Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë Summary and Analysis Chapter 31

Summary

Jane has moved to her new home: the schoolroom cottage at Morton. Classes begin with twenty students; only three can read and none can write or do arithmetic. Some are docile and want to learn, while others are rough and unruly. Rather than feeling proud of her work, Jane feels degraded. She knows these feelings are wrong and plans to change them. Did she make the right decision, Jane wonders? Is it better to be a "free and honest" village schoolmistress or Rochester's mistress?

St. John interrupts Jane's reverie to offer her a gift from his sisters: a watercolor box, pencils, and paper. Jane assures him that she's happy with her new position. Seeing that Jane's discontent, he tells her his story. He, too, felt he had made a mistake by entering the ministry and longed for an exciting literary or political career, a profession that might bring him glory, fame, and power. Then one day he heard God's call, telling him to become a missionary, work requiring the best skills of the soldier, statesman, and orator. St. John has only to cut one more human tie and he will leave for India to fulfill his dream.

After he says this, their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a beautiful young woman dressed in pure white: Rosamond Oliver. Jane wonders what St. John thinks of this "earthly angel"? Given the sudden fire she sees in his eye, Jane imagines he must be in love with Rosamond.

Analysis

Although Jane was quick to point out Hannah's class prejudices in Chapter 29, in this chapter Jane shows a lack of feeling for the peasants who are now her students. Jane chose this position, in part, to avoid becoming a governess/servant in the house of a rich family. Having met her uncultured students, Jane wonders if she has taken a step down the social ladder. Interestingly, when weighing her options in this chapter, Jane seems to have forgotten about the possibility of being a governess. Instead, she meditates on the merits of being caught in a "silken snare" as Rochester's mistress in the "fool's paradise at Marseilles," or of being "free and honest" as village schoolmistress in the "healthy heart of England." As before, a trade-off is made between the purity of England and the corruption of Europe; the British must go abroad to live out their illicit loves. Chastising herself for her criticism of her pupils, Jane tries not to forget that their "flesh and blood" is as good as that of the wealthy, and that the "germs of native excellence, refinement, intelligence, kind feeling, are as likely to exist in their hearts as in those of the best born." Jane's duty will be to develop the "germs," to transform the manners of the lower classes so they conform to upper-class standards of proper behavior. To St. John, Jane claims to be content to have friends, a home, and a job, when only five weeks earlier she was an outcast and beggar. Yet the seeds of her discontent are growing here, as they did at Lowood.

The chapter also develops St. John's personality. As Jane had guessed, he is riddled by restlessness and despair. Rather than becoming a priest, St. John would like to have been a politician, author, orator — any position that brought the possibility of glory, fame, and power. Instead, he is the clergyman for a poor and obscure parish. His solution is to become a missionary. Just as Jane retrains the minds of the lower classes in England, he will reform the values of the pagans in India. Both characters perpetuate a belief in British, Christian superiority. Both also confirm the supposed moral superiority of the upper classes. For instance, despite her documentation of the faults of the upper classes, she still seems to associate "refinement" and "intelligence" with the gentry, and "coarseness" and "ignorance" with the peasants. The iciness of St. John's character becomes more pronounced when he declares his intention to leave Morton after "an entanglement or two of the feelings" has been "broken through or cut asunder." This entanglement arrives in the form of Rosamond Oliver, who has "as sweet features as ever the intemperate clime of Albion moulded." Rosamond is the icon of British beauty and in love with St. John, yet he rejects her. While her appearance incites St. John like a thunderbolt, though he flushes and kindles at the sight of her petting his dog, St. John would rather turn himself into "an automaton," than succumb to her beauty or fortune. His ambition to forge a heroic career cuts St. John off from all deep human emotions. Perhaps, then, his religious zeal is the result of his repressed sexual feelings.

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