It's easy to forget that the full title of Jane Eyre is Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. But that "autobiography" bit is super-important when it comes to understanding the tone of this tome.
Because there is so much autobiographical material in Jane Eyre, it’s often difficult to separate Charlotte Brontë’s authorial tone from the narrative style of her protagonist. Often the author’s voice and attitude seem to get caught up in the story, making it more like a memoir than a novel. We’re calling this a "transparent" tone, where we seem to be looking straight through the author’s personality at the first-person narrator.
When something of Brontë’s own personality starts to come through, it’s usually in dialogue, when another character is talking to Jane. Mr. Rochester and Diana Rivers, for example, seem to be two of the characters who occasionally express the author’s attitude toward Jane herself.
For example, check out this exchange between Mr. Rochester and Jane:
"You are a beauty in my eyes, and a beauty just after the desire of my heart,—delicate and aërial."
"Puny and insignificant, you mean. You are dreaming, sir,—or you are sneering. For God’s sake don’t be ironical!" (2.9.19-23)
These ain't just the words of a dude hoping to sweet talk a woman into marrying him; they’re the author’s affirmation that Jane is beautiful and should have a greater sense of self-worth.
Diana’s and Rochester’s affection for Jane and their awareness of the passionate, fun-loving woman behind the repressed Lowood graduate provide a subtle commentary—it's not bashing us over the head—on Jane’s own narrative that seems to channel Charlotte Brontë’s own feelings.
We know that’s four genres, but Jane Eyre is a super-complex book.
First of all, there’s the whole following-Jane-from-her-sad-childhood-as-an-orphan-to-her-happy-marriage thing, which definitely sounds like a "Coming-of-Age" story to us... especially because at every stage we’re focused on her developing morals and ethics.
Then there are all the supernatural and "Gothic" elements. Even though most of them get explained away—Bertha may look like a vampire, but she’s just a woman from Jamaica struck with madness—the novel depends on making us feel that creepy, suspenseful atmosphere.
There’s definitely a strong "Mystery" quality here. Like a younger version of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (whose first name, we’d like to point out, is also Jane), Jane gradually unravels Rochester’s seedy past to figure out what’s going on in the attic at Thornfield.
Then there’s the issue of "Autobiography": after all, the novel is called Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Because this is a first-person novel, our protagonist describes herself as though she’s telling us her autobiography… but since she’s not real, it isn’t exactly one. (For more, check out our "What’s Up With the Title?" section.)
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.
Strangely, Jane Eyre doesn’t end with Jane Eyre herself. Oh, sure, at the beginning of the last chapter, we get that famous line, "Reader, I married him" (3.12.1), and we’re excited that we finally get to have the wedding that Jane was denied at the end of Volume 2.
But the novel seems to be pretty much over the whole wedding thing by this point; after just a few understated paragraphs where Jane tells us about how Rochester’s servants take this news, it’s suddenly ten years later, Rochester has gotten his sight back, he and Jane chat all the time, and "perfect concord is the result" (3.12.13). Hooray, a happy ending.
But what Jane’s really concerned with telling us at the end isn’t how her story ended—it’s about what happened to lots of the other characters, especially, for some weird reason, St. John Rivers.
St. John Rivers: remember him? The intensely, not to say obsessively, religious cousin who wants to marry Jane, teach her Hindustani, and take her with him on a missionary trip to India? And she’s just about willing to go for the last two ideas, but the first one is definitely out of the question? Maybe you should brush up on him in the "Characters" section if you’ve forgotten, because the very end of the novel isn’t about Jane or her marriage—it’s about how St. John did go to India on his mission and has basically worked himself to death there.
Well, let’s think about how each of those issues has persisted throughout the novel. First, there’s St. John’s obsession with missionary work. One of the problems in Jane Eyre seems to be how to serve other people in the right way—after all, Jane’s a servant for most of the book, and a pretty good one, really. That’s why St. John wants her to go with him: because she’s hardworking and intelligent. But Jane’s pretty good at setting the right boundaries for herself, and she can tell that St. John’s ideas about service are too intense, too self-sacrificing, too extreme.
Second, there’s illness. St. John’s own sickness seems to come from overworking himself and just generally being keyed up about things, but other characters sicken and die without causing their illness themselves, like Helen Burns and Mrs. Reed. And, of course, there are other moments of affliction that don’t result in death: Mr. Rochester’s blindness, Mason’s wound, Jane’s fever after she runs away from Rochester.
Of course, part of it is just that illnesses were more dangerous in the nineteenth century because medical science wasn’t as advanced, but there’s more going on here. Jane is the nurse for most of these characters, but she can't help St. John. She can’t even ease his suffering, as she does for Helen or Mrs. Reed, and she certainly can’t cure him.
Third and last, there are "overseas," foreign places that are and aren’t part of Britain. India reminds us of the West Indies, where Bertha came from and where Mr. Rochester made his money. Travel to and from these colonial outposts is definitely a major theme here (see our discussion of "Foreignness and 'The Other'" in the "Themes" section).
So maybe in one way St. John is taking all these loose ends, all these aspects of the novel that are too intense, too dangerous, or too impossible for Jane to sort out—extremes of self-sacrifice in serving others, dangerous incurable fevers, and whatever intangible weirdness Bertha and Rochester bring back with them from the Caribbean—and taking them out to a distant colony so that England can feel "safe."
Maybe St. John is the opposite of Bertha, taking away instead of bringing a near-insane intensity that degenerates into illness. And maybe the novel ends by thinking about these issues because they’re more provocative (maybe even more interesting) than Jane getting married. Even Jane seems more interested in St. John’s work than her own marriage, even if she doesn’t want to go with him: after all, they’re exchanging letters.
Jane Eyre seems at first to have a traditional marriage plot, but talks itself into following a different plot: one for which St. John, not Jane, is the end point.
Most of the place names we get in Jane Eyre are totally made up: they’re the names of houses (Gateshead Hall, where the Reeds live; Thornfield Hall and Ferndean Manor, Mr. Rochester’s places; and Moor House, where the Rivers siblings live) or of schools (Lowood Institute) or of little imaginary towns (Millcote, Morton) that resemble lots of places in nineteenth-century north-central England. But we never really get any specifics on where exactly we are other than "north-central England."
It’s sort of like the British equivalent of setting something in "the Midwest"—it’s a general region with a certain feel to it, but not a specific place like Kansas. Jane never even goes to London, which would at least be a real English city. (London is way south of where she is in the novel.)
On a more specific level, each of Jane’s settings provides a pair of indoor and outdoor spaces for her to range in: Gateshead and the walk outside, Lowood and the woods/marshes, Thornfield and its garden and woods, and the moors that stretch between Thornfield and Morton. So Jane’s always able to move fluidly between the natural world and human civilization—just one more example of her strange, fairy-like abilities to cross boundaries.
Each of the imaginary-but-specific houses or places where Jane lives represents a certain stage in her life. Her childhood happens at Gateshead and ends (mostly) when she reaches her ethical awakening with the red-room incident. Notice the name, "Gateshead": this place is her "gateway" or entrance to the rest of the world and the "head" or fount of all her problems.
She then moves on to her education at Lowood Institute until she wants to get out into the world and seek her fortune. "Lowood" meaning "low wood" because that’s where the place is built (in a low valley beside a wood), but also because it’s a "low" time in her life.
Next comes young love at Thornfield, where she finds mystery and temptation: a "field of thorns" with an almost allegorical or Biblical flavor.
Then Jane endures a temporary banishment at Moor House and in the little town of Morton, where she discovers friends and relatives in unlikely places and recharges herself. It’s no accident that she’s able to rest up for her final adventure "out on the moors," in the wilderness, which also has a religious flavor: this period of Jane's life can be seen as her "wandering in the desert."
Finally, Jane experiences mature love at Ferndean when she returns to Rochester. Jane can’t just go back to her naive young love after the experiences she’s had; Thornfield has to be burned down once and for all and a new "ferny brae" or Eden-like paradise appears.
It’s also important to notice the effect of some nineteen-century beliefs and customs on the novel. In a novel from a later time period, the central problem of bigamy wouldn’t even exist, because Rochester would be able to get a divorce from Bertha and move on with his life.
Britain’s relationship with its colonies, especially India and the West Indies, and the effects of imperial rule on British culture are also in evidence, as are nineteenth-century ideas about disease (the "miasma theory," which suggests that disease is caused by unhealthy fogs and mists instead of germs) and about character ("phrenology," a pseudo-science that claimed you could tell someone’s character type from the shape of their face and skull, which was widely believed at the time).
It ain't Hemingway, but hey—it's about as clear and concise as a nineteenth-century Gothic novel can be.
You don’t have to read very far in Jane Eyre to notice that the syntax and style of the sentences are uber-complex; phrases and clauses are elaborately interwoven, but still somehow manage to feel balanced and exact. For example, at the very beginning of the novel Jane tells us that she’s glad she can’t take a walk with her cousins:
I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed. (1.1.2)
You could convey the same information by saying, "I never liked long walks. I hate coming home in the dark and having cold fingers and toes, and I hate getting yelled at and feeling pathetic compared to my cousins." But Jane’s sentences are refined; we can tell that she’s educated, that she never over-simplifies her ideas, and that she likes to give us a series of ideas in an interconnected web instead of a group of short statements.
The red-room, once the bedroom of Jane’s Uncle Reed, was (we’re sure you remember) the chamber in which he died. Locked in the red-room, believing that her uncle’s ghost is manifesting, Jane experiences a moment of extreme trauma leading to hysteria. So let’s think about this: Jane’s Aunt, an older woman who is supposed to be like a foster mother to her but is more like an evil stepmother, locks Jane into a room that’s entirely decorated in red with a little bit of white, and Jane panics when she thinks that an older male relative’s ghost might be invading the room. Hmm, we’re not going to have to go too far to do some psychoanalyzing here, are we? For example, on the most extreme end, you could claim that the red-room is like a womb, and Aunt Reed is infantilizing Jane and forcing her back into the womb to be born again with, needless to say, a new attitude. (If this is the case, of course it’s alarming when a male relative invades the womb, right?) We know, we know, that sounds a little silly, but when you think about it, it actually makes a little sense. Some less-wacky interpretations: that the red-room is a space in which the purity and innocence of childhood (the white bits) meet the intense and bitter emotions that come with unpleasant life experience – anger, fear, and anxiety (the red bits). Think of Jane as "seeing red" at this moment. Alternatively, you can think about the red-room experience as part of the indescribable trauma of suffering; remember, Jane loses consciousness because she can hardly deal with it, and she can never quite verbalize what the problem is (besides the possibility of a ghost). Whenever Jane suffers in the future, it will take her, emotionally, back to the red-room.
That’s a symbol? Yep, sure is. There are two important moments when really nasty porridge figures in Jane’s life. The first is at Lowood, when Jane arrives and, along with the other girls, is served burnt porridge for breakfast. It’s so disgusting that nobody can eat it, and Miss Temple ends up giving the girls an extra meal during the day to make up for it, which pisses off Mr. Brocklehurst. The second is during Jane’s period of homeless wandering, when a woman and a little girl tending a pig give Jane a bowl of cold, hard, congealed porridge that the pig wouldn’t eat. So what does it symbolize? Well, basically, a level of humility and subjection that’s unnatural for anyone to attain. Mr. Brocklehurst thinks that, if the girls are served inedible porridge, they should either (a) eat it and be grateful anyway and "mortify the flesh" or (b) go hungry and use the opportunity to "mortify the flesh." We can tell, however, that he’s never missed a meal in his life and that either of those options is a cruel martyrdom, not a real opportunity for spiritual growth. When Jane is forced to take the congealed porridge and be grateful for it later in the novel, we realize she’s been brought down to the very low level that someone like Mr. Brocklehurst (or Mrs. Reed!) wanted her to occupy. We’re meant, of course, to be quite alarmed about this.
The most important fires in Jane Eyre are Bertha’s two acts of arson: the first at the end of Book I (Chapter 15), when Bertha sets fire to Rochester’s bedclothes, and the second at the end of Book III (Chapter 10), when Jane learns that Bertha managed to burn down Thornfield by setting fire to what was once Jane’s bedroom. She’s a real pyromaniac, that Bertha. Anyway, let’s repeat that first one in case you missed it: Bertha sets fire to Rochester’s bedclothes. Since we know that one of the main problems in Bertha and Rochester’s marriage was that, even though she was beautiful and attractive – Rochester tells us that she was "in the style of Blanche Ingram" – she had a rapacious sexual appetite. She was "unchaste" and "dragged" Rochester through "hideous and degrading agonies." To translate that out of the polite nineteenth-century jargon, she cheated on him a bunch and everybody knew about it. The sexual desire Rochester originally felt for Bertha, the sexual attention she drew from a crowd of admiring men, and her affairs – all of this sets his bed on fire, nudge, nudge. Jane extinguishes the literal flames only to kindle new ones of a metaphorical kind!
When, much later, Bertha takes her pyro tendencies to Jane’s bedroom, she seems to be objecting directly to Jane’s own sexual interest in Rochester – but also, perhaps, transferring her highly-sexed nature to Jane. Don’t forget that Jane calls herself "fire" when she’s talking to St. John Rivers – one more thing she and Bertha actually have in common. Bertha’s arson also symbolizes her using the power of sexuality to destroy Rochester’s home; Thornfield actually burning down is a real-world parallel to its metaphorical burning – Jane’s abandonment of Rochester after his desire for her caused him to attempt bigamy.
If you’ve read Frankenstein, then you know that, where there’s fire, there’s also ice! (OK, you could learn that from Robert Frost, too.) Anyway, not only does Jane take special interest in the images of birds in arctic landscapes when she’s reading Bewick’s British Birds as a child, as an adult she draws a fantasy landscape filled with ice and snow that seems to have special meaning for her. When she decides that she has to leave Rochester, she tells herself that she "must be ice and rock to him" instead of letting him know that she returns his passion. Of course, the iciest of the characters isn’t Jane herself, but St. John Rivers, who has an "ice of reserve" and claims that "no fervour infects" him. (Later, Jane tells Rochester that St. John is "cold as an iceberg.") Jane’s fascination with ice seems to be the result of her hotheaded nature – she herself may seem cold, but she’s actually incredibly fiery and passionate, and she gets really angry about injustice. As a result, she’s mesmerized by all things frozen and icy, because she can’t be that way. Her one attempt at icy behavior – rejecting Rochester – results in her meeting St. John, who shows her just how undesirable a cold-hearted approach to the world really is. In fact, St. John’s lack of passion seems almost immoral.
The day after Rochester proposes to Jane under "the great horse-chestnut at the bottom of the orchard," that same tree gets "struck by lightning in the night, and half of it split away" (2.8.119). It can’t be a good omen to have something that’s whole get violently split in half right after two people sitting beside it decide to unite themselves. The real question is whether the tree represents Jane and Rochester or just Rochester. If the tree represents the two of them and their union, then the half that gets split away is Jane, who is driven away from Rochester by her own desire to avoid temptation. But much later in the novel, Rochester compares himself to the splintered tree and Jane to a new plant: "I am no better than the old lightning-struck chestnut-tree in Thornfield orchard…And what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?" (3.11.109) The point is not to make you choose between these two interpretations of the symbol, but to suggest that they coexist: the tree represents Rochester, but also Rochester and Jane together, because Rochester can’t be himself without her, and because he’ll never recover completely from the trauma of their separation (just like the tree will never be the same after getting struck by lightning).
The phrase "the madwoman in the attic" is the invention of two famous feminist literary critics, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, who wrote a book with that title in 1979. (See "Brain Snacks" for more on the book.) The phrase, of course, refers specifically to Bertha Mason, Rochester’s sometime wife, now an insane prisoner locked in the attic of his house with Grace Poole for a nursemaid. Gilbert and Gubar develop a critical theory about this "madwoman in the attic" figure: she represents all the subverted rage and pain experienced by the female author of the text (in this case, Charlotte Brontë). Bertha can be locked away, kept secret, and labeled as insane, but nobody can deny her intensity or power: she’s sexually potent, wicked smart, and absolutely ruthless. Nobody can kill her, either, because she seems to be invincible – in this novel, of course, she chooses to commit suicide. If Bertha is representative of Charlotte, then what might it mean for Charlotte to kill off her evil doppelgänger as she’s writing?
Jane draws four crucial portraits over the course of the novel: one of herself, one of what she imagines Blanche Ingram will look like, one of Rochester, and one of Rosamond Oliver. The first two she draws at the same time so that she can compare them and remind herself how plain and pathetic she is. The one of Rochester she draws almost unconsciously while back at Gateshead caring for the dying Mrs. Reed. (After all, if you don’t have a snapshot of your sweetie on your cell phone, then sketching his portrait is probably the best you can do.) Rosamond Oliver’s picture she tries to use to get St. John to admit his feelings for that woman. Jane’s ability to capture likenesses of herself and those around her reminds us of her flair for narrative description and for penetrating analyses of the people she knows. In the plot of the novel, Jane may be sketching actual portraits – but in the text of the novel, she sketches those portraits, too, just in a more active sense. Jane’s artistic skill reminds us of her storytelling abilities and of the careful crafting that goes into her tale – perhaps a craft that’s sometimes rather crafty and even a bit misleading.
The narrative point-of-view seems pretty straightforward here: our protagonist, Jane Eyre, tells us her own story in a novel called, um, Jane Eyre. That's our first hint that it's all Jane, all the time.
It’s written in the first person, and the central character is doing the talking (or maybe writing). But Jane is—well, not exactly an unreliable narrator (in fact, she pays a lot of attention to giving us accurate detail)—but a narrator who forces you to read between the lines. Jane’s pretty good at telling us what’s going on around her, but not always too good at telling us what’s going on in her head.
Oh, sure, she explains how she makes decisions, and sometimes even explains how she feels—but often she seems a little too modest, like she’s suppressing her most intense feelings to try to seem calmer or more composed. Luckily, we get a lot of information about Jane from the other characters. Think about the part of the novel (Volume 3, Chapter 1) where Rochester tells Jane his history up until the point he met her and the way he describes his own impression of Jane when she first came to Thornfield:
"I found you full of strange contrasts. Your garb and manner were restricted by rule; your air was often diffident, and altogether that of one refined by nature, but absolutely unused to society, and a good deal afraid of making herself disadvantageously conspicuous by some solecism or blunder; yet when addressed, you lifted a keen, a daring, and a glowing eye to your interlocutor’s face: there was penetration and power in each glance you gave; when plied by close questions, you found ready and round answers. [...] There was something glad in your glance, and genial in your manner, when you conversed: I saw you had a social heart; it was the silent schoolroom —it was the tedium of your life—that made you mournful." (3.1.100)
Rochester claims that Jane may be stern and repressed, but he says he can tell this is just the effect of being at Lowood as a teacher and student for a really long time, and that with the right company Jane will loosen up a little. We think he’s right, but we would never have figured that out from Jane’s own self-presentation in the rest of the narrative. So, even though we can trust Jane on most things, she’s not always her own best psychoanalyst.
Jane starts out living at Gateshead Hall as the lowest of the low, hated by her aunt, tormented by her cousins—even the servants put her in her place on a regular basis. Worst of all, crime and punishment seem backwards here: John Reed gets rewarded for bullying Jane, and she gets punished for defending herself.
Jane’s traumatic experience in the "red room" acts as her "call" into the wider world—it draws the attention of a powerful man like Mr. Lloyd, who is able to make arrangements for her to go away to school, where she can actually gain skills and make something of herself away from the malevolent influence of Mrs. Reed.
Notice that Jane goes "out into the world" twice: first, she moves from Gateshead to Lowood, and then from Lowood to Thornfield. Baby steps. What do you think the novel might gain from doubling up this part of the plot?
As for the success, that happens not just twice but three times. First, after Jane proves herself honest at Lowood, she’s able to concentrate on studying and become a teacher. Then, after she proves herself resourceful, she gets a job at Thornfield. We sort of assume that Jane is a good governess (Rochester says so at least once) even though we don’t really hear a lot about her teaching. Last but not least is Jane’s matrimonial success—her engagement to Mr. Rochester.
This is the really murky moment, where we know that Jane is doing the right thing, but we almost think that she should just stay with Rochester and pretend to be married to him, because we can tell they’re meant to be together. The tragic thing is that Jane can also tell they’re made for each other—but she knows that she can’t let Rochester commit bigamy, or be a part of it. For a little bit here, it looks like Jane will have to choose between happiness and morality. Her choice may be right, but it leaves both of them miserable.
A lot of important stuff happens here. Jane proves that she doesn’t need Rochester to make it in the world—even going door to door, begging for food and shelter, Jane is able to find somewhere to live, find a job, and earn her keep. As if that’s not enough, she inherits a little money, making her financially independent for the long term. But these proofs of her own strength come along with her new battle against St. John Rivers: basically, a battle for control of her soul, which she almost loses.
It’s a storybook happy ending; Princess Charming (Jane) has come back to the now-ruined castle (Thornfield) to rescue the Prince from his melancholy, lonely life. He even miraculously gets his sight back… in the one eye, at least. Clairaudience, reunions, weddings, un-blindings—it’s practically a grab-bag of miracles. (Meanwhile, the Other Guy, St. John, went to India as a missionary and has basically worked himself to death, but, erm, that had to happen, didn’t it?)
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.
Okay, actually, it’s only the education that will help her—and her own initiative.
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. 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.
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 her 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.
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.
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.
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?
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 a-okay now. Jane’s going to go back to Thornfield and find out where Rochester is, and she’s never going to leave him again.
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.
After a thorough but somewhat lonely education at Lowood Institute, Jane becomes the governess at Thornfield and quickly falls in love with her master, Mr. Edward Rochester.
Jane and Rochester try to get married, but they’re prevented because Rochester is trying to commit bigamy—he already has a wife locked in a room on the third floor at Thornfield. Jane runs away.
Jane learns that marriage without passion would be immoral when she’s faced with a proposal from her clergyman cousin, St. John Rivers. She returns to Rochester, who has conveniently become a widower while she was gone, and they marry.
There are a LOT of Biblical references in Jane Eyre; here are some of the most important.