The decision to forfeit the fulfillment of one’s deepest desire, particularly the desire to love and to be loved, is a decision fraught with anguish that allows for Jane Eyre to fully reconcile her choices with her morals, ironically leading to her happy ending. Every desire that she carried as a child was denied in her inferiority and societal norms; however, she must learn from a variety of experiences to understand what her desires entail. Through the coming of age story of Jane Eyre, one realized the true importance of and differences between great passion and apathy, inequality and equality, and freedom and enslavement to one’s obligations to understand the value of each in one’s life.
The defining characteristic of Jane Eyre is her daring passion that continued to live on in her heart, despite pressure to suppress that part of her in settings such as Lowood, where strict obedience and goodness were the only types of accepted behavior. One would expect Jane to discard of religious values and societal norms when confronted with the decision to stay with a married man--Rochester--or choose to leave him for the sake of morality. Unexpectedly, Jane uses her passion to assert the precedence of morality over desire and happiness. Deying temptation, Jane learns the importance of restraining herself and her strong will to fulfill what she wanted more in life than anyone could ever want: love. In a vastly different relationship with St. John, a suitor who offered Jane a type of freedom and equality in their partnership, in which Jane would travel to India as a missionary, Jane is incomplete in the absence of passionate love, learning its necessity in her life through comparison. Only in the reconciliation of passion and morality would Jane return to her rightful partner: Rochester.
The deep seated inequality between Jane and those around her--especially men--drove her to seek a situation in which she would be equal on multiple levels. Despite that she was an intellectual equal, or even superior, to those who surrounded her, Jane was called a dependent, an inferior, and even a slave (by her lover, Rochester). The free-flowing conversations between Jane and Rochester demonstrate an intellectual equality, yet also Jane’s restrained spirit in her deference to him. Consider the following excerpt: “‘I did not wish to disturb you, as you seemed engaged, sir.’ ‘Nothing particular; teaching Adele as usual.’ ‘And getting a good deal paler than you were--as I saw at first sight. What is the matter?’ ‘Nothing at all, sir.’ … ‘I am tired, sir.’ He looked at me for a minute. ‘And a little depressed,’ he said. ‘What about? Tell me’” (Bronte 187). Such an aspect of Bronte’s work exemplifies the notion that one can decipher relationship dynamics by the nature of conversation. Despite the centrality of passionate love in her collection of desires, Jane could not partner with Rochester without first becoming his equal, driving the necessity for Jane to leave him and, instead, find herself. Once poor and dependent, Jane inherits a fortune. Once in possession of all one could ask a man to be, Rochester loses his eyesight and damages his body, himself becoming the dependent. Equalizers outside of the characters’ control acted to resolve moral wrongs that would have been committed had Jane stayed; the decision to leave him would result in all the right pieces falling into place. Ironically, Rochester had to lose his eyesight to see the equal, independent woman before him, demonstrating the importance of seeing life from different perspectives.
The concepts of freedom and enslavement could refer to a myriad of situations; however, in the context of Jane Eyre, freedom means the ability to express and decide for oneself. Religion and conformity to social norms were forms of enslavement to Jane, suppressing her true self and the fulfillment of her ambitions. However, in the integration of religious and societal values inherited through her experiences, Jane’s adherence to her own moral edifice became a source of freedom. Skepticism of a higher power led Jane to question the existence of God initially, but her friend Helen Burns, with her last moments on earth, seeded a certainty in a life after death that took root in Jane in the uneventful eight years to follow: “We all must die one day, and the illness which is removing me is not painful … I am sure that there is a future state; I believe God is good” (85). Suffering is temporary and, perhaps, is only the prelude to eternal happiness. Realizing the value of her morality, Jane was guided to make decisions based on strengthening and upholding her values. Consider the difference between her suitors: Rochester and St. John. Her devotion to Rochester imprisoned her in a state of desperate lust in her inferiority: “I thought his smile was such as a sultan might, in a blissful and fond moment, bestow on a slave his gold and gems had enriched: I crushed his hand, which was ever hunting mine, vigorously, and thrust it back to him red with the passionate pressure” (277). Compare that brief moment to a dull attempt at romance with St. John: “There are no such things as marble kisses or ice kisses … but there may be experiment kisses … When given, he viewed me to learn the result; it was not striking: I am sure I did not blush; perhaps I might have turned a little pale, for I felt as if this kiss were a seal affixed to my fetters.” (410). An attempt to force passion into a relationship fails in Jane’s matter-of-fact diction and dullness of description in experiencing a romantic act, in contrast to the vividness of simply looking upon and slightly touching Rochester. Instead, Jane realizes her own independence and freedom as an individual, as we all should. She would be enslaved to no one in following her freedom. True freedom is found in finding and staying true to oneself, a development that led to Jane’s satisfaction and happiness in the end.
Our decisions and experiences mold us into who we become; our spirits are content with the alignment of our morals and values with our realities. Happiness is not the light at the end of the tunnel, but rather the hard to achieve state of mind that results from revelations derived from difficult decisions, developing our morals and contentment with our situation. In this fashion, Jane Eyre teaches us the difference between fortunate events and real, lasting happiness.
BronteÌ?, Charlotte, and K. M. Weiland. Jane Eyre. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest, 2014. Print.