The Tension between Reason and Passion in Jane Eyre | Sunday Observer

The Tension between Reason and Passion in Jane Eyre

In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë uses various characters to embody aspects of reason and passion, thereby establishing a tension between the two. In fact, it could be argued that these various characters are really aspects of her central character, Jane, and in turn, that Jane is a fictionalised version of Brontë herself. From this it could be argued that the tension between these two aspects really takes place only within her own head. Brontë is able to enact this tension through her characters and thus show dramatically the journey of a woman striving for balance within her nature.

Fictional world

A novel creates its own internal world through the language that it uses, and this fictional world may be quite independent from the real physical world in which we live. Writing in the style of an autobiography, Brontë distinguishes Jane Eyre, who quite clearly from the purely fictional worlds of Angria and Glasstown, locates her work within the world of Victorian England. But although Brontë's world is undoubtedly based on nineteenth-century society, it should be remembered that the world conjured in Jane Eyre is not reality: it is but a world constructed by Brontë in which to tell a story.

A novel based only on the mores and customs of Victorian society would surely hold limited appeal today, except as a historical document, yet Jane Eyre retains power and force even in a post-modern world, as shown by its continued popularity and the many TV and film versions it has inspired. Perhaps Jane Eyre retains such power and relevance because Charlotte fabricated the book from the cloth of her own psyche, her own passionate nature, and so, although our culture has changed drastically since the book was written, the insights into human nature which Brontë gave us remain.

Charlotte's avatar

Jane herself is Charlotte's most highly resolved character. Over the course of the book readers come to know every aspect of her intimately as she moves through Brontë's world. Readers also come to know her through her reflections, as she embodies aspects of the other characters. Charlotte seems to know Jane intimately, so intimately that it seems likely that Jane is Charlotte's avatar within her fictional world. If Brontë is Jane, it follows that the other characters which came from Brontë might also be aspects of Jane. Through these aspects we see a development of tension within Jane between emotional and logical natures, and this tension is played out in the events of the book.

Taking this argument further, if the book is seen as a reflection of Brontë's own psyche, the source of the various supernatural events described within the book must be Brontë herself. Thus she not only plays the main character in her story but also the supporting cast and the spiritual force which intervenes on Jane's behalf at crucial moments throughout. In this light Jane's meeting with her cousins, which many critics have seen as intolerably far-fetched suddenly makes sense. There are no coincidences in this book. Jane is kept from harm by the ever-present pen of her creator, just as Charlotte herself presumably felt protected and guided by her own protestant faith. Jane meets her cousins because Charlotte felt it was time for her to do so. No other explanation is required.

Eventual reconciliation

Passion and reason, their opposition and eventual reconciliation, serve as constant themes throughout the book. From Jane's first explosion of emotion when she rebels against John Reed, Jane is powerfully passionate. Just as Bertha's passion destroys Thornfield, Jane's passion, which destroys her ties to Gateshead, leaves the way clear for her progression to the next chapter of her life at Lowood. However, as Bertha's passion eventually proves fatal, it becomes clear that Jane must gain control over her passion or be destroyed. We see the dangers of nature and passion untempered by reason in the scene in which Charlotte almost marries Rochester. Jane cannot ‘see God for his creature’ of whom she has ‘made an idol.’ If the God of the novel is Charlotte, and Jane is Charlotte's creature, we can see that in losing sight of God through overwhelming passion for Mr Rochester, Jane runs the risk of loosing herself, of losing sight of Charlotte who she embodies. In this case, passion nearly gains a victory over reason. Jane nearly looses her own personality in her overwhelming love. Only Brontë's intercession through the medium of the supernatural preserves her character from passionate dissolution in the arms of Rochester.

Passionate nature

The opposite is true when Jane is tempted to marry St John. Jane longs ‘to rush down the torrent of his [St John's] will into the gulf of his existence, and there to loose my own’ Again Jane almost looses herself, however, this time reason is nearly the victor. Jane's passionate nature is nearly entrapped by St John's icy reason and self control. Once again Charlotte intercedes on her characters behalf, this time with a disembodied voice which directs her to return to Rochester, and saves her passionate nature from destruction. St John's death in India could be said to show the danger that Charlotte saw in icy reason without emotion. Conversely, Bertha's death in a conflagration of her own making shows the danger of the unthinking passion which Jane feels for Rochester. Thus, these two deaths could be said to represent the more subtle death of individuality, in which Jane risks loosing herself and her separate identity. 

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