The Archetypal Conflict in Jane Eyre

           Men and women have always dealt with conflicts in their relationships.  Even though each generation faces different issues, all couples have issues.  Jane and Rochester’s relationship is so full of conflict that it seems almost impossible for their love to survive.  Brontë attempts to simplify and justify the relationship by alluding to classic Biblical couples such as Adam and Eve and Samson and Delilah.  Brontë’s allusions reveal not only the archetypal nature of Jane and Rochester’s relationship, but also of all romantic interactions.

            Idolatry plays a key role in human nature and thus, the archetypal conflict.  It does not only include molten calves and graven images; “idolatry… involves putting a created person or object in the place that rightfully belongs to God” (Searle 39).  Eve idolized the “knowledge of good and evil” that God possessed and was tempted by Satan into eating the fruit in order to obtain it (King James Version Gen. 2.17).  The Fall that follows this transgression is Eve’s punishment for breaking the law of God and, consequently, Adam’s punishment because he “hearkened unto the voice of [his] wife” and also ate the fruit (King James Version Gen. 3.17).  Jane and Rochester encounter a similar situation.  Searle claims that “Rochester’s love for Jane is idolatrous” because he knows “that it is an illegitimate passion for him to pursue as a married man” (41).  Much like the Hebrews’ choice to worship the molten calf even though they knew no real miracles could come from it, Rochester chooses to love Jane despite the fact that he could never legally marry her.  Rochester’s idolatrous love has an effect on Jane who begins to see him as “almost [her] hope of heaven” (Brontë 279).  And thus their punishment ensues as Jane feels she must escape the house that was once her Eden, and Rochester loses the innocent love Jane once provided him.  Because neither of them can “see God for his creature of whom [they] had made an idol,” they must endure the consequences and learn from their mistakes (Brontë 279).

Another major issue in the relationships between men and women is that of equality.  In the Garden of Eden, equality is not an issue between Adam and Eve.  The perfect atmosphere in the garden lends itself to harmony.  Brontë first introduces the Edenic atmosphere in the Thornfield garden. Here, late at night and seemingly isolated as Adam and Eve were, Rochester confesses that he feels “as if [he] had a string somewhere under [his] left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of [Jane’s] little frame” (Brontë 256).  Rochester’s noting of the connection he feels to Jane emphasizes the archetypal relationship between the two.  Jane and Rochester are essentially made for each other like Eve was created from “the rib, which the Lord God had taken from [Adam]” (King James Version Gen. 2.21-22).  While “in the temporary bliss of the ‘Eden-like’ Thornfield garden,” Rochester feels much more comfortable confessing his love for Jane because “the dangerous tensions in the lovers’ relationship seem readily resolved” (Yeazell 131-132).  The “tensions” they have been facing—“economics,…class,…moral codes”—do not affect them in their brief paradise (Rule 166).  Conversation is unfiltered, interaction unmonitored.  In a place where there is no society, there is no impropriety in the love between a master and his governess.

Even though Thornfield appears to be the Garden of Eden at that moment, it is not.  Unlike Eden, Thornfield already has a history and its “Fall has already taken place” (Yeazell 132).  If the Fall has already occurred, then the couple is thrust out of the garden into a world where their perfect union is under attack.  Like the “horse-chestnut at the bottom of the orchard [that] ha[s] been struck by lightning in the night, and half of it split away,” Jane and Rochester’s love is now subject to “the division and doubleness to which a fallen world is liable” (Brontë 261; Yeazell 133).  Jane and Rochester will now have to test their love in the real world and under the judgmental view of society.

This test proves too much, and it becomes apparent that equality is not attainable at Thornfield.  Jane cannot “bear being dressed like a doll by Mr. Rochester” (Brontë 273).  Even if “Rochester wishes to marry Jane because… they will be able to enter a relationship of equals,” his constant gifts and indulgences establish him as the dominating figure in their relationship (Phillips 203).  Jane is wary of the direction their relationship is heading because she knows that they must “erase the inequality… if [their] marriage is even to aspire to make good its claims to being the best earthly chance of sustained love” (Phillips 205).  After she discovers Rochester’s secret, Jane comes to the realization that they will never be equal and their marriage will never work if she stays at Thornfield.

After spending a year away, she returns and finds Rochester at his other home, Ferndean. Here is the final chance for equality.  Brontë uses many allusions to the story of Samson in this section. First, Rochester is now blind just as Samson was when “the Philistines… put out his eyes” (King James Version Judg. 16.21).  Through vision, a person makes their decisions about the world. They decide their favorite color, flower, piece of artwork, or type of architecture.  What a person sees contributes to who they are. Milton’s Samson is bitter about his blindness and wonders “why [is] the sight/ To such a tender ball as the eye confined” (616).  A valid question. If sight is so vital, then why is it so easily destroyed?  Sight is more than the objects people view through their eyes; it is the perception from which they view these objects.  A person’s values are affected by their vision.  Ever since Rochester “was thrust on to a wrong tack at the age of one and twenty,” he has felt “hampered, burdened, and cursed” (Brontë 137, 138).  His perception of the world is a negative one, so he has been living a degenerative life.  It is only when his sight is taken from him in the fire that he gains “renewed moral vision” (Rule 168).  “See[ing] with [his] sightless eyes,” he has resolved to “lead henceforth a purer life than [he] ha[s] done hitherto” (Brontë 441, 456).  He is now equal with Jane on her spiritual and moral views.  Second, Jane wishes to “comb out [Rochester’s] shaggy black mane” like Delilah “caused [a man] to shave off the seven locks of [Samson’s] head”  (Brontë 445; King James Version Judg. 16.19).  Although the motivations differ between “the treacherous Delilah… [and] the virtous Jane,” both women are attempting to take something from the men; Delilah, Samson’s strength, and Jane, Rochester’s roughness (Fjagesund 451).  In her process to “rehumanise” him, Jane “is only bringing [Rochester] down from his titanic, Byronic height to a level where they are truly equals” (Brontë 443; Rule 168).  Now that Jane knows he is “dependent upon another”—herself—, she is free to choose to serve him without the loss of her independence (Brontë 447).  Now that they are equals, she feels no guilt in loving and serving him.  Finally, just as Samson had to die in the process of destroying the building in Gaza to be avenged of the Philistines, Rochester’s old life must be destroyed along with Thornfield in order for there to be equality between Jane and him.  The “blackened ruin” that Jane sees when she returns to Thornfield and Rochester’s “mutilated limb” are both evidences of the destruction his old life has had on him (Brontë 432, 444).  Even though the scars and ruins will always remain, Rochester and Jane now have an opportunity to share a “relationship of equals” (Phillips 203).  On the grounds of Ferndean, their true Eden, Jane and Rochester “stand stripped not of clothing,” as Adam and Eve were, “but of all differences” that have previously hindered their relationship (Rule 167-168).  Now that they have achieved equality, they are truly “one flesh” (King James Version Gen. 2.24).

These allusions to Biblical couples “should signal… that Brontë is associating the individual, particular confrontation between Jane and Rochester with the universal, archetypal confrontation between the sexes” (Rule 165-166).  While Jane’s predicament with Rochester is very specific and uncommon, the basic source of their struggles—idolatry and the fight for equality—are a part of every relationship there has ever been.  While the relationships between Jane and Rochester and Adam and Eve are not perfect, their relationships remain valid and worthwhile.  By alluding to the couples that humans have used as examples for love throughout time, Brontë disproves the existence of a perfect relationship.  Knowing that it is impossible to obtain perfection, couples can accept their problems and “live entirely for and with what [they] love best on earth” (Brontë 459).

Works Consulted

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Signet Classics, 1962.

Fjagesund, Peter. “Samson and Delilah: Chapter 37 of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.” English Studies 5 (1999) : 449-453.

Gordon, Lyndall. Charlotte Brontë A Passionate Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994.

Holy Bible: King James Version. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979.

Milton, John. “Samson Agonistes.” The Portable Milton. Ed. Douglas Bush. New York: The Viking Press, 1949. 610-664.

Peters, John G. “ ‘We Stood at God’s Feet, Equal’: Equality, Subversion, and Religion in Jane Eyre.” Brontë Studies 29 (2004) : 53-64.

Phillips, James. “Marriage in Jane Eyre: From Contract to Conversation.” Brontë Studies 33 (2008) : 203-217.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1966.

Rody, Caroline. “Burning Down the House: The Revisionary Paradigm of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea.” Wide Sargasso Sea: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Judith L. Raiskin. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. 217-225.

Rule, Phillip C. “The Function of Allusion in Jane Eyre.” Modern Language Studies  15.4 (1985) : 165-171.

Searle, Alison. “An Idolatrous Imagination? Biblical Theology and Romanticism in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.” Christianity and Literature 56.1 (2006) : 35-61.

Shell, Alison. “Re-Reading Jane Eyre as a Christian Allegory.” Brontë Studies 31 (2006) : 61-62.

Sherry, Norman. “Christian Themes in Jane Eyre.” Readings on Jane Eyre. The Greenhaven Press Literary Companion to British Literature. Ed. Jill Karson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000. 84-91.

Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. “A Mirror for Men: Stereotypes of Women in Literature.” The Massachusetts Review 13.1/2 (1972) : 205-218.

Yeazell, Ruth Bernard. “More True Than Real: Jane Eyre’s ‘Mysterious Summons.’ ” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 29.2 (1974) : 127-143.

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