In Charlotte Bronte’s popular book Jane Eyre, the main theme of the story is finding personal space within the greater society. As her main character, Jane, progresses from childhood through to adulthood, she struggles between the Victorian society life she inhabits and her own inner inclinations. Within the strict social view, Jane, as a glorified servant and a woman, was expected to control all her impulses, emotions and passions, willingly relegating herself to her subservient position so as to avoid any embarrassing social confrontations such as in her confrontations with her cousin and her aunt.
As Jane grows through the book, this conflict between society’s rules and her inner feelings becomes more and more obvious, but she becomes better able to channel it as is demonstrated during her time at the Lowood school and under the influence of her mentor, Miss Temple. Jane says, “I can remember Miss Temple walking lightly and rapidly along our drooping line … and encouraging us, by precept and example, to keep up our spirits, and march forward, as she said, ‘like stalwart soldiers’” (64), showing one way in which she was able to re-imagine her position and make it work for her own purposes. Jane finally reaches a resolution at the end in which she has found both an accepting home and a social status that permits her some freedom while still retaining her own inner fire thanks to her ability to retain a degree of independence even from her husband. As can be interpreted from this brief summary of the book, one of the key themes revolves around the struggle between the social constraints of Victorian society and the personal need for self-expression and fulfillment in the individual.
Jane’s Moral Life
Within this novel, Jane Eyre demonstrates a number of strong morals. For example, one moral she struggles to uphold is the one of self-control. Whether at Lowood or later, she constantly struggles to restrain her behavior within the accepted social boundaries no matter what she is dealing with. “The fear of failure in these points harassed me worse than the physical hardships of my lot” (63). It was devastating to her when she was called out for failing to behave properly.
In spite of her hardships, though, Jane also demonstrated strong morals in terms of being humanitarian. Despite her lack of everything, she still “shared between two claimants the precious morsel of brown bread distributed at tea-time, and after relinquishing to a third half the contents of my mug of coffee, I have swallowed the remainder with an accompaniment of secret tears” (63). She refuses to allow the other girls to suffer if she can help it even as she swallows her own passionate reactions.
Perhaps the deepest moral Jane shows is her dedication to love and independence. She does this by trying to take care of others, as already described above, but she is also adamant that whoever she is with must love her enough to let her explore her own way. She resists her feelings for Mr. Rochester because she feels she will be subjugated under his domination. She tells him “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you” (Bronte 291). Rather than accept a lesser position in life, Jane is willing to go out and earn what she feels she deserves.