A bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel or story) tells the psychological, moral, and overall development of its protagonist at different points in their life– it would be interesting to look at the physiological development and dynamic Jane develops throughout the novel. Her first relationship with Mr. Rochester, her relationship with St. Paul, and of course her relationship with herself that allows her to return to Rochester.
Jane’s first relationship with Rochester is pure and naive. This was the first time she ventured off into the world. There were many faults to the relationship and though she was intellectually matched with rochester she was not equal or free. She was his employee and he was technically married. She did not have power in her relationship. And when she found his secret she could no longer love him in a honest and forthright way. The relationship could not have worked without both individuals growing to later be able to maintain it. The relationship was unbalanced from wisdom.
The relationship dynamic between Jane and St. Paul was a benefactory one. Neither of them truly loved each other in a romantic sense (though Jane strived for a familial love) but they benefited from each others presence. St. Paul confused that subordinate/intellectual equal relationship for love– denying himself from the other girl out of fear of losing things in the process. It was also manipulative because, again Jane sought for unconditional familial love, and St. Paul wanted something more. He made Jane change herself and bend herself to his will. They were not equal. But this relationship needed to happen so Jane could better her relationship with the most important person, herself. She became independent and payed everyone back– because she matured in this interaction she was able to become completely free.
The maturing experiences that both Rochester and Jane went through, though saddening, let them have the happy marriage they would never have been able to have the first time round. They were getting married as intellectual and wise equals, both free and independent (but both relied on each other). They married in a honest, open, mature relationship. While she feared losing herself in a relationship with St. John, she seems perfectly content to become one with Rochester. Love is still Jane’s religion; in relationship, Jane has found her heaven.
Analyze how the characters’ relationship to the past contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole. Mr. Rochester of course has a secret and terrible past. Throughout the novel he is put on trial and tested by his past mistakes. In many ways he must grow and by the end of the book is a different man as a result.
It is easy to see the quest and struggles for independent maturity Jane goes through, throughout this novel. She is, of course, the narrator and protagonist so it is expected to be able to clearly see from start to finish the growth of Jane. We see each obstacle see has to overcome to reach the person she becomes at the end of the book. But what about Edward Rochester? In many accounts he is analyzed but in such a way only to examine his role in relation to Jane and her self-searching exploration. So what is Rochesters journey and role, what are his quests and struggles? And of course how do both characters growth compare?
Rochester’s progress throughout the novel has not received anywhere near the amount of critical consideration as has Jane’s, and yet it is equally important to its reading as a feminist text. Both Jane and Rochester engage in a constant battle against their society’s dominant ideologies regarding gender and class. But in his case he is an insider, unlike Jane which you could call an outsider (as far as class goes).
Rochester, like Jane, is equally affected by his past experiences. Rochester is the ‘heir to nothing.’ His father left his estate to Rochester’s brother, Rowland. This act alone, and by his own father, puts Edward on more equal footing with a woman than a man, as it is old custom for land to be given to the son of the family. Because of this, Edward is forced into a new situation to hopefully secure him a place of good social standing. He is, essentially, sold. Although Rochester is upper-class and male, he is rendered a pawn by his greedy father and by “her family (Bertha), who wished to secure him because he was of a good kind.”
His wife, Bertha’s duty to establish Rochester by playing a proper English gentlewoman, but she can’t because she is insane. Rochester therefore locks her away, and tries repressing the guilt of his inability to place himself in the aristocracy.
After this he builds himself up from the ground, and from his parent and brothers death acquiring even more wealth. He became a gentleman in most ways and secured a place in society. He found the perfect wife, home, lifestyles, etc…
He courts Blanche Ingram, a woman who would complete his masculine veneer. But in the end he truly connects with Jane, and discerns between the two only the desire for a financial alliance. Jane affirms her superiority to Rochester in that she would never sell herself into a marriage for wealth (as Rochester once did). “I would scorn such a union: therefore I am better than you.”
When Bertha dies and brings down the house with her, she frees Edward Rochester from his patriarchal pretenses. She, herself, is also destroyed, destroying his long-harbored feelings of inadequacy as her husband.
He suffers severe deformities by the fire and can no longer continue to keep up the facade of a self-sufficient ‘true gentleman.’ Blind and misshapen, he now has no choice but to present himself to society as an imperfect and limited man. And with that he is able to embrace his true self. He, without embarrassment, tells Jane that he wears her pearls, not caring how the information might be misinterpreted. He and Jane went through similar things in the end, both suffering from toxic gender roles forced on them in society, and in the end they are what set each other free from that; accepting each other for who they truly are despite jewels, beauty, money, etc…
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