is supposed to teach children about the world, manners, and the aristocracy she is well suited for fitting into high society, but as a paid employee she is still of low social status. She believes that her love for Mr. Rochester is futile because he is from higher social status and even though she may be his intellectual equal she cannot be with him because of her social position. Mr. Rochester shows his disdain for the social class system when he proposes to Jane rather than the more suitable Miss Ingram.
It is only when Jane receives an inheritance, making her wealthy and elevating her social status, that she feels comfortable returning to see Mr. Rochester. In a turn of events, not only is his house burned down, but he himself has deteriorated physically. Jane and he build a life together because they both believe that only love matters, not social status.
Jane goes through a process of self-discovery, blossoming from a mistreated young orphan into an independent and strong woman. All the trauma and difficulty she suffered through and overcame made her the confident woman she is at the end of the story. She finds love with a man who also goes through a process of self-discovery. Mr. Rochester after having a wild youth realized that he wanted something more, something real and meaningful.
As a woman during the Victorian Era, Jane had to overcome many of the expectations and prejudices against women. Women were not supposed to think for themselves and be independent, but Jane decides to forge her own path.
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Beauty is another theme of Jane Eyre. In a society where external beauty, especially for women, is the only thing that matters, Jane is a rarity; beautiful both on the outside and the inside. Yet her strong moral code does not allow her to view herself as beautiful. Mr. Rochester initially falls for her because he appreciates her external beauty, but falls in love with her when he realizes her inner strength. On the other hand, Blanche Ingram is superficially attractive but cruel on the inside.
The initial driving factors for Jane are love and the desire to find a home, but as she goes through life she realizes that independence is just as important if not more so. She only returns to Mr. Rochester when she has financial independence and can be his equal. Her story is one of overcoming class restrictions, gender expectations, and ending issues of self-worth.
There are supernatural elements typical to Gothic literature throughout the story. Mysterious buildings (like Thornwood Manor with its haunting laughs and strange events), depressing environments (like Lowood school), and ghosts like in the Red Room, build a dramatic background to the story.
The importance of colonialism is one of the minor Jane Eyre themes. Mr. Rochester's first marriage was because of his family's colonial interests in the Caribbean. Bertha is an exotic beauty but is also dangerous because of her madness. Jane’s uncle builds a fortune in Madeira pointing again to the financial incentives of colonialism but is unable to ever meet or provide for Jane until his death. St John's desire to spread Christianity to India highlights the religious elements of colonialism.
It is difficult to answer the question: what is the theme of Jane Eyre? The main themes can be considered love, self-discovery, and independence. The experts at Studyfy have decades of experience helping students with editing and proofreading essays. So if you need any help with homework about the themes of Jane Eyre, or anything else, don't hesitate to reach out to them.