by Charlotte Brontë
Analysis: What’s Up With the Title?
So, this is a novel about a woman named Jane Eyre, and it’s titled Jane Eyre. Seems pretty obvious, that one. But think about this for a second: the novel itself is Jane Eyre, but the main character is Jane Eyre, so we’re going to get confused a lot about whether we’re talking about the whole book or just the character. This confusion isn’t accidental: this novel (like most novels named for the hero or heroine) is all about the ways in which the main character is—and isn’t—the same as the book that bears her name.
So what's up with the name "Jane Eyre"? The "Jane" part makes us think "plain Jane": it’s an everyday, basic sort of name, not flowery, not snazzy. It fades into the background, which is something Jane will try to do a lot—or at least she’ll claim that’s what she wants to do.
And what about her last name, "Eyre"? That’s not a name we’ve heard anywhere else. It’s usually pronounced "air," by the way, suggesting airy-fairy sorts of qualities—and Rochester frequently accuses Jane of being like a sprite or a fairy or some other supernatural creature.
Maybe it also suggests someone who "gives herself airs," someone snooty, uppity, or haughty, which is how the other servants in Rochester’s household, like Mrs. Fairfax, seem to perceive Jane: as someone "with her nose in the air." You also might be tempted to pronounce Jane’s last name as "ear," like the things on the side of your head, and Jane is going to do a lot of listening and eavesdropping and being a sounding board in the novel.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; if you want to know more about Jane, head over to the "Characters" section and read about her there. Right now we’re thinking about that subtitle, An Autobiography. After all, this isn’t Charlotte Brontë’s autobiography. It’s not even Currer Bell’s autobiography. (See "Trivia" for more on the pseudonym "Currer Bell.") But the novel is Jane’s own retelling of her life story to the reader (see "Narrator Point of View").
In fact, Charlotte Brontë uses a lot of her own life experience to make Jane a rounded character—Charlotte, like Jane, taught at an unpleasant girls’ boarding school, for example—and the book really toes the line between autobiography and fiction. So, not only is Jane Eyre going to make us think about the relationship between the protagonist and the text itself (are we talking about Jane Eyre or Jane Eyre?), but it’s also going to make us think about the relationship between the protagonist and the author.