Jane Eyre: A Story of Assorted Control Freaks

Admittedly when I first began reading Jane Eyre, I felt like this…

I quickly warmed up to the book, however, especially since it’s written with such passion. Jane Eyre features many emotional characters with very strong opinions. Primary and secondary characters alike aspire to have control and power over other people. I’m going to start with the main characters and work down to the more minor characters in the novel.

Jane Eyre: Jane had every right to refuse Mr. Rochester’s initial marriage proposal. He was married to Bertha and he had hidden that from Jane. However, Jane’s control freak tendencies blossom when she returns to Mr. Rochester at his remote manor in Ferndean. She is, dare I say, happy that he is blind and crippled. The entire 37th chapter attests to the fact that Jane is thrilled with the control she has over Rochester. In chapter 37 (page 379), Jane states:

“I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector.”

This link – http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/bronte/cbronte/brine2.html from Victorianweb also backs up this theory with more examples. Jane’s teasing of Rochester by bringing up St. John Rivers and acting aloof to his desire to marry her are more ways that she relishes and embraces this newfound power she has.

Mr. Rochester: Mr. Rochester attempted to control Jane from the moment she stepped foot in Thornfield. Rochester’s interrogations of Jane in chapters 13 (pages 102-109) and 14 (pages 111-116) were his ways of initiating control of their relationship. From chapters 17-23, Rochester parades around with Miss Ingram with false intent just to make Jane jealous. He even dresses up as a fortune teller in chapters 18 and 19 in order to gain access to Jane’s innermost thoughts. Although Rochester acquiesced to Jane in the end, things may have played out differently had he not been blind and crippled.

St. John Rivers: The epitome of controlling, St. John used every perceivable way of persuading Jane into marrying him so they can go off to India together. He ignored her, treated her poorly and even threatened Jane with eternal damnation:

“I shall be absent a fortnight – take that space of time to consider my offer: and do not forget that if you reject it, it is not me you deny, but God… Refuse to be my wife, and you limit yourself for ever to a track of selfish ease and barren obscurity. Tremble lest in that case you should be numbered with those who have denied the faith, and are worse than infidels!” (chapter 24, page 348)

Mrs. Reed: Early on in the book, Mrs. Reed and her children mistreat Jane to the point of making her ill. As soon as Jane starts talking back to Mrs. Reed, she is shipped off to a religious institution for poor children. Mrs. Reed sensed her control was slipping away and got rid of Jane as soon as possible.

Mr. Brocklehurst: Possibly the most contemptible character in the novel, Mr. Brocklehurst repeatedly demands that the students be malnourished and not properly clothed in an attempt to save money. He also humiliates Jane in front of everybody by making her stand on a stool in front of her schoolmates and teachers (chapter 7, pages 55-56).

Bertha: Bertha controls Mr. Rochester with her frenzied attacks on the household. By setting fires and entering Jane’s room, she makes Mr. Rochester admit the truth to Jane which prevents her from marrying him the first time around. This hurt Mr. Rochester in the worst way possible.

In the end, Jane and Mr. Rochester are happy; St. John goes on his journey, albeit without a wife; Mrs. Reed and Bertha both pass away; and Mr. Brocklehurst loses much of his power as other people begin to contribute to the school. Half of the control freaks are satisfied and half are dead or unhappy. Just like life, the fates of these power hungry people are not one-sided.

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8 thoughts on “Jane Eyre: A Story of Assorted Control Freaks

  1. Andres

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  2. davidginsberg Post author

    “Your point about Jane’s control freak tendencies is interesting, but there are clues in the book that she might not be totally at ease with controling her own life. The fact that she wants to keep calling Mr. Rochester “master” before their marriage is disturbing; it could show that she likes to be useful, just like when she says “I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you”, or that she is afraid of having the entire control of her life, because it never happened to her before. She fancies it but is hesitating at the same time, so I think she is not relly a control freak but just wants to be useful, which, according to her, gives a meaning to her life.”

    I agree that she is definitely hesitant on the matter – Jane’s indecisiveness is an ongoing theme of the book – but people shouldn’t “love others more” or be more persuaded to marry them just because they can be of more use to them. They should do it strictly out of love. Rochester loved her, and although I understand Jane’s independent streak, she only married Rochester on her own terms, when he was forced to be entirely dependent on her. From this point forward, Jane knows that Rochester will need her to help him with everything. This is the ultimate form of control.

  3. clemence

    Your point about Jane’s control freak tendencies is interesting, but there are clues in the book that she might not be totally at ease with controling her own life. The fact that she wants to keep calling Mr. Rochester “master” before their marriage is disturbing; it could show that she likes to be useful, just like when she says “I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you”, or that she is afraid of having the entire control of her life, because it never happened to her before. She fancies it but is hesitating at the same time, so I think she is not relly a control freak but just wants to be useful, which, according to her, gives a meaning to her life.

  4. Angela

    I found your interpretation very interesting. Although it was not my opinion that the characters’ agenda were power and control, you argue this point very convincingly. My view of Jane is not of a control freak. I feel that Jane represents the evolution of a woman into a society of male dominance. I watched her mature into a woman certain of her emotional, spiritual and physical needs. Some may argue that this is a controlling aspect of personality, but I disagree. To know what you require in life in order to achieve happiness may be perceived as controlling, but can also be viewed as mindfulness. As Jane interacted with the characters of the book, she acquires independence and strength as a result of the relationships.

  5. davidginsberg Post author

    I think a connection can be made between fighting for control and fighting against social conventions, but it’s funny how everything plays out.

    The biggest issue with Jane marrying Rochester was that she wasn’t in his realm when it came to hierarchy. She was just a poor governess and Rochester was considered to be way out of her league. This point is hammered home by Blanche Ingram, her mother, and even Mrs. Fairfax who warns Jane about marrying Rochester.

    In the end, Jane marries him, but it’s only because her social standing has improved due to the inheritance left to her by her uncle. In addition, Rochester is no longer the fiercely independent person he once was, meaning Jane is now firmly in control and can be considered the head of the household. Although ultimately they defied social conventions, it was done in a roundabout way. Jane received a lot of money and only then felt comfortable returning to Rochester. In a way, it’s almost like the social conventions no longer existed since she was no longer poor. It’s an interesting argument to make, and one that I’m not sure has a clear-cut answer.

  6. Jason Tougaw

    I won’t dispute the fact that these characters are vying for control in various ways–many of them nefarious. At the same time, though, they are wrestling with social mores and conventions that limit their control and their relationships. Do you think there’s a connection?

  7. davidginsberg Post author

    Jane’s influences – negative and positive – both definitely shaped her into the undecided woman that she becomes. The alternate ending you mention of Jane going off with St. John would have been a very interesting take, although it would have subverted Bronte’s argument for the plight of women’s inequality. By Jane following St. John on his pilgrimage, she would have given up and sacrificed everything that she truly wants. I wonder what kind of effect this ending would have had on critics of the book.

  8. Kevin Frazelis

    I agree with your assertion that this a book about control freaks that come in various different shapes and sizes. I think the fact that so many people at different stages of Jane’s life, is one of the primary reasons that Jane fluctuates from subordinate and insubordinate behavior. She is an emancipated young woman that struggles with a history of people trying to manipulate her behavior through ideals of religion and fleeting passions of love. The relationship between Jane the two men courting her, albeit for different reasons also demonstrates the struggle between the didactic behavior as opposed to following ones dreams and desires. The appropriate ending should have been that Jane goes off with St. John and saves the world through good deeds and Jesus. Obviously in the end, the opposite happens. In fact St. John demonstrates the negative side of dedicating one’s life solely to charitable works.

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