A Brief Examination of Moral Realism in Bronte’s Jane Eyre

By Trudy A. Martinez

Improvement of individuals through reading is the aim of Bronte in Jane Eyre. The novel‘s structure is a bildungsroman. In this structure, the narrator draws the reader into Jane’s world, confiding in the reader, sharing Jane’s inner most secrets and emotions as she grows as a person. The narrator conveys this sentiment by addressing the reader. For instance, “Reader, I climbed between the curtain and the window to read, cutting off the certainty of my suffering at the hands of John Reed.” The reader cannot help but be influenced by this technique as the reader tags along with Jane as her life moves from a bitter nobody at Gateshead (hiding and suffering at the hands of John Read) to her becoming a deserving and resigned somebody. The narrator proclaims, “Reader, I married him.” when she finally marries Rochester and resides at Ferndeen with him.

Jane’s Journey is not an easy one. The narrator examines the events that influence her attitude; this sets the tone of the novel along the way. The reader is made to feel her suffering and experience with her. At Gateshead, Jane is frozen; snow symbolizes her position within her immediate society in the Reed household. It is not unreasonable for her to be bitter and rebellious: John seeks her out to make her miserable while Mrs. Reed ignores her and treats her like Cinderella, unworthy of recognition.

The narrator confides in the reader, saying: “Reader, I don’t deserve this treatment.” Jane’s world is a Topsy-Turvy world where the bad are the rich and the poor are the good, suffering. Jane comes to be humble as she moves on to Lowood. Hence, the rich Mr. Brocklehurst is visibly the dark sinister figure, not worthy of his position as administrator. The reader learns just because he is a religious fanatic does not make him the best overseer of an orphanage.

The reader is shown possible avenues of life open to women and to Jane through the other characters. For instance, when Jane goes to Thornfield, it is permissible for her to experience life. She learns to love only to find herself unworthy of the love she finds because she set her love up as an idol; and his being already married exposes a sinister marriage without love, that of Bertha and Rochester, one his past and society endorse.

This endorsement is enforced, when Jane moves on. St. John affirms it when he tells her, “You are formed for labor, not love.” Jane is made to question life, to question servitude, to question her purpose, to question marriage without love. When she begins to weaken and is about to give in to St. John, the narrator informs us it is Rochester who calls out, “Jane, Jane, Jane,” giving her adequate reason to reject the offer and leave to find him, to reassure herself of his love and her worthiness.

At Ferndeen Jane resigns herself and comes to be accepting of a different type of servitude. The Topsy-Turvy world she has experienced is reconciled during her absence from Rochester. Mrs. Reed loses everything, dying poor. Jane comes to be independently rich and no longer needs to feel a burden upon Rochester. She is his equal. Rochester turns out to be humble and accepting of his station in life and free from his burden: Bertha, leaving him free to marry for love, and exposing the need for love in marriage. Consequently, the narrator’s exclamation: “Reader, I married him,” serves as a realization of the moral realism of the novel.