How does Charlotte Brontë incorporate elements of the Gothic tradition into the novel?
In the Gothic literary tradition, the narrative structure of a text is meant to evoke a sense of horror or suspense, often through the use of the supernatural, hidden secrets, mysterious characters, and dark passion. Brontë incorporates each of these elements into the novel and especially highlights the importance of the mysterious Byronic hero in the form of Mr. Rochester. Brontë also emphasizes the Gothic nature of Thornfield Hall and incorporates the figure of the Madwoman in the Attic as the primary conflict of the novel. Brontë uses these Gothic elements as a way to heighten the tension and emotion over the course of the narrative, as well as to reveal an almost supernatural connection between Jane and Mr. Rochester.
Is Jane Eyre a likable protagonist? Why or why not?
Jane is an atypical heroine for the Victorian period, and even for contemporary literature, because she is not beautiful in a traditional sense. Unlike Georgiana and Blanche Ingram, who are each lauded as exceptional beauties in the text, Jane is small and slight, with ordinary features and a slightly elvish appearance. With that in mind, Jane is particularly likable protagonist because she is not an idealized figure; her personal and physical faults make her seem more realistic and allow readers to relate to her more closely. At the same time, however, Jane's firm morality and harsh rejection of Mr. Rochester may seem rather cold and unlikable to the more passionate readers. Still, Jane's independent spirit and courage against all obstacles ensure that she is a protagonist to be valued and encouraged.
How does Jane Eyre compare to Bertha Mason?
As the stereotypical Madwoman in the Attic, Bertha is presented as a clear antagonist to Jane in the novel. Not only does she personify the chaos and dark animal sensuality that contrasts so sharply to Jane's calm morality, Bertha is ultimately the sole obstacle between Jane and Mr. Rochester and their eventual happiness. However, while Jane and Bertha seem to be wholly distinct from each other, Bronte does suggest that the two characters have significant similarities. Although Jane is calm and controlled as an adult, she exhibits much of the same passion and bestiality as a child that Bertha displays in her madness. Moreover, though Jane leaves Thornfield rather than become Mr. Rochester's mistress, she still possesses the same qualities of sensuality as Bertha but is simply more successful at suppressing them.
How does the novel comment on the position of women in Victorian society?
As a woman, Jane is forced to adhere to the strict expectations of the time period. Thought to be inferior to men physically and mentally, women could only hope to achieve some sort of power through marriage. As a governess, Jane suffers under an even more rigid set of expectations that highlight her lower-class status. With this social construct in mind, Jane has a submissive position to a male character until the very end of the novel. At Lowood, she is subservient to Mr. Brocklehurst; at Moor House, she is under the direct control of St. John Rivers; and even at Thornfield, she is in a perpetually submissive position to Mr. Rochester. Over the course of the narrative, Jane must escape from each of these inferior positions in an effort to gain her own independence from male domination. After her uncle leaves her his fortune, Jane is able to achieve this independence and can marry Mr. Rochester on her own terms, as an equal. Yet, Bronte emphasizes that Jane's sudden inheritance and resulting happy ending are not typical for women during the time period. Under most circumstances, Jane would be forced to maintain a subservient position to men for her entire life, either by continuing her work as a governess or by marrying an oppressive husband.
Considering his treatment of Bertha Mason, is Mr. Rochester a sympathetic or unsympathetic character?
Although Mr. Rochester's treatment of Bertha may seem to be cruel, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for his situation. Mr. Rochester married Bertha under false pretenses; he was unaware of her hereditary madness and was swept away by her exotic beauty and charm. After discovering his wife's madness, Mr. Rochester does not cast her out but rather attempts to make her life as comfortable as possible. Although Bertha's chamber in Thornfield seems inhumane, it is important to note that the conditions in madhouses of the time period would have been far worse. Mr. Rochester also is more sympathetic when we consider his extreme unhappiness and loneliness: he was fooled by the appearance of love and has been paying for his mistake ever since.
How does Mr. Rochester compare to St. John Rivers?
Throughout the novel, Bronte associates Mr. Rochester with fire and passion and St. John Rivers with ice and cold detachment. Bronte also presents Jane's potential union with each man as profoundly different. With Mr. Rochester, Jane would be forced to sacrifice her morality and sense of duty for the sake of passion. With St. John Rivers, however, Jane would have to sacrifice all sense of passion for the sake of religious duty. Significantly, Bronte also suggests that St. John may not be too different from Mr. Rochester. He is passionately in love with Rosamond Oliver, and his feelings for Rosamond seem to mirror Mr. Rochester's fiery emotions for Jane. However, St. John forces himself to suppress his feelings in favor of a cold evangelical exterior and, as a result, lives his life in solitude.
Why is Jane unable to stay with Mr. Rochester after his marriage to Bertha Mason is revealed?
Although Jane is very much in love with Mr. Rochester, she is unable to give in to the passion that she feels. Her eight years at Lowood School and her conversations with Helen Burns taught her the importance of suppressing passion and lust with morality and a sense of duty. If Jane were to stay with Mr. Rochester, it could only be as his mistress, and Jane is unwilling to sacrifice her sense of right and wrong in order to placate her personal desires. However, because Jane's love for Mr. Rochester is so strong, she realizes that she will be unable to resist him and her own desires if she remains at Thornfield Manor. Thus, when Jane leaves Thornfield, she sacrifices her personal happiness in order to save them both from committing a sin that would destroy the purity of their love.
What is the significance of Charlotte Brontë ending the novel with a statement from St. John Rivers?
In the last chapter of the novel, Brontë describes Jane's happiness with Mr. Rochester: they have married, had children, and Mr. Rochester has regained sight in one of his eyes. Yet, instead of ending the book on this happy note, Brontë concludes the novel with a letter from St. John in India in which he mentions a premonition of his death. St. John has done his duty to God by working as a missionary in India, but his existence still seems small and lonely in comparison to the joyous life that Jane has made with Mr. Rochester. Brontë suggests that even the most pious life is meaningless if it is devoid of love. St. John has a chance for love with Rosamond Oliver, but he sacrificed his happiness with her because he did not believe that love could co-exist with religion. Jane's ending with Mr. Rochester demonstrates the falsity of St. John's beliefs and reminds the readers of what could have happened to Jane if she had given up her love for Mr. Rochester.
What is the role of family in the novel?
The novel traces Jane's development as an independent individual, but it can also be read as a description of her personal journey to find her family. In each of the five stages of the novel, Jane searches for the family that she has never known. At Gateshead, the Reed family is related to her by blood and, while Bessie serves as a sort of surrogate maternal figure, Jane is unable to receive the true love and affection that she desires. At Lowood, Jane finds another maternal figure in the form of Miss Temple, but again, the school does not become a true home to her. When Jane reaches Thornfield and meets Mr. Rochester, she finally finds the love and family for which she has thirsted: Thornfield becomes her home because of her love for Mr. Rochester. However, because of Mr. Rochester's existing marriage to Bertha Mason (a union which nullifies any of Jane's familial connections to the Manor), Jane must move on and attempt to replace the family that she has now lost. Ironically, when Jane stays at Moor House, she actually discovers her true family: the Rivers siblings are her cousins. Yet, Jane's true sense of family remains with the love she feels for Mr. Rochester and, by returning to him at Ferndean and finally accepting his marriage proposal, she is able to fulfill her desire for a true family at last.
How does the novel relate to Charlotte Brontë's personal life?
Many aspects of the novel are autobiographical. Lowood School is based on the Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge, where Jane and her sisters studied after their mother's death. Brontë's school has similarly poor conditions, and Brontë modeled Mr. Brocklehurst after the Reverend William Carus Wilson, an evangelical minister who managed the school. Brontë also informed the death of Helen Burns by recalling the deaths of her two sisters during a fever outbreak at their school. John Reed's descent into gambling and alcoholism relates to the struggles of Brontë's brother, Patrick Branwell, during the later years of his life. Most importantly, Jane's experience as a governess were modeled directly on Brontë's own experiences as a governess in wealthy families.
The 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions focus on varying themes and are each structured differently. For an overview of the three prompt types that you may encounter, read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs. Here we discuss the third FRQ prompt which allows you to choose a particular work of literature as the focus of your essay.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is a well-known classic novel. Herein we will discuss how to determine if the given prompt is appropriate for this particular literary work and give you an idea of what to review before your exam.
Jane Eyre AP English Lit Essay Themes
To choose a literary work to answer your prompt, it’s important to examine the themes which are outlined in the assigned essay. If the theme is not relevant or well established in a work, you will do well to choose another title to examine. The following are the main themes which you may discuss in your Jane Eyre AP English Lit Essay.
Love Vs Personal Freedom is a major theme in this novel. Jane struggles with the pursuit of meaningful relationships. She wants desperately to be loved, but not at the expense of her own values or sense of self-worth.
Religion is another prevalent theme in the story. Jane tries to find a balance between the religion she sees and her own ideas of morality. Eventually, she rejects the concrete idea of religion via the church but remains spiritually connected to God. She decides that she doesn’t need a structured religion to live a good life as a Christian.
Social Class is the third central theme in the book. Jane is a victim of Victorian England’s social class system. Because she was raised by the aristocratic caste, she feels uncomfortable in her role as a servant. It’s an internal struggle which she has to deal with causing her to speak out against the system, and it’s treatment of people.
How to use Jane Eyre for the 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
Jane Eyre is a well-known literary work, with which you should be familiar. It may well be a viable choice for the AP English Lit free response question. However, that is dependent on the question. Each year the 3rd FRQ is different, and the CollegeBoard supplies a list of suggested books to reference for your essay. The absence of a book from the list does not disqualify it from use, that being said; it’s important to know how to choose which book to use for the given analysis.
In preparation for your exam, it’s a good idea to read previous years’ free response questions posted on CollegeBoard. The following review is for the 2016 FRQ prompt.
2016 FRQ 3: Many works of literature contain a character who intentionally deceives others. The character’s dishonesty may be intended to either help or hurt. Such a character, for example, may choose to mislead others for personal safety, to spare someone’s feelings, or to carry out a crime.
Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.
Jane Eyre is on the suggested list for this prompt for obvious reasons. The theme of deception is represented by various characters in the story. The most prominent one is Edward Rochester, who lies to hide his insane wife in his attic. A possible thesis is as follows.
In Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester lives a life based on deceit. He pursues his own type of happiness by hiding his wife, lying, and working to please only himself. However, this life of deception and selfishness is unacceptable to Jane, causing a conflict central to the story.
To support this thesis, you may point out that Rochester tried to justify his wrongdoings to Jane and seemed to have even bought into his own deceit, as seen in the following quotes.
“Nature meant me to be, on the whole, a good man, Miss Eyre: one of the better end; and you see I am not so. […] Then take my word for it,—I am not a villain: you are not to suppose that—not to attribute to me any such bad eminence; but, owing, I verily believe, rather to circumstances than to my natural bent, I am a trite common-place sinner, hackneyed in all the poor petty dissipations with which the rich and worthless try to put on life.” (1.14.61)
“Besides, since happiness is irrevocably denied me, I have a right to get pleasure out of life: and I will get it, cost what it may.” (1.14.63-65)
However, Jane does not entirely buy into his explanations and argues that he would sully her if she allowed him to marry her, despite his ongoing marriage.
“And what will you do, Janet, while I am bargaining for so many tons of flesh and such an assortment of black eyes?”
“I’ll be preparing myself to go out as a missionary to preach liberty to them that are enslaved—your harem inmates amongst the rest. I’ll get admitted there, and I’ll stir up mutiny; and you, three-tailed bashaw as you are, sir, shall in a trice find yourself fettered amongst our hands: nor will I, for one, consent to cut your bonds till you have signed a charter, the most liberal that despot ever yet conferred.” (2.9.129-132)
To examine another possible use for Jane Eyre on your 2017 English Lit Exam we will take a look at another prompt.
2015 FRQ 3: In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.
Although Jane Eyre is not on the suggested list for this particular prompt, you can still write a well-thought out essay for the novel. Cruelty is an underlying theme throughout the story. A possible thesis is as follows. In Jane Eyre, the subject of cruelty manifests in both physical and psychological means of individuals and society. This abhorrent behavior shapes the character of Jane Eyre throughout her life, coloring the way she interacts with the world. The isolation and ostracization she experiences, early in her life, are the driving force behind her need to feel loved and accepted, later in the story.
To elaborate on this thesis and explain what it reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim, you will need to choose your examples and expand upon them. In the following quote, Jane is reminded, yet again, of her own poverty and told that she should be thankful for what little she has.
“You ought to be aware, Miss, that you are under obligations to Mrs. Reed: she keeps you: if she were to turn you off, you would have to go to the poor-house.”’You ought to be aware, Miss, that you are under obligations to Mrs. Reed: she keeps you: if she were to turn you off, you would have to go to the poor-house.’
I had nothing to say to these words: they were not new to me: my very first recollections of existence included hints of the same kind. This reproach of my dependence had become a vague sing-song in my ear; very painful and crushing, but only half intelligible.” (1.2.14-16)
In the next excerpt, Jane describes the way she was exiled even in a home filled with other children. She describes herself as something that does not fit with the household norm.
“I was a discord in Gateshead Hall; I was like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children, or her chosen vassalage. If they did not love me, in fact, as little did I love them. They were not bound to regard with affection a thing that could not sympathize with one amongst them; a heterogeneous thing, opposed to them in temperament, in capacity, in propensities; a useless thing, incapable of serving their interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment, of contempt of their judgment. I know that had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child—though equally dependent and friendless—Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently; her children would have entertained for me more of the cordiality of fellow-feeling; the servants would have been less prone to make me the scape-goat of the nursery.” (1.2.30)
Thanks to her upbringing, and the way she was looked down on for having no money, Jane has a fear of poverty.
“Poverty looks grim to grown people; still more so to children: they have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable poverty; they think of the world only as connected with ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners, and debasing vices: poverty for me was synonymous with degradation.” (1.3.63)
In the next passage, Jane explains how her isolation caused her to view school as a welcome change.
“I scarcely knew what school was; Bessie sometimes spoke of it as a place where young ladies sat in the stocks, wore backboards, and were expected to be exceedingly genteel and precise; John Reed hated his school, and abused his master: but John Reed’s tastes were no rule for mine, and if Bessie’s accounts of school-discipline (gathered from the young ladies of a family where she had lived before coming to Gateshead) were somewhat appalling, her details of certain accomplishments attained by these same ladies were, I thought, equally attractive. She boasted of beautiful paintings of landscapes and flowers by them executed; of songs they could sing and pieces they could play, of purses they could net, of French books they could translate; till my spirit was moved to emulation as I listened. Besides, school would be a complete change: it implied a long journey, an entire separation from Gateshead, an entrance into a new life.” (1.3.70)
In the following quotation, you will notice that Jane’s previous experiences with unjust cruelty made her unaccepting of the idea that one should be kind in response to cruelty.
“If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again. […] I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved.” (1.6.50, 52)
The experiences which Jane underwent in her childhood caused her to see her situation at Lowood in a different fashion than those people who may have come from a happy home.
“Probably, if I had lately left a good home and kind parents, this would have been the hour when I should most keenly have regretted the separation: that wind would then have saddened my heart; this obscure chaos would have disturbed my peace: as it was I derived from both a strange excitement, and reckless and feverish, I wished the wind to howl more wildly, the gloom to deepen to darkness, and the confusion to rise to clamour.” (1.6.14)
In the next excerpt, Jane explains that her need for approval and love supersedes her want to be morally just.
“’If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.’
No: I know I should think well of myself; but that is not enough: if others don’t love me, I would rather die than live—I cannot bear to be solitary and hated, Helen.’” (1.8.11-12)
The following passage illustrates how important a sense of family was to Jane, owing to her lack of family and love, during her childhood.
“‘And you,’ I interrupted, ‘cannot at all imagine the craving I have for fraternal and sisterly love. I never had a home, I never had brothers or sisters; I must and will have them now: you are not reluctant to admit me and own me, are you?’” (3.7.127)
In conclusion, Jane Eyre has many themes you may find helpful for the last Free Response Question on the AP English Literature Exam. When reading the prompt and deciding on what literary work to use for your essay, remember to choose a subject where the theme outlined in the given instructions is prevalent.
In the case of Jane Eyre, love vs. personal freedom, religion, and social classes are a few of the more prominent themes discussed. However, as we saw with the 2016 prompt example, this story has many underlying themes which you may examine for your Jane Eyre AP English Lit Essay.
For more help preparing for your AP English Literature exam we suggest you read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs. And, for writing advice for the AP English Lit free response questions, Albert.io’s AP English Literature section has practice free response sections with sample answers and rubrics.
Looking for AP English Literature practice?
Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.