The Ecology of Jane Eyre

Wild, calm, fierce, gentle, damaging, nurturing – nature, such an unpredictable force, can be paralleled with Charlotte Bront’s novel Jane Eyre. Many of Jane Eyre’s characters resemble nature, and many of the novel’s events are supported or foreshadowed by occurrences in nature.

Jane Eyre’s main character, Jane, is shown maturing from child to adult. Jane’s metamorphosis throws her from the fairytale escape she has created, into real life that she must adapt to in order to survive. There are subtle changes in Jane’s character that hint of maturity. In the novel’s first paragraphs Jane states: “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day . . . I was glad of it; 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 . . .” (1; Ch.1). Further into the novel, nature being the medium of change, Jane adopts a new perspective: “It was a fine, calm day, though very cold; I was tired of sitting still in the library through a whole long morning . . . the distance, two miles, would be a pleasant winter afternoon walk” (102; Ch.12). The juxtaposition of Jane’s varying opinions show the growth of Jane’s character. This growth could be a result of Jane’s change of environment. Jane’s initial dislike of long, chilly walks is perhaps due to her
unpleasant surroundings at Gateshead. Jane’s contempt for the walks and the outdoors vanishes during her time in the more hospitable environment of Thornsfield. Though Jane matures through the novel, from the beginning she is unabashadedly honest and harsh, much like nature. Jane, as does nature, reveals only naked and blatant honesty. When Rochester asks Jane if she thinks that he is handsome she, with no initial equivocation, answers, “No, Sir” (122; Ch.13). Jane, a type of nature, is companioned with another character who, similar to Jane, represents nature, Rochester. Rochester rivals Jane with his harsh and natural honesty: “Not quite: you have secured the shadow of your thought; but no more, probably. You had not enough of the artist’s skill and science to give it full being; yet the drawings are, for a schoolgirl, peculiar. As to the thoughts, they are elfish” (117; Ch.13). A development of Rochester’s character can be seen toward the novel’s end. This change in Rochester, due to fire, death and desertion, gives Rochester animal-like characteristics: “The governess had run away two months before; and for all Mr. Rochester sought her as if she had been the most precious thing he had in the world, he never could hear a word of her; and he grew savage . . . He never was a mild man, but he got dangerous after he lost her” (409; Ch.36). Jane, upon seeing Rochester, describes him as a “fettered wild beast or bird, dangerous to approach in his sullen woe” (412; Ch.37). The animal imagery continues until the novel’s end. When Jane and Rochester finally reunite, Jane notices the changes Rochester has experienced: “your hair reminds me of eagles’ feathers; whether your nails are grown like a bird’s claws or not, I have not yet noticed” (117; Ch. 37). Jane, noting Rochester’s changes, continues to love Rochester and decides that she will never leave him again: “Certainly –
unless you object. I will be your neighbor, your nurse, your housekeeper. I find you lonely: I will be your companion – to read to you, to walk with you, to sit with you, to wait on you, to be eyes and hands to you” (416; Ch.37). The relationship Jane describes to Rochester resembles a symbiosis. Both being a type of nature, it is only fitting that Jane and Rochester’s relationship should evolve into such a nature-oriented relationship.

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The beautiful natural relationship between Jane and Rochester exists in the midst of confusion, fury, and denial, elements that the novel’s other characters create. A character that blazes with natural fury and scorches many of the other characters in the novel is Bertha Mason. Bertha represents the most harsh, cruel, and unattractive side of nature. Rochester feels that he must protect Bertha and keep her rage dormant. Rochester could never kill Bertha, though she is a torment to him, because she is a part of him, a part of nature. Bertha and Rochester’s complex relationship is typical of the interdependence often seen in nature. It is only appropriate that Bertha should die in fire, an element of nature that mirrors her own temperament. It is also fitting that Rochester is injured in the fire. Rochester’s wounds symbolize his connection with Bertha and illustrate how one organism in nature’s ecosystem always affects another. As true to her natural rage Bertha is, St.John is equally vehemenant in his opposition to nature. St.John restricts his feelings and denies himself happiness. Though St.John loves, as he can love, a beautiful, young, and wealthy lady named Rosamond, he does not pursue her because she does not seem practical enough for him. St.John never experiences true joy and never experiences honesty; he is constantly denying his natural impulses. Jane realizes
St.John’s faults: “He is good and great, but severe; and for me, cold as an iceberg. He is not like you sir. I am not happy at his side, nor near him, nor with him” (425; Ch.37). Jane could never be happy with St.John because he, as she points out, is not her type – he is not natural.
Nature plays a vital role in the events of Jane Eyre; nature is the force that allows Jane and Rochester to meet. Jane, on an afternoon walk, watches Rochester’s horse slip on a sheet of ice. Feeling “officious,” Jane bravely offers her help and meets the man who will become her love. It seems that almost every good thing in Jane Eyre occurs outdoors. When Jane and Rochester first reveal their true feelings of love to one another they are in a garden – surrounded by nature. Nature, on the same fateful night, warns Rochester and Jane of the obstacles their love will have to overcome, a chestnut tree in the garden is split by lightning. This omen proves true and Rochester remembers the warning: “I am no better than the old lightning-struck chestnut tree in Thornfield’s orchard, and what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness” (425; Ch.37)? Jane reassures Rochester: “You are no ruin sir – no lightning- struck tree: you are green and vigorous” (425;Ch.37). When Jane leaves, Rochester becomes distraught. Fittingly, Rochester’s surroundings reflect his feelings. Jane notices on her way to visit Rochester that “There were no flowers, no garden-beds; only a broad gravel walk girdling a grass plot . . . ‘quite a desolate spot’” (412; Ch.37). When Rochester sees Jane again and the two vow to love and live together always, Rochester regains his natural vigor: “The sky is no longer a blank to him – the earth no longer a void” (432; Ch.38). Jane and Rochester, seeming to understand their
relationship and dependence with nature, accept it. Jane tells Rochester toward the novel’s end, “we will go home through the wood; that will be the shadiest way” (427; Ch.37). This statement recognizes nature’s importance in their lives and seems to acknowledge that for them the natural way is the most honest, pleasing, and fitting way.


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