A literary classic, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre critiques Victorian-era class and gender dynamics. Providing an overview of social hierarchy and treatment of women during the Victorian period will help students better understand the novel. Brontë incorporates elements from Romanticism and the Gothic, so students should learn about those literary movements and how they relate to the novel. Religion also serves an important role in this novel. Class discussion can examine how characters are depicted as religiously moral or hypocritical, how Christianity influences characters' actions, and how Brontë depicts the role of God.

Brontë's work is sometimes regarded as a proto-feminist piece. Students can discuss how her portrayal of Jane relates to feminist ideas of gender equality. Students can identify quotations or scenes that support or refute this feminist reading.

Jane Eyre contains advanced vocabulary that students may not know. While reading, students can highlight and define unfamiliar words. This activity will keep them more actively engaged with their reading and help them learn new words.

Summary

As a young orphan, Jane Eyre is raised by her cruel, wealthy aunt until she is sent away to Lowood School, where she endures further maltreatment. After staying at Lowood eight years, Jane gets a position as a governess at Thornfield manor and falls in love with her brooding employer, Mr. Rochester. Eventually, Mr. Rochester proposes, but on the day of their wedding, someone objects on the grounds that Mr. Rochester is already married. Mr. Rochester states that his wife, Bertha, has gone mad, and Jane, realizing that she can never be with Rochester, flees. Penniless, Jane befriends a clergyman, St. John, who helps her get a teaching job. St. John discovers Jane's true identity and reveals that her uncle, a mutual relative, has left her a large inheritance. St. John asks Jane to marry him and travel to India, but she refuses because she does not love him. Jane later imagines Mr. Rochester's voice and returns to Thornton to find him burned and maimed from a fire that killed Bertha. Jane cares for Mr. Rochester, and they soon marry.

Content Warning

Jane Eyre contains some violence.

Objectives for Teaching Jane Eyre

  • Point out and give examples of how descriptions of nature mirror the changes in Jane's life.
  • Define Romanticism and explain how this novel contains elements of Romanticism.
  • Comment on Jane's belief in premonitions, dreams, and intangible sympathetic connections between kin.
  • Identify reasons some readers consider this an early feminist novel.
  • List the qualities of an ideal Victorian woman.
  • Discuss the role of religion within the novel.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Foil
  • Foreshadowing
  • Gothic
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Romanticism
  • Simile
  • Symbol

Themes and Motifs

  • Social Class — Brontë critiques Victorian social hierarchy by depicting Jane as a figure with ambiguous class standing who is well-educated but penniless.
  • Love vs. Autonomy — Jane wants to gain love, both romantic and platonic, without sacrificing her independence.
  • Gender Roles —  The novel portrays the gendered expectations women face and uses marriage to illustrate the power dynamics between men and women.

Related Works

Theme of Social Class

 

Theme of Love vs. Autonomy

 

Theme of Gender Roles

Key Facts

  • Length: 480 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 890
  • Publication Date: 1847
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10 – 11

Movies

There are many film adaptations of Jane Eyre. The most notable version is the 2011 movie starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, and Judi Dench, which won a number of awards.

Your students will love:

  • Jane Eyre's intelligence and individualism
  • Following Jane as she overcomes adversity

Students may have problems with:

  • The advanced or dated vocabulary
  • The slow pacing and long, descriptive passages

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