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Rediscovery of the Voice in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

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. Janes soul hunkers down deep inside her body and waits for the shelling to stop. Only at Moors 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 Rochesters 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 Rochesters 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 these dictates as well, manipulating Rochester for scraps and sops. With one withering blast, Rochester dynamites these two icons into sanctimonious rubble and sends Jane back out into the elements.

Her soul, long buried or locked away in the attic, bursts forth and sends Jane for the escape pods. Out in the moors, sucking on dirt, Jane chooses to live on and rebuilds herself. First with the help of her cousins, then with the arrogantly humble Rivers St. John, Jane rediscovers who she is and discards who she isnt. Ironically, her final self-definition comes from Rivers when he proposes. Helen Burns and Miss Temple would have knelt at the chance, but Jane lets the cup pass by. In her rejection, she sweeps the debris away and stands by herself.

So, when she returns to Thornfield, she comes with her own money and her own identity. Reduced or not, Rochester can only stand with Jane, not tower over her. She comes with a skill, cash, and self-knowledge. And under her own power, she submits herself to Rochester. She allows herself to be called Janet and to refer to him as sir. She willingly and momentarily drops her head. But not for long. In the ultimate chapter, Jane directly addresses her Reader. The final chapter takes place a year or two post-fire, as the mature Jane looks back on her life.

By the act of writing, Jane has defined herself and stepped away from the saint-in-training. By writing the truth, in all of its ugliness, she separates herself from the persona. The Jane in the first 38 chapters is not the final Jane that addresses the reader. That Jane has had a child, has married a man, and has made a spot in the world. The great triumph of that line comes not from the man that she has married, but from the rediscovery and reaffirmation of the voice that once told off Mrs. Reed. The girl lost her voice at Lowood has become the woman who can tell us the story. The novel itself is Janes final “I. “

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