Jane Eyre: Rediscovery of the Voice
Jane has endured hell. Indeed, most of this novel becomes a test of what she can endure. Helen Burns and Miss Temple teach Jane the British stiff upper lip and saintly patience. Then Jane, star pupil that she is, exemplifies the stoicism, while surviving indignity upon indignity. Jane’s soul hunkers down deep inside her body and waits for the shelling to stop. Only at Moor’s End, where she teaches and grows, does her soul come out. She stops enduring and begins living. Jane begins to become an “I” in her 19th year.
In the sentence, “Reader, I married him.” Jane makes clear who is in charge of her life and her marriage; she is. That “I” stands resolutely as the subject of the sentence commanding the verb and attaching itself to the object, “him.” She is no longer passive, waiting and sitting for Rochester’s attention. Rather, she goes out and gets him.
She has gone a long way from the beginning of the novel. At Gateshead, Jane tries to direct her life. Her little “I” scolds Mrs. Reed and chastises John. Like the later Jane, she knows her mind and speaks it. Unlike the later Jane, however, she does not have the wherewithal to back up her soul. She does not have the physical strength, the mental skills, nor the finances to stand on her own. As a result, she can be thrown into the Red Room to repent her sins and can be cast into Lowood.
At Lowood, her pernicious saints, Helen Burns and Miss Temple, suppress the young ego under a blanket of will, religion, and self-sacrifice. Helen teaches Jane to blame herself for everything and blame others for nothing. Helen suffers depredation upon humiliation in the name of dirty fingernails and disorganized socks, all the while chanting “Thank you sir, may I have another.” Jane internalizes this, so that she blames herself for Rochester’s faults and error and even forgives the unforgivable, Mrs. Reed. For her part, Miss Temple teaches Jane to be subversive, but charming. Rebellion is seed cake and a smile. Rebellion is not keeping the students from the ten-mile forced march to church. Jane follows...