It is believed that we are born with a predestined personality . Our spiritual
individuality is just as much a product of our genetic makeup as the color of our skin or
our eyes. With our soul firmly planted , we can then build upon this basis as we are
educated of the world. The social climate and cultural atmosphere shape our
personalities, however, it is the people in our lives who have the greatest influence.
Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre reveals this idea by the development of the
protagonist. Through a series of character foils , Bronte expresses her idea of
self-development and growth of the human spirit by contrasting passion with reason. By
my interpretation of the novel, Bronte suggests that in one's life time, they will encounter
a number of people and experiences that will arouse enough emotion in them to have the
power to change their direction in life.
St. John Rivers plays one of these life determining
foils to Jane Eyre. His confidence, devotion and reason intrigue Jane almost enough to
silence her inner passionate spirit , but it is the forces of nature that prove to be stronger
than human will.
The life path of a Victorian woman was somewhat limited in it's direction and
expression of individuality. Jane Eyre strongly adheres to the Victorian morality which
was dominated by the Anglican party of the Church of England in which passion and
emotion were kept concealed. Jane's instinct for asserting herself was stifled at an early
age and could only be expressed through defiance. The defiant declaration of
independence from Mrs. Reed , "You are deceitful",(v.i.37) gives Jane the power of
freedom and opens up a life of "unhoped-for liberty",(v.i.37).
Through the preceding years Jane develops into a highly educated, well spoken
and strong willed woman . She is taught to be patient and thoughtful during her years in
Lowood , and is introduced to the emotions of the heart and spirit in meeting Rochester.
Bronte makes an emphasis on the spiritual and supernatural atmosphere of
Thornfield. The reference to the "Gytrash" and the mystical atmosphere she illustrates of
their first meeting in the woods (v.i.113) could suggest that she is playing upon natural
imagery and allusions to express the idea that Jane and Rochester are a destined, yet
mysterious match of the souls. " I knew ...you would do me good in some way... I saw it
in your eyes when I first beheld you," Rochester tells Jane. (v.i.152) and the use of the
repeated references to fire foreshadow and symbolize their growing passion for each
other. However, it is the symbolic interpretation of the lightning striking the
horse-chestnut tree in half that hints that their love will not evolve without a crisis.
It is this crisis that throws Jane into the life of the Rivers family . Moor House and
the values of the Rivers are the mirror image of Thornfield. Where Thornfield was
mystical and romantic , Moor House has a comfortable and domestic setting. Jane's
instant rapport with the " spontaneous, genuine, genial compassion", of Mary, Diana and
St. John allow her to feel at ease and safe. The contrast between Rochester and St. John
play a major part in the development of Jane's self-fulfillment.
It is in Jane's description of the two men that the reader gets the most tangible
picture of their contrasts. Bronte uses words such as "wild" and "moody" to describe
Rochester, whereas St. John is "compressed, condensed and controlled", (v.iii.356).
A disciplined and educated missionary, he is focused on his one devotion and remains
static through-out the novel. His ambition drives him and does not believe in the
importance of revealing emotions. As Jane comes to know him , she senses that ,like her,
he seems to be not at peace. They are both restless and seeking the greater power that
rules them; for St. John it is judgment, for Jane it is passion.
Jane's admiration of St. John is of his thirst for knowledge and his unresting
mind. She has the utmost respect for him and his devotion, and learns diligently and
faithfully under him . However, it is in the contrasts between them that we see the true
nature of Jane. St. John's moral beliefs suggest that he fears his own sexuality and views
female sexuality as a threat to his purity of vision.(Diedrick 1993) This is evident in his
dealings with Rosamond Oliver, whom he clearly has feelings for ," Does she like me?'
he asked. 'Certainly', Jane replied. ' It is pleasant to hear this... go on for another quarter
of an hour."(v.iii.377 ) He does not give back a reply of his feelings and does not act with
his emotions. It is his reason that he calls upon and instead of asking Rosamond to marry
him, he knows that it is Jane who would be the more appropriate wife to accompany him
in his missionary work. He attempts to succeed where Brocklehurst failed and render
Jane submissive; his selective praise of her as "docile, diligent, disinterested, faithful,
constant..." (v.iii.355) expresses his desire to subdue her to his needs .(Diedrick 1993)
If anything , St. John has taught Jane to act with reason so when he proposes that she go
to India with him as his wife, it is her better judgment that tells her that , " he prizes me
as a soldier would a good weapon; and that is all." (v.iii 356) She realizes that he could
never love her the way she needs to be loved.
St. John represents a life of Christian servitude and moral ambition. Jane has
only known of a life of serving others, and for a time, the power of this identity had kept
freedom a secret from her. Jane's experience of a life of servitude is only , "what I knew
of existence. And now I felt that it was not enough: I tired of the routine... I desired
liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer...".(v.i.86) It is the
responsibilities of servitude that suffocate her and constrain her. Her anger at St. John's
demand that she sacrifice all her desires to his missionary ambition enables her to see
him clearly for the first time and gives her the strength to refuse him.
As St. John persisted in subduing Jane , Jane became weaker in her fight. Just as
Jane was about to succumb, it was as if destiny and nature were stronger than human
ambition. A "freshening gale" created by delirium and passion blew in the opposite
direction of the "counteracting breeze" of judgment and brought with it the voice of
Rochester's love. Jane's "human affections and sympathies" took a "most powerful hold
of her", (v.iii. 360) and she knew without a doubt that she could not live if she was forced
to stifle her passionate heart. It is in her nature to love wholly and because of the
antagonistic relationship between Jane and St. John that she was able to become aware of
the intensity of her love for Rochester and allow it to complete her soul. As the symbol of
the split horse-chestnut suggested, their love could be put through disaster, but they are
fundamentaly one at the roots.