Initial Wretchedness at Home and the "Call"
After a horrible childhood living with her aunt and cousins, Jane gets some solid education at Lowood Institute and becomes a teacher.
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.
Out into the World, Initial Success
Jane gets wanderlust, advertises her services as a governess, gets a position at Thornfield, and everything seems to be going swimmingly—especially when she gets engaged to her employer, Mr. Rochester.
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.
The Central Crisis
Jane is faced with a choice: make an ethical exception and live in sin with Rochester because maybe it’s not really sin, or stick to her guns and turn her back on temptation.
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.
Independence and the Final Ordeal
Rather than subjecting herself to being Rochester’s mistress, Jane strikes out on her own and becomes a village school-mistress. Things seem okay, if not great, until she has to contend with romantic pressure from her cousin St. John Rivers.
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.
Final Union, Completion, and Fulfillment
Jane is mysteriously called back to Rochester when she hears his voice from miles away. Although he has lost a hand and an eye, and his remaining eye is blind, they marry. After two years, his sight gradually returns, and they live in "perfect concord."
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?)