Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë Summary and Analysis Chapter 23

Summary

It is a beautiful midsummer's night. As the sun sets, Jane walks around the gardens of Thornfield, enjoying the solemn purple that colors the sky. Smelling Rochester's cigar from a window, Jane moves into the more secluded space of the orchard. But Rochester is now in the garden. Jane tries to escape unseen, but he speaks to her, asking her to look at an interesting moth. Although uncomfortable being alone with Rochester at night, Jane is unable to find a reasonable excuse for leaving him.

During their ensuing conversation, Rochester tells Jane she'll soon need to leave Thornfield forever because he's finally marrying Miss Ingram, whom he humorously calls "an extensive armful." Rochester teasingly tells her of a governess position, undertaking the education of the five daughters of Mrs. Dionysius O'Gall of Bitternutt Lodge in Ireland. Together they sit on a bench under a chestnut-tree to discuss Jane's trip. Now Rochester admits his strong feelings for Jane, and she reveals her love for him. He proposes marriage. At first Jane doesn't believe he's serious, but she reads the truth in his face and accepts his proposal. He savagely declares that God has sanctioned their union, so he doesn't care what society thinks of the relationship.

A flash of lightning sends them rushing home through the rain. They are soaked, and when Rochester helps her out of her coat, he kisses her repeatedly. Jane looks up to see Mrs. Fairfax watching, pale and amazed. During the night, lightning splits the great chestnut tree in two.

Analysis

Throughout this chapter, nature symbolically mimics Jane's feelings. Blissfully spending time with Rochester, Jane notices that "a band of Italian days had come from the South, like a flock of glorious passenger birds, and lighted to rest them on the cliffs of Albion." Everything is in its "dark prime," as the apex of Jane and Rochester's relationship is reached. On this splendid midsummer's evening, Jane notes the sky is "burning with the light of red jewel and furnace flame at one point"; the sky, like their love is passionate, flaming. Not a delicate white jewel, the heavens now glow with a fervent red. Ripe and blooming, the world offers various sensual pleasures; the gooseberry-tree is laden with fruit large as plums; the sweet-briar, jasmine, and rose have yielded a "sacrifice of incense"; Rochester tastes the ripe cherries as he walks through the garden; and the nightingale sings. This moment combines material pleasures with the spiritual pleasures of a "sacrifice of incense" and Jane's feeling that she could "haunt" the orchard forever.

But the world has changed by the end of the chapter: The chestnut tree under which Rochester proposed now ails, "writhing and groaning" in the roaring wind. Thunder and lightning crack and clash, so Jane and Rochester are forced to race back to the house in the pouring rain. The relationship has reached the zenith of ripeness, and a fallow, tragic time is on the way, symbolized by this raging storm. During the night, lightning splits the great chestnut tree, foreshadowing the separation that will soon befall Jane and Rochester.

The chapter also continues themes discussed earlier, such as the problems of class difference and the spiritual nature of their relationship. Early in their conversation, Rochester treats Jane like a good servant: Because she's been a "dependent" who has done "her duty," he, as her employer, wants to offer her assistance in finding a new job. Jane confirms her secondary status, referring to Rochester as "master," and believing "wealth, caste, custom" separate her from her beloved, even though she "naturally and inevitably" loves him. In this quote, Jane creates her love for Rochester as essential and uncontrollable, and, therefore, beyond the bounds of class. Similarly, Rochester argues that an almost magical cord connects him to Jane. Yet she also believes Rochester may be playing with her feelings, that he may see her as an automaton, "a machine without feelings"; because she is "poor, obscure, plain, and little," he may mistakenly think she is also "soulless and heartless." At this point, she speaks to him beyond the "medium of custom, conventionalities," even flesh, and her spirit addresses his spirit in a relationship of equality. Again, Jane creates equality by moving the relationship outside of the material world, and into the spiritual: At "God's feet," they can stand side-by-side, rather than with Rochester leading, Jane following.

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