Jane Eyre

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Themes and Colors
Love, Family, and Independence Theme Icon
Social Class and Social Rules Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Feeling vs. Judgment Theme Icon
The Spiritual and the Supernatural Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Jane Eyre, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Gender Roles Theme Icon

In 19th-century England, gender roles strongly influenced people's behavior and identities, and women endured condescending attitudes about a woman's place, intelligence, and voice. Jane has an uphill battle to become independent and recognized for her personal qualities. She faces off with a series of men who do not respect women as their equals. Mr. Brocklehurst, Rochester, and St. John all attempt to command or master women. Brontë uses marriage in the novel to portray the struggle for power between the sexes. Even though Bertha Mason is insane, she is a provocative symbol of how married women can be repressed and controlled. Jane fends off marriage proposals that would squash her identity, and strives for equality in her relationships. For its depiction of Jane's struggle for gender equality, Jane Eyre was considered a radical book in its day.

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Gender Roles Quotes in Jane Eyre

Below you will find the important quotes in Jane Eyre related to the theme of Gender Roles.
Chapter 4 Quotes
Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker)
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

During an interview between Jane, Mrs. Reed, and the headmaster of the Lowood school, Mr. Brocklehurst, Mrs. Reed warns Mr. Brocklehurst that Jane is a compulsive liar. Jane, almost in spite of herself, exclaims that Mrs. Reed is the real liar, and a despicable person besides. Up until this point, Jane has largely retained control of her feelings, keeping her despair and unhappiness inside (except, perhaps, for the one time she lashed out at John). Now she does not feel guilty for letting her feelings override her sense of propriety, but rather relieved and exuberant.

The rest of the book will take a more measured tone on the proper balance between feeling and judgment. Indeed, since Jane is a girl in nineteenth-century England, such shows of passion are to be considered shocking if not dangerous. Here, though, Jane is shown to be so repressed and so unhappy that a rude outburst is really her only chance to express herself, to regain some sense of her own person above and beyond the cruel way she's been treated. Her declaration of the truth about Mrs. Reed is the first time that she senses that things may not always remain as they were, and that she might be able to set her own standards for what is right, outside the confines of the Reed family. 

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Chapter 10 Quotes
I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: "Then," I cried, half desperate, "grant me at least a new servitude!"
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker)
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

Jane has graduated first in her class at school, and has decided to stay on in order to become a teacher herself. Soon, though, Miss Temple leaves for a distant land. For a long time, Jane has felt somewhat restless, trapped in an oppressive school because she is without family, poor, and female, and thus opportunities to support herself are scarce. Until now, Jane has not rebelled against these strictures: instead, she has chosen to work within them, carving out a place for herself that is tolerable mainly because of her adoration of Miss Temple. With her mentor gone, though, suddenly Jane sees no reason to continue at the school.

However, even in the midst of "gasping" for freedom, Jane is both realistic and humble enough to recognize that she cannot yearn for an entirely different lifestyle. She does pray to God, but little by little adapts her prayer so as to fit her circumstances. As she does so, nonetheless, she recognizes that because of her social position, and because of her current circumstances, there are few things she could do that would actually give her greater liberty. Finally, she accepts that she may continue to feel oppressed wherever she may goes - but she insists that even that would be preferable to staying in the same place, where she knows all too well the exact outlines of her "servitude." 

Chapter 12 Quotes
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do … It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker)
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jane continues to muse on the subject of her own position in society, she broadens her perspective to consider the lot of oppressed and marginalized groups in general. Jane recognizes that many other people are in worse situations than herself, but for her this fact only underlines the unfairness and despair to which an entire segment of the population is subjected. Indeed, Jane makes an analogy between those who are oppressed and rebel through political revolution, and those who struggle in more individual ways, through family and community structures that are smaller than those of a nation.

Jane also points to a paradox about the way that women's roles are defined at the time. In some ways, they are considered weak and fragile, and therefore unable to support themselves or to take on the same kinds of responsibilities or to show the same kind of independence as men. They would let their feelings overwhelm them, the argument goes. Yet at the same time, women are expected to curb outbursts of feeling - something they can only do if they use their full capacities of rational judgment. This paradox is one that Jane increasingly seeks to condemn, and that Bronte more broadly points out in this very prescient passage.

Chapter 14 Quotes
I don't think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Edward Fairfax Rochester
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

Over the course of the first long conversation between Jane and Rochester, Jane's feelings towards the man quickly become complicated. On the one hand, she does feel a real connection to him, and admires the fact that he is largely willing to chat with her as an equal. Here, though, Jane uses the opportunity that Rochester has given to her to stress that, for her, equality is not just something that can be parceled out here and there, as a sign of good will. If Rochester really wants to treat Jane as an equal, he will have to hear what she has to say on the subject of anything that comes up - including, here, gender relations themselves.

Jane dismisses typical assumptions made about the reasons why men should be considered superior to women. Of course Rochester has seen more of the world than she has, Jane says - she would never, as a woman, be permitted to travel around the world by herself, and even if she could, her financial circumstances would prevent her. Independence, for Jane, is thus not necessarily only a personal character attribute: it is also a function of luck and circumstance, and it has little bearing on true moral equality. 

Chapter 20 Quotes
What crime was this that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion, and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the owner?—what mystery, that broke out now in fire and now in blood, at the deadest hours of night? What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman's face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey?
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Bertha Mason
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

Jane has accompanied Rochester to Grace Poole's upper-floor room, where they have found Mr. Mason bleeding and writhing. While Rochester goes to fetch a doctor, Jane is left alone with Mr. Mason and with her own thoughts. This chapter had begun with a frightening scream that had echoed through the mansion, and Jane now wildly begins to wonder what might be the source of such a cry.

In a series of questions, posed far more out of anxiety and fear than out of a scientific desire to get to the bottom of the mystery, Jane becomes progressively more eloquent and descriptive, even if morbidly so. She calls the source of the scream a "mystery," "creature," and "voice," thus underlining how she has only the vaguest sense of what has taken place. The book leaves us, too, in suspense: will the novel now turn even more to the assumptions of Gothic fiction, and embrace the supernatural, or will it remain within the realm of realistic prose? 

Chapter 22 Quotes
I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Edward Fairfax Rochester
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

Jane is on her way back to Thornfield after remaining at her aunt's deathbed, and she happens to cross paths with Rochester, who has bought a carriage, presumably for himself and Blanche. However, Jane is relieved to be leaving the still-oppressive walls of her childhood home with the Reeds, and she admits to Rochester that she is happy to return to Thornfield. Jane's statement would have been considered quite frank, even perhaps a little shocking, to readers at the time. To permit herself to share her own opinions, especially ones of a vulnerable nature, Jane pushes aside the notions of gender and social roles that require a female servant to remain meek and quiet, not speaking unless spoken to. For Jane, though, the realization that Thornfield has, strangely, become a kind of home for her is so remarkable that she feels the need to share that development with someone she cares about.

Chapter 23 Quotes
I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.
Related Characters: Edward Fairfax Rochester (speaker), Jane Eyre
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

Rochester has told Jane that he is to marry Blanche, and that he has found a governess job for her in Ireland. Soon, though, it becomes clear that Rochester's motivations in telling this to Jane are different. He seems to be attempting to determine what her feelings for him are, before he shares his own. If Jane doesn't share them, he has a ready-made solution and can send her away - thus ensuring that his social superiority over her escapes unscathed. Here, though, Rochester does make tentative steps towards suggesting that he loves Jane.

Though not exactly eloquently, he tries to do justice to the feeling he has around Jane, a feeling that proves to be almost too difficult for words. In general, this sentiment is one of profound unity between two people: Rochester feels such so closely tied to Jane that it is as if a truly physical bond united them. The book accepts that such unity can exist, and indeed describes it in terms of spiritual communion, which gives Rochester and Jane a religious analogy for the love they feel for each other.

Chapter 24 Quotes
He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for His creature: of whom I had made an idol.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Edward Fairfax Rochester
Page Number: 316
Explanation and Analysis:

At first, Jane is thrilled by the prospect of marrying Rochester, with whom she is so in love. But little by little, the gaps between their social stations and their assumptions about proper gender roles begin to grow clearer. Here, another problem arises: the fact that Jane so adores Rochester that he begins to take on the nature of an idol, someone to be worshipped instead of God.

As narrator, Jane is looking back on her earlier self, and in passages like this, narrator-Jane shows a disapproval and even regret towards character-Jane. According to her Christian beliefs, only God can be worshipped and idolized: idolizing anyone else, indeed, is a great sin. In addition, putting Rochester on such a pedestal will prevent Jane from embracing her own independence, a value that she has held dear for so long. This disconnect between what narrator-Jane knows to be true and what character-Jane cannot help from doing and thinking will inevitably have to be resolved.

Chapter 25 Quotes
I faced the wreck of the chestnut-tree; it stood up black and riven: the trunk, split down the centre, gaped ghastly … their great boughs on each side were dead, and next winter's tempests would be sure to fell one or both to earth: as yet, however, they might be said to form one tree—a ruin, but an entire ruin.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire and Ice
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

On the day of the wedding, Jane wanders outside and sees a chestnut tree that has been struck by lightning. Turning all her powers of observation on the tree, Jane finds it to be a powerful image, though at the same time ominous and troubling. The tree is in a vulnerable, delicate state at the moment: its many boughs are dead, but have not yet fallen to earth, though it is inevitable that they will do so. Trees struck by lightning are sometimes used in the Bible as a sign for the power and will of God. Jane, cognizant of this history, most likely is troubled by the thought that, on a day that should be joyful and carefree, there is such a frightening symbol of what may lie ahead. The "ruin" of the tree, for a reader who has finished Jane Eyre, also foreshadows the ruin of the place that she and Rochester call home. Although the novel ends up revealing certain supernatural-seeming elements as based in reality (though still disturbing), in other ways it continues to stress the possibility of connecting natural, supernatural, and social affairs symbolically.

Chapter 26 Quotes
What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Bertha Mason
Page Number: 338
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally, for the first time, Jane lays eyes on the source of all the strange happenings and mysterious sounds that have seemed to haunt Thornfield. But this first sight fails to substantially clarify the situation, or help Jane understand who this person is - even though she knows intellectually that it must be Bertha Mason, Rochester's legal wife. 

Bertha is described not in human but in animal terms. Indeed, it is the inability to describe her as a woman that locates the source of her insanity. Jane may have pressed at the borders of what is permitted and is not among women, especially of a particular social class, but she now witnesses someone who has thrown all those strictures out entirely. As Bertha fails to act as a proper woman, as a proper wife to her husband, the book has no way left to describe her other than by considering her non-human, making an analogy to the animal world. 

Chapter 32 Quotes
St. John, no doubt, would have given the world to follow, recall, retain her, when she thus left him; but he would not give one chance of heaven, nor relinquish, for the elysium of her love, one hope of the true, eternal Paradise.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), St. John Rivers, Rosamond Oliver
Page Number: 424
Explanation and Analysis:

Jane and St. John have begun to speak frankly about St. John's feelings for Rosamond Oliver. Jane has guessed that St. John is in love with her, and he admits that this is true. However, he cannot imagine Rosamond accompanying him far away as the wife of a missionary. St. John's faith is such that he cannot consider giving up his livelihood as missionary even on account of his love for another human being: for him this kind of love is not as significant as the love he finds in serving God. At the same time, St. John's admission reflects his assumptions about the proper role of women in marriage: Rosamond's role would be to serve him as he is serving God, and he cannot imagine any other way. 

Again the surprised expression crossed his face. He had not imagined that a woman would dare to speak so to a man. For me, I felt at home in this sort of discourse. I could never rest in communication with strong, discreet, and refined minds, whether male or female, till I had passed the outworks of conventional reserve, and crossed the threshold of confidence, and won a place by their heart's very hearthstone.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), St. John Rivers
Page Number: 432
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jane and St. John speak of the latter's love for Rosamond, St. John grows surprised that Jane would presume to speak to him so frankly of such private matters. St. John is not used to women speaking to him in such a manner: indeed, propriety and social custom make it nearly certain that very few women will broach such private topics with a man, even one with whom they are close. While Jane has acted somewhat ashamed of her propensity for frankness and openness before, here she wholeheartedly embraces this attitude, and in addition claims that there is little she can do about it: it is just part of her nature. Jane even claims a positive ethical status for such openness, arguing that convention can often mask what is real and true, while speaking frankly honors each person much more.

Chapter 37 Quotes
I will be your neighbor, your nurse, your housekeeper. I find you lonely: I will be your companion—to read to you, to walk with you, to sit with you, to wait on you, to be eyes and hands to you. Cease to look so melancholy, my dear master; you shall not be left desolate, so long as I live.
Related Characters: Jane Eyre (speaker), Edward Fairfax Rochester
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 502
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jane reunites with Rochester, she exhibits a complex and nuanced, if not ambivalent, understanding of the relationship between love and independence - one that has been affected by her time at Thornfield but also by the revelation that she is now financially independent. Here, Jane calls Rochester her master, as she was accustomed to do when she served as his daughter's governess. As she vows to be his "nurse" and "housekeeper," she also seems to accede to proper gender roles and even embrace this role of subservience.

However, other ways that Jane characterizes this relationship transform her vow into one of a relationship between equals. To be Rochester's neighbor or companion is not to submit to him as a woman to a man, but rather to consider each person as mutually necessary and mutually fulfilling. Jane continues to rely on some of the assumptions of her time in terms of family and gender roles, but she also carves out a more unique, progressive place for herself and Rochester based on her own beliefs and desires.