Following the Moral Compass in Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre is the perfect novel about maturing: a child who is treated cruelly holds herself together and learns to steer her life forward with a driving conscience that keeps her life within personally felt moral bounds. I found Jane as a child to be quite adult-like: she battles it out conversationally with Mrs. Reed on an adult level right from the beginning of the book. The hardship in her childhood makes her extreme need for moral correctness believable. For instance, knowing her righteous stubborness as a child, we can believe that she would later leave Rochester altogether rather than living a life of love and luxury simply by overlooking a legal technicality concerning his previous marriage to a mad woman. Her childhood and her adult life are harmonious which gives the reader the sense of a complete and believable character.
Actually, well into this book I was afraid it was going to be another one of those English countryside, woman-gets-married novels. I was reminded of a friend's comment a few years back to "avoid the Brontes like the plague." But of course there is a little more than courting going on here. For example, if you compare Jane with one of Jane Austen's young women coming into society, you have a bit more adventure, roughness, and connection to nature. I don't think a Jane Austen character would wander around the forest, sleeping without cover in the wilds of the night to prove a moral point. Jane Eyre can get dirt under her fingernails--that's the difference. You also get more emotion in Jane Eyre, you feel with her, deep hate (for Mrs. Reed), religious conviction (with St. John), and eternal love (for Rochester). Austen polishes her characters much more so that they are "proper and presentable." Jane's whole connection to nature made her fascinating. Notice how the reader has a sense of what season it is during the book by the plethora of "nature" comments that the author gives. She trusts the simplicity and rhythms of nature. This adds to the natural demeanor that she already has in the story. A nice effect.
I feel the whole sleeping out in the forest thing was very important to this book. Jane is the type of character that needs to "run to the end of some spectrum" before she matures. She will either die doing it or become the person she wants to be. You get a sense of risk and iron-metal conscience which drives her to this. I think her bout with the forest has many purification symbols in it, and would be worth analyzing. She returns a larger person, not unlike Jesus returned a larger person from the desert (although for different reasons).
The Gothic overtones were nice: the haunted mansion with a hidden room and a dark secret. Also the image of...