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Claire's essay

Essay topic:

Mr Rochester describes in Vol 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this, and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?

Jane Eyre endorses the view that Mr. Rochester believes that he has acted for the best. Mr. Rochester is presented to the reader as a sympathetic character, so the reader has some understanding of his viewpoint, the situation he is in and the choices he has made. However, the reader is also made privy to a darker, more shameful side of Mr. Rochester that suggests that the decisions he made were a result of weak character rather than a desire to do what is right. By looking at similarities between Jane Eyre and a fairytale and examining the sympathetic viewpoint of the narrator, the reader is presented with a sympathetic view of Mr. Rochester. This sympathetic viewpoint is also detected by looking at what voices or opinions are excluded in Mr. Rochester's story and the negative view that the reader is given of Bertha Rochester. Examples of Mr. Rochester's weak and manipulative character lie in his propensity to play the victim, his use of language and his warped view of reality. In this essay the word "endorse" is defined as "to support or approve of".

A fairytale reading of Jane Eyre shows a sympathetic attitude toward Mr. Rochester's actions. That is, the reader sees Jane Eyre as the story of a girl who begins as an "ugly duckling", falls in love with a prince, loses the prince then, after much ill fortune (and some happiness) gets the prince back. In this context, the story of Mr. Rochester and Jane follows a similar path to many fairytales. In this reading, Rochester's actions are simply a natural progression of the story.

Apart from the general storyline, another aspect of Jane Eyre that is related to most fairytales is the sense of romance and fantasy that one is left with. Although Mr. Rochester bears little resemblance to a stereotypical prince, he loves his "princess" with such passion and devotion that it appeals to the reader's sense of romance. This is expressed in the following passage:

My living darling! These are certainly her limbs and these her features; but I cannot be so blest, after all my misery. It is a dream; such dreams as I have had at night when I have clasped her once more to my heart, as I do now. (p. 534)

Mr. Rochester's deep love for Jane is readily returned. Jane's view of Mr. Rochester colours how the reader views him because we see him through her eyes. Even if she does not directly endorse his actions, she is sympathetic toward him. She says "I pity you - I do pity you" (p. 374) when he tells the story of his past with Bertha. She also quickly forgives his deceit against her, which encourages the reader to do the same. Jane appeals to the reader by addressing them directly: "Reader - I forgave him" (p. 379).

Just as we see the novel through Janes eyes, we only hear the story of Mr. Rochester and Bertha through what Mr. Rochester tells Jane and Jane narrates to the reader. If we were to see the story through Bertha's eyes it would no doubt be very different. This exclusion of the voice of Bertha makes it very easy to believe Mr. Rochester's explanation. There is no other explanation provided. It is not just Bertha's opinion that has been excluded from the text but every other opinion apart from Jane and Mr. Rochester's. It is clear that the lawyer and the clergyman do not condone what Mr. Rochester has done; however, they are not given a voice to express their disapproval other than the act of stopping the wedding. Jane says "the clergyman stayed to exchange a few sentences, either of admonition or reproof, with his haughty parishioner" (p. 360). However, that sentence is the extent to which the reader is provided further opinion.

Mr. Rochester and Jane's view of Bertha are extremely negative. This induces the reader to side with Mr. Rochester, against Bertha - for how could he be expected to live with a "monster"? Jane's description of her first proper meeting with Bertha illustrates this point: "What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell" (p. 357). Bertha is rarely referred to by her name in this section of the novel. A lot of wild animal imagery is used to describe her and also words such as "lunatic" (p. 360) and "madwoman" (p. 367).

As indicated by the above, Jane does not show any sympathy toward Bertha. All her sympathies lie with Mr. Rochester. Therefore the reader must be more wary of the way in which we are invited to think about him, because he is already being portrayed in a positive light. If one looks closely at the text, as he tells the story of himself and Bertha one can piece together some of the elements of his character that have previously been hidden.

Mr. Rochester constructs his own reality where he can separate himself entirely from "falsehood and slander" (p. 368). He believes his own rigid view to be completely correct. He appeals to the other men: "With what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged" (p. 359). He believes anyone would act as he has and that he has done "all that God and humanity require" (p. 377). He believes himself not married. "I keep telling her I am not married and do not explain to her why" (p. 371). His inability to face his problems or accept his responsibilities prompts him to try to runaway with Jane to the South of France. He promises her "never fear that I wish to lure you into error - to make you my mistress" (p. 371) and yet, this is exactly his plan for her. Later, he tells Jane: "I do not wish to torment you with hideous recollections of Thornfield hall" (p. 366), yet it is not just Thornfield Hall that is tied to shame and secrecy but rather Mr. Rochester himself.

Perhaps the most striking new element to Mr. Rochester's character is his ability and readiness to play the role of the victim. This shows the reader that he is not as strong as the reader may have been led to believe. His self-assured, authoritative countenance hides a man who is rigid in his views, uncompromising and weak. He does not have the strength to take responsibility for his life or actions, but rather blames it on Bertha, his own father and brother, and Bertha's family. His father and brother "joined in the plot" (p. 373) against him, because of the thirty thousand pounds.

The language Mr. Rochester uses to tell of his own guilt shows that he is manipulative and a liar. His seemingly self-deprecating behaviour when he is telling his story is a device to make himself look decent. He wants to come across as apologetic for his sins and reasonably humbled. The majority of his self-derogatory statements begin with some variation on "you must think me . . .", rather than stating what he thinks of his own actions. He says, "as my pastor there would tell me, [I] deserve no doubt the sternest judgements from God" (p. 356). Later he says, "I am little better than a devil at this moment" (p. 356). However one would think that Mr. Rochester would have thought himself a "devil" throughout his courtship to Jane rather than just at the moment that he gets caught. This seems to signify that Mr. Rochester thinks himself a "devil" because he got found out, rather than for his actions. He is quick to overlook his own behaviour.

The reader is sympathetic toward Mr. Rochester's actions because of how he is presented in the novel. The narrator's sympathy toward him shows Mr. Rochester's behaviour as easily forgivable. However, Mr. Rochester's manipulative nature and propensity to do what he desires rather than what is right show the reader that his actions spring from a darker, more shameful side of his nature.

(1384 words)


Bronte, C. Jane Eyre. Modern Publishing Group, 1991.

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