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The Treatment of Love
Jane Eyre is a love story that is treated unconventionally by the novelist. Jane Eyre, a girl of eighteen, falls in love with her master, Edward Rochester, who is almost twice her age. She is a plain girl who does not enjoy the advantages of either extraordinary beauty or social position. Mr. Rochester discovers that she is an unusual kind of girl. He is simply fascinated by her courage, education, remarkable efficiency, high moral sense and sterling character. She is not a romantic who is blind to the defects of her lover.
Jane is fully aware that Mr. Rochester is wealthy and status- conscious; she is also conscious of his irritable nature, yet she loves him. Her love, however, is subject to unpredictable changes. Jane's love for Rochester is a fine example of true love, which is deep and enduring and does not change with the changing circumstances of her life.
Charlotte Brontë handles the love theme very delicately. She shows how love should be based on mutual respect, mutual need and mutual recognition of weaknesses. She does not idealize the heroine. On the contrary she looks upon her as an active person who is fearless, unashamed, passionate and determined to have her rights acknowledged. Throughout Mr. Rochester's courtship, Jane retains her dignity and individuality. She is not prepared to please him if his demands offend her dignity as a woman or go against "the dictates of conscience." That is why Jane refuses to become Edward Rochester's mistress.
Jane urgently needs to flee from the temptation that Mr. Rochester offers her. She has to face hardship and starvation as a result. She ends up running from one temptation to another. She is soon faced with the proposal of St. John Rivers, who does not love her. However, she manages to reject his proposal, thanks to her intuition and Mr. Rochester's "telepathic" call to her.
By the time she is reunited with Mr. Rochester, he has been disfigured and blinded by the fire at Thornfield. In the end she marries a penitent, disfigured and blind Rochester. The quality that enables her to retain her individuality throughout the novel is courage: this quality saves her from stumbling on the path of love, even when it is enveloped in darkness. In the quest for true love, respect for individuality becomes Jane's motivation.
A woman's quest for independence
The importance of a woman standing up for herself and her beliefs is a minor theme in the novel. Jane Eyre has been rightly cited as an earliest feminist novel. Charlotte Brontë recognizes that the same heart and the same spirit animates both men and women.
From her childhood through adolescence to maturity, Jane displays her individuality and determination. She has the capacity for clear thinking and an instinctive sense of justice. At the age of ten, she defends herself from the bully John Reed by retaliating openly. She denounces Mrs. Reed with a denial of all the accusations made against her. She also resists the moral and theological bullying of Mr. Brocklehurst when he visits Gateshead. As soon as she gets a chance to develop herself at Lowood School, she masters the Lowood curriculum with tenacity and hard work. She puts it to use by taking up employment as a governess at Thornfield Hall.
Jane asserts her equality from the early stage of her association with Mr. Rochester. She is able to match him in her intelligence and conversation. She is a source of strength to him: when his horse slips on a sheet of ice, when fire engulfs his bed and when his guest, Mr. Mason, is injured, Jane comes to the rescue. However, Mr. Rochester attempts to force her to become his mistress after his attempt to marry her fails. She decides to escape from him in obedience to her inner voice.
When St. John offers Jane the job of teacher to the girls of Morton village, she has the determination to make the best of an uninspiring situation. She remains committed to her work until the inheritance of twenty-thousand pounds from her uncle in Madeira relieves her of the necessity of employment. St. John tries to manipulate her into a marriage of convenience. He shrewdly dubs the union as an opportunity to serve God. Jane, however, remains undeceived.
Finally, she enjoys a reunion with Mr. Rochester after the death of his first wife. She is even able to assume a certain degree of dominance over him. By now, Edward Rochester has begun to observe the world around him through Jane's eyes. In this way Jane as a woman is able to triumph over all the forces that have threatened her independence.