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In the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, characters develop and change considerably; in particular, the character of Mr. Rochester demonstrates this clear character development. Mr. Rochester initially appears to be a profoundly unlikable person, one who acts with disregard towards others and follows a moral code that serves his best interests. He blatantly uses others in order to benefit himself. He lacks the ability to consider the consequences of his actions. Moreover, he seems ignorant to the hurt he causes and carries on with his life as though he has done nothing for which he must repent; he consistently acts deceitfully and betrays even the people he claims to love, ultimately driving people away from him. It seems that he has no intention to stop his behavior and appears satisfied with his condition in life. However, when he loses everything he considers valuable, he recognizes the countless mistakes he made and must fully accept the consequences of his behavior. Only by losing everything that gave him a sense of entitlement, does Mr. Rochester evolve from a man who acts only in his best interest to a caring and genuine person, as his experience forces him to repent for his past actions and realize humility.
Mr. Rochester initially presents himself as self-centered; he does not recognize or pay attention to the fact that his poor treatment of others has negative effects. The day he plans to marry Jane serves as a perfect example of his lack of regard for others. As Jane prepares for her wedding, Mr. Rochester does not disguise his frustration when he calls for Jane by yelling out to her in the same manner he would address a servant. “‘Jane!’ called a voice, and I hastened down. I was received at the foot of the stairs by Mr. Rochester. ‘Lingerer,’ he said, ‘my brain is on fire with impatience; and you tarry so long!’”(429). He shows his disrespect in the tone of voice and words he chooses. Jane always reacts when she hears Mr. Rochester speak, regardless of the tone he uses. When Mr. Rochester shows love towards Jane, she describes his demeanor romanticly, but in this case it startles her because he yells out brusquely. Throughout the novel, Jane never refers to the sound of Mr. Rochester’s voice as just a “voice,” but rather something more meaningful. She responds to his impatience immediately, exemplifying the power he holds over her as a result of his past behavior. She hurries down in an effort to please him and fears his anger. In addition, Jane points out that Mr. Rochester “received” her, almost as if he considers her an object. This further proves Mr. Rochester’s tendency to act in a condescending manner. As soon as he sees her, he immediately criticizes her. Of all the statements he could say upon seeing his bride for the first time on their wedding day, he chooses a negative one. He continues to express his irritation and seems determined to make her aware of what he considers her shortcomings. He describes that his “brain is on fire”, making it clear that she causes him trouble and pain. Although he should treat Jane with kindness and show her his happiness and devotion, instead he does the opposite. He finishes his verbal attack by reiterating his point that she takes too long.
As they walk to the church, his condescending behavior continues. Jane describes the moment, “My hand was held by a grasp of iron: I was hurried along by a stride I could hardly follow; and to look at Mr. Rochester’s face was to feel that not a second of delay would be tolerated for any purpose. I wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did — so bent up to a purpose, so grimly resolute: or who, under such steadfast brows, ever revealed such flaming eyes”(430). Mr. Rochester grasps her hand tightly, not tenderly. He causes Jane to think that he does not seem human; instead of feeling warm flesh, she feels a cold, iron stiff clamp around her hand. He rushes Jane so that she must struggle to keep up with him. True to his stern nature, Mr. Rochester does not seem to notice his affect on Jane. His actions alienate Jane because he seems so distant and cold when she believes he should cherish this bright and happy day in their relationship. His behavior causes her to question if other grooms act and appear like Mr. Rochester. The fact that she sees no glimmer of sincere interest and does not sense that he loves her causes Jane to doubt his motives and suspect he may not be genuine. This one instance shows Mr. Rochester’s disrespect, impatience and condescension; it serves as evidence that as a result of his selfishness he treats Janes poorly.
Mr. Rochester’s character evolves only after he loses all that he considers important and sees the roles reversed in his relationships. When Jane visits Ferndean she finds him in a weakened state. She immediately recognizes an astounding change in his demeanor. He tells her that her absence has caused him much suffering, “I longed for thee, Janet! Oh, I longed for thee both with soul and flesh! I asked of God, at once in anguish and humility, if I had not been long enough desolate afflicted, tormented; and might not soon taste bliss and peace once more”(673). He uses his endearing term for Jane, proving the sincerity of his remarks and his genuine love for her. The repetition of “I longed for thee” emphasizes the extent to which he wants and needs her. He further describes his longing by asserting that he desires her in “soul and flesh”. His declaration that he endeavors to appreciate every part of her indicates his sincere love for Jane and that his experiences have led him to value her. This authentic display of affection marks a point of evolution because he no longer focuses on himself but solely her. Also, the fact that he claims that he “asks God…in anguish and humility” demonstrates his willingness to give up his role of power. He relinquishes his pride when he implores god for peace, asking if he has not suffered enough. In this moment, he expresses humility by begging for god’s mercy and help. He no longer sits in a position of power and he has come to terms with his new reality, proving his evolution. Finally, by concluding his request of god with the words “once more”, it implies that he recognizes the blessings bestowed upon him before he endures his time of suffering. As he continues to recount the experience to Jane, he explains that “the alpha and omega of my heart’s wishes broke involuntarily from my lips in the words — ‘Jane! Jane! Jane!’” (673-674). The alpha and omega represents the beginning and the end, symbolizing that he believes Jane completes his life and expresses to her that his heart longs for her. He proclaims absolute devotion to her.
Even though Mr. Rochester must contend with blindness and the inability to function as he once did, he prioritizes Jane as most important in his life by wanting only her. This serves as a huge confession of his evolution because for once he puts someone else before his personal well being. He describes that his plea to god broke through his lips involuntarily. By using the verb “broke,” he demonstrates the strength of his love. Also, the fact that he makes these statements involuntarily solidifies his inability to control his heart, as it remains the strongest and most powerful force in his life. Unlike the day of his wedding, he speaks to Jane with affection. He calls to her in a manner that resembles his immense love and compassion. In contrast to his wedding day when he abruptly beckons for her, he now calls out her name three times, with a tone of sincerity, as he sits by the window yearning for her. The way in which he calls for her numerous times emphasizes his need for her, as though calling for her once does not truly express his need to see her. By peeling away the superficial elements of his life and feeling sripped of his pride, Mr. Rochester evolves as he realizes what he truly values in life. In his darkest moments, when he hit rock bottom, he clearly sees reality: he values Jane more than any of his possessions and even his pride. He achieves clarity only by enduring suffering and this experience causes him to evolve into a humbled man who knows what he truly values.
After Rochester evolves and attains the capacity to truly demonstrate love, Jane returns and they happily marry. Mr. Rochester’s evolution, indeed, serves as a crucial element to the successful renewal of their relationship. Rochester’s humility allows him to consider Jane his equal. This new level of equality serves their relationship well as it provides a foundation of mutual respect. Mr. Rochester must rely on Jane, but he does not seem humiliated when he accepts both Jane’s help and her love. He no longer lives life with the same outlook and therefore disregards what he once would have considered humiliating. An additional aspect of his evolution gives him clarity about what he truly desires. His sincere love for Jane and his ability to express it matches the love and admiration Jane always felt for Rochester. Mr. Rochester must undergo a renewal of himself before he can renew his relationship with Jane.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: The Modern Library, 2000. (Print)
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