Essay: Charlotte Bronte’s interpretation of love in the novel Jane Eyre

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  • Charlotte Bronte’s interpretation of love in the novel Jane Eyre
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The concept of love in many movies and novels is very conventionalized. Charlotte Brontë’s interpretation of love in the novel Jane Eyre is exemplified differently than others would perceive. The love in this novel is never simple. The various experiences that Jane goes through with her various relationships, romantic or not, help her to grow and ultimately teach her how to love. Because she was raised at Gateshead, Jane never gets to feel real love and instead gets a taste of lousy, unaffectionate love. After staying at Lowood for eight years, this is where Jane feels genuine love. Later in the novel, while at the Moor House, is when Jane comes to the realization that some people take love for granted and are not appreciative enough. Jane’s relationships with Mrs. Reed, Helen, Miss Temple and St. John fuel her strong desire to love and be loved, which later influence her romantic relationship with Rochester. All of these characters contribute to Jane’s experiences with love and uniquely shape Jane and her interpretation of love.

While growing up at Gateshead, Mrs. Reed, Jane’s cruel and hard-hearted aunt, shows Jane a negative, unappreciative type of love. When Jane’s uncle, Mr. Reed, was on his deathbed, he makes Mrs. Reed promise to look after Jane as if she were one of her own. Mrs. Reed agrees but fails to follow through with this. Jane grows up in a very abusive environment while under the care of Mrs. Reed, being treated almost inhumane. When Jane starts a fight with her cousin John, Mrs. Reed immediately orders her to the Red Room, the place where Mr. Reed died, as mental torture for her actions. After this, it becomes clear that Mrs Reed has no good intentions and is involuntarily teaching Jane how she should not treat people. After this, Mrs. Reed speaks with Mr. Brocklehurst from Lowood and decides to send Jane away. Before Jane leaves, she expresses her hatred towards Mrs. Reed, saying

I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if anyone asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and you that you treated me with miserable cruelty (Brontë 38).

Jane is very blunt about her feelings towards Mrs. Reed and does not have any concern of wounding her feelings. From her horrifying experience with Mrs Reed at such a young age, Jane feels as though nobody ever deserves to be treated like this. Jane longs for the feeling of love to be present in her life. From living at Gateshead with an unloving, demeaning guardian such as Mrs Reed herself, Jane understands that love does not always there, no matter how much you desire to have it. Jane learns that her aunt treats people the way nobody should ever be treated and knows that she will never aspire to be like her in the future. Afterward, when Jane is introduced to Rochester, she knows to treat him with much more respect in their relationship. She is now more knowledgeable on how to care for others and display her love in a more appropriate manner.

As Jane progresses with her life and moves to an all girls boarding school called Lowood, she meets two individuals who both teach her how to love and be loved; Helen Burns and Miss Temple. Helen Burns is a fellow student at Lowood whom Jane comes to be best friends with. She practices Christian endurance which she explains to Jane is loving and accepting all enemies, something that Jane disagrees with. Helen is very intelligent, kind and patient. She shows Jane to always be specifically patient with those who choose to single people out. She demonstrates this when she is constantly picked on and flogged by Miss Scatcherd, one of the teachers, but remains loving towards her. She also makes sure to stay with Jane, smiling at her every once in a while, when Jane is forced to stand on a stool in front of everyone. She encourages Jane to stand up for herself time and time again. When Helen is on her deathbed, Jane is by her side the whole time. Helen is very reassuring, telling Jane to not grieve over her death and expresses that she is in no pain, being an extremely courageous figure to Jane and making sure that she is okay. The experience of losing her best friend really proves to Jane even more to appreciate those around you that provide you with love. Overall, Helen is Jane’s moral compass in this book and the love they shared was like no other. Lowood also introduces Miss Temple to Jane, the school’s superintendent and a very strong role model in Jane’s life. She supports Jane through her time at school after Helen passes away and is truly the reason Jane ends up becoming a school teacher. She offers love and protection for the girls at school from Mr. Brocklehurst. When Miss Temple sees the burnt porridge that will go uneaten, she decides to order bread and cheese for everyone to fulfill their starvation. Miss Temple becomes close with Jane, giving her somebody to rely on and guide her. The love that both Helen and Miss Temple supply Jane with is unconditional and Jane was desperate for that. When Jane and Helen are having a conversation after Jane’s punishment from Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane claims

If others don’t love me, I would rather die than live – I cannot bear to be solitary or hated, Helen. Look here; to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have to bone of my arm broken or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest, (71).

Here, it becomes more than clear that Jane would do anything to feel love and not hatred from those whom she loves. By feeling the love that she does from Helen and Miss Temple, Jane’s desire to feel loved enhances and she wants to feel this constantly. Moving forwards, when Jane meets Rochester, she fails to feel the same kind of love at the beginning. She realizes it takes time and that she needs to fight for it if she wants to feel the reciprocated love that she offers to those around her. Jane’s desire to love and be loved is strongly fulfilled by Helen and Miss Temple at her time at Lowood and this allows Jane to experience love for the first time.

It was ultimately because of St. John that Jane realizes she was meant to be with Rochester. St. John is Jane’s long lost cousin who is portrayed as cold and mechanical. He loves Rosamond Oliver for her wealth and beauty but refuses to marry her because he claims she would make a horrible missionary wife. Although St. John is a very handsome, blonde hair, blue eyed man, Jane does not love him. When he proposes to her, Jane is tempted but also disgusted, for she thinks it is awfully wrong for him to want to marry someone whom he has no love for. When this happens, Jane hears Rochester’s cry and realizes she would be quite foolish if she did not go back to him. Gale Group says, “Jane’s ultimate rejection of hs offer of marriage and her response to Rochester’s call are a triumph of both her ethics and the emotional commitment she has to herself.” Jane knows it is not right to give into the temptation of marrying St. John and believes she belongs with Rochester. St John taught Jane not to settle for less than you deserve, and she knew she deserves better than his lovingless proposal.

From experiencing many types of love, it all comes back to Jane and Rochester’s love. After living at Gateshead, being treated the way she was, Jane knows this is not how love is supposed to feel. Mrs. Reed was cruel and Jane would never want that for Rochester. From living at Lowood for eight years and feeling the love that she did from Helen and Miss Temple, Jane feels although this furthered her knowledge on the feeling of real love. She learns from them how to care for the ones you love and also how to protect them, but still how to stand up for herself and what she believes is right. Going back to Rochester for the second time after meeting St. John teaches Jane to accept the love we think we deserve and settle for nothing less. Rochester is the man who truly loves her, not St. John. After being with Rochester for the first time, Jane always feels like she is beneath him. Aaron Ho in Bloom’s Literature claims, “When Jane returns to Rochester, the equilibrium of their relationship has shifted.” From gaining more experience of what love is truly about, Jane knows that this time, the love she shares with Rochester is stronger, healthier and equal.
Jane’s journey from Gateshead, when she is young, all the way to the Moor House, when she is wiser, taught her many things about love. Without her relationships with Mrs. Reed, Helen, Miss Temple and St. John, Jane never would have truly understood the concept of love and how to share it with Rochester. Mrs. Reed teaches Jane negative love, Helen and Miss Temple teach her unconditional love and St. John teaches Jane not to settle. In the end, Jane and Rochester’s love is liberating. Jane knows now to appreciate love. It is very unclear how Jane would have ended up where she is now if she never met all of these very important people. Bronte looks at the concept of love in a different light while writing this novel and she was sure to make it clear that love is never easy.

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