Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Jane is a poor orphan girl with nothing to help her in the world but a few nasty relatives and her education as a teacher of music, drawing, and French. OK, actually, it’s only the education that will help her – and her own initiative.

Explanation/Discussion: Notice that this "initial situation" is a long time developing in this novel. We’ve skipped right through Jane’s experiences at Gateshead with the Reeds and at Lowood with Mr. Brocklehurst, and the real beginning of the main plot is the moment when Jane goes out into the world on her own to seek her fortune. If you wanted to, you could probably diagram Jane’s childhood experiences as their own story – they’re like little plotlets, episodes that happen before the most important action in the novel gets going. That doesn’t mean that Jane’s childhood isn’t interesting; after all, Jane develops the most as a character during her formative years, and the rest of the novel is really about how she reacts to the world once she’s been formed.

Conflict

Jane falls in love with her new employer, Mr. Rochester, but can’t act on her feelings because they are separated by rank and fortune.

Well, really, there are lots of reasons she feels she can’t act on her feelings: she doesn’t want to seem like she has ideas above her station, and Rochester is pretending to be interested in this nasty hussy Blanche Ingram. It might be difficult to see Jane’s unattainable desire to be Rochester’s wife as the central conflict here, but don’t worry – there are a lot of different conflicts here at the center of the novel. Despite the side-conflicts between Jane and Mr. Brocklehurst or Jane and Mrs. Reed, the real conflict here is between Jane and the world – Jane and circumstances. She’s separated from Rochester by money and status, but also by logistics, awkward situations, Rochester’s own teasing, and lots more. It’s Jane against all the things that are keeping her from being with the man she loves.

Complication

It turns out that Mr. Rochester is married already – to a madwoman!

It’s one heck of a complication, isn’t it? The revelation that Mr. Rochester’s wife is alive, living in the attic, and homicidal – and that he’s legally prevented from divorcing her because she’s been diagnosed as insane – seems like it will sunder Jane and Rochester forever. It also sets up one of the most important foil relationships of the novel – Bertha Mason, "the madwoman in the attic," as a foil to Jane herself. (See the "Character Analysis" section on Bertha Mason for more on this.)

Climax

Jane runs away from Thornfield so that she won’t be tempted to live in sin with Rochester.

It’s somewhat ironic that the climactic moment of the novel is one in which the lovers part, seemingly never to be reunited. We can tell that this is the climax because we’re faced with an either-or choice for what will happen next. From here, either Jane will go back to Thornfield and be reconciled with Rochester, or she’ll strike out into the world and never see him again – those are pretty much the only options.

Suspense

Jane considers going to India with St. John Rivers to do missionary work.

This is the "suspense" part because we’re holding our breath. Is Jane going to go with St. John because she feels she needs to devote herself to some grand cause? Is she going to marry St. John just because he keeps pestering her to give in? Will Rochester rescue her before she makes a mistake that could last for the rest of her life? Or, knowing Jane, will she come to her senses and

Denouement

Jane mysteriously hears Mr. Rochester’s voice from miles away and feels called back to him.

We breathe a sigh of relief. Whether this is actually a supernatural moment of clairaudience, where Jane really does hear Rochester from miles away through their sympathetic connection, or whether it’s just a delusion that Jane’s brain invents to keep her from agreeing to marry St. John, we know it’s going to be alright now. Jane’s going to go back to Thornfield and find out where Rochester is, and she’s never going to leave him again.

Conclusion

Jane and Rochester get married and live happily ever after (even though Rochester is minus one eye and one hand). It’s implied that St. John Rivers dies alone in India.

Well, that’s pretty much all there is to it: a wedding and a death are pretty good signs that this is the conclusion of the novel. You might want to check out "What’s Up With the Ending?" to get our thoughts on why St. John Rivers is the last character mentioned in the book.

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