by Charlotte Brontë
Tools of Characterization
Jane’s often pretty straightforward in telling us her impressions and opinions of people, everything from what they look like to how they behave, starting with John Reed, whom she describes explicitly as a bully. Even when she’s a child she gives us the scoop on everybody around her: "John had not much affection for his mother and sisters, and an antipathy to me." "Eliza…was headstrong and selfish." "Georgiana…had a spoiled temper, a very acrid sprite, a captious and insolent carriage." These descriptions are, of course, a little tricky; we have to take them with a grain of salt, since they come through a character and not directly from an impersonal, third-person narrator.
Thoughts and Opinions
Most of the characters in Jane Eyre are opinionated, and nearly all of them share their attitudes with Jane by telling them to her (or stating them in front of her) directly. Blanche Ingram’s opinion that the best husbands are subservient shows her own self-importance and need to dominate others. Mrs. Reed’s opinion that Jane was a troublesome, unnatural child shows her own unhappiness and tendency to find fault with anyone who isn’t her relative or her inferior. St. John’s opinion that he can’t marry Rosamond Oliver because she wouldn’t be a good missionary wife shows us his obsession with asceticism and self-denial.
Jane’s position as a governess clues us in to the fact that she approaches almost every relationship as though she were a student trying to learn something or a teacher trying to get someone else to learn something. The in-between-ness of being a governess – sort of like a member of the family because you’re better educated than the servants, but sort of like a servant because you’re a paid employee – reminds us once again of Jane’s ability to move between worlds and social spheres and the difficulty of really labeling or placing her once and for all.
Jane Eyre – it sounds like "air," or "heir," or "ear." So we know that Jane has "airy-fairy" aspects, that her "air" (her deportment or manners) is particularly important, that she might sometimes "give herself airs" or be a little snobby, that there’s probably a moment in which she inherits something and becomes an "heir," that she’s a good listener – an "ear" for everyone around her, and maybe able to hear unusual things. Her first name, Jane, sounds plain and unremarkable at first – and she seems plain and unremarkable at first too. But it’s not just Jane who is characterized by her name – Rochester’s name is related to an obsolete word meaning "rock," roche, which reminds us of his craggy, hard-featured face, his lack of manners, and his harsh demands. And St. John Rivers…obviously there’s the whole St. John thing, plus a sense of the "river of God." We’re sure you can do "Blanche Ingram" on your own.
Jane’s plain looks tell us that she’s an unaffected, unpretentious, genuine person. And about Rochester’s ugliness, is there a wee bit of a chance that he might be the "Beast" half of a "Beauty and the Beast" sort of story? (Only this one is "Plain Jane and the Beast"…doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?) St. John’s strange paleness alerts us to his cold-blooded, stern, passionless attitude. You get the idea. We’re more interested in the moments where appearances don’t seem as significant: Blanche Ingram’s beauty doesn’t mean she’s a good person, for example.
Clothing is a constant tool of characterization in Jane Eyre, from the plain dresses the girls wear at Lowood all the way to Jane’s insistence on a wedding veil that’s not too fancy. For example, when Jane insists on continuing to wear her plain gray and black gowns instead of starting to dress in gaudy, expensive, brightly-colored dresses Rochester wants to purchase, it shows us that she’s refusing to turn into his mistress.