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.