Themes are pervasive ideas presented in a literary work. There are plenty of compelling themes in Jane Eyre, which is a masterpiece of Charlotte Bronte. It presents the dilemma of a family and shows class discrimination and cruelty in human nature. Some of the major themes in Jane Eyre have been discussed below.
Themes in Jane Eyre
Role of the Family
Jane is in search of love that only a family can give. A family gives a sense of belonging and relationships. However, this search for a family does not dampen her desire for independence. Jane learns to love and taking care of relationships from Miss Temple and Mrs. Fairfax. She also learns about wicked relatives like Mrs. Reed and St. John, who is selfish. However, Jane returns love and care of Miss Temple and Mrs. Fairfax by taking care of Adele and other school children. She finally decides to get married to Mr. Rochester. She remains independent and yet believes in the institution of a loving family.
Religion plays an important role in the life of a person and in society. It is an important part of the society in which Jane Eyre grows up. First, she comes across evangelicalism of Mr. Brocklehurst, but she finds him hypocritical and abusive. On the other side, Helen Burns, also a Christian, stands apart from that of Mr. Brocklehurst. She is a firm believer and patient, who believes in turning the other cheek. St. Johns is also a strong Christian who wants to go on a mission to the third world. Jane agrees to go with him as a sister instead of a wife. However, St. John disagrees. Eventually, Jane looks toward God for help. She marries Mr. Rochester and restores his health.
Charlotte Bronte has consistently shown how poor are treated according to their financial status. Mr. Reed takes Jane as she is his niece. However, the maltreatment she meets at Thornfield makes her bitter toward religious ideas as well as social norms. This happens to her because of her lowly position. Mr. Rochester marries Bertha Mason because she is from the same social class. Jane rejects the proposal of Mr. Rochester because she thinks that she would be insulted more than considered his equal partner. St. John’s treatment against Jane is a reminder that the poor are either hated or shown pity. Jane has learned that good financial position leads to self-esteem and confidence that Jane, by the end, when she has gained a good social status.
Class discrimination and social hierarchies give birth to gender inequalities during the Victorian era. Jane could not stop obstacles coming on her way because she was a female. She was punished and kept “red-room” for the same. Similarly, Bertha’s imprisonment also shows the same female weakness of depending on male. The Victorian society frowned upon women working or living independently. Another aspect of gender issue highlighted in the novel is the patriarchal hold on the finances. For example, contrary to Jane, her uncle John and St. John had the freedom to join any career, while Jane has the option but under the domination of the patriarchy. However, Jane sets an example of independence and feminism in those times.
Gothic literary elements were common in Victorian novels and short stories. Jane Eyre also has Gothic elements such as mysterious buildings such as Thornfield Manor. It also has a gloomy atmosphere with mysterious laughter of Bertha Mason in the attic. Readers also find supernatural elements such as the ghost of Mr. Reed in the red-room and then enigmatic fire that blinds Mr. Rochester.
Class struggle is an underlying theme of Jane Eyre. Jane belongs to the poor class. However, Mr. Reed, his wife, and children belong to the upper class. So, she is treated as a servant girl in their house. In spite of Mrs. Reed’s promise to her husband that she would treat her as her own child. The reason for her loneliness, her isolation, and maltreatment at home and school are the results of her being from the poor class. In the end, Jane overcomes many obstacles. Mr. Rochester is dependent on Jane.
Self-discovery or bildungsroman means that the main protagonist goes through various experiences to grow as an adult. The novel revolves around this change or transformation of Jane, who has to go through various experiences. During the journey self-discovery, Jane forms strong views about marriage without love. She tells it to St. John, a pragmatist, that if she marries him without love, he would perhaps kill her. Secondly, Jane discovers that she must love a person whom she understands. Finally, through her ordeals, she learns that she must be independent and happy.
Love and Marriage
Love and marriage are also significant thematic strands in the novel. St. John, who is pragmatic, does not love her but wants to marry her to give her status. He believes he has authority to take her to India on his missionary tours. Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester, a wealthy owner of Thornfield Manor. However, Mr. Rochester was married to Bertha at that time. Also, Jane feared would undermine her independence and thinking. However, at the end of the novel, she decides to marry a person she loves. So, she chooses to marry Mr. Rochester despite his blindness.
The dichotomic relationship between external and internal beauty looms large in the background, along with religion and social status. Bertha Mason is surprisingly beautiful outwardly but she is mentally ill. At first, Mr. Rochester falls for Jane because of her beauty. Blanche Ingram whose beauty covers her arrogance as well as greed for Mr. Rochester’s wealth. Jane remains as an example of internal and external beauty. She refuses to marry Mr. Rochester and St. John on different grounds.
Although colonialism is not a direct thematic strand, in-between somewhere in the incidents it peeps through the wealth of different characters. Uncle John had lived in Madeira has left a fortune for Jane, which points to colonialism and its financial gains of that time. Mr. Rochester’s marriage also points to colonialism. As Bertha Mason is a Creole lady from Jamaica married to Mr. Rochester to keep the vast fortune in the family. St. John’s desire to demonstrate his missionary zeal in India, a colony of Britain at that time is one of the examples as well.