Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre charts the release and development of a free woman's spirit. The plot of this novel shows the protagonist, Jane Eyre, in three phases. She begins her life as an orphan, despised and unwillingly brought up by her Aunt Mrs. Reed. Slowly she acquires self-reliance. Her sense of confidence increases further as she becomes older. Finally she blooms into "a free human being with an independent will."
Jane's Gateshead Hall days are days of extreme emotional deprivation. She is excluded from the family circle and bullied by her aunt and cousins. One day Jane’s aunt imprisons Jane in the red-room, where Jane’s Uncle Reed died. While locked in, Jane, believing that she sees her uncle’s ghost, screams and faints. This red-room incident has a permanent imprint on Jane’s mind. Finally, she is sent to Lowood School. There she receives her education but is subject to extreme physical deprivation under the supervision of Mr. Brocklehurst, a cruel, hypocritical, and abusive man. At Lowood, Jane befriends a young girl named Helen Burns, whose strong, martyrlike attitude toward the school’s miseries is both helpful and displeasing to Jane. Miss Temple, Jane’s teacher at Lowood, has a positive influence and obviously helps to mould Jane into the woman she is when she leaves for Thornfield.
During her next phase in life, Jane becomes a governess to Adèle, the ward of Mr. Rochester. She has to face some competition for Rochester's love from Blanche Ingram, a beautiful and accomplished lady of a superior social rank. Eventually, she considers herself to have emerged victorious over her antagonist, Blanche, and seriously contemplates marrying Mr. Rochester. However, a real barrier to her love exists in the form of an invisible antagonist, who is none other than the lunatic, Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester's lawful wife. Unaware of Bertha's existence on the third storey of Thornfield Hall, Jane falls desperately in love with the Rochester. At this point even Mr. Rochester is her antagonist, for he can offer her only a bigamous marriage. After knowing that, it becomes impossible for her to be with Rochester, and Jane flees Thornfield.
Penniless and hungry, Jane is forced to sleep outdoors and beg for food. Finally, she finds refuge with the Rivers, who are actually her cousins. She inherits a fortune of twenty-thousand pounds from her uncle in Madeira. Jane immediately decides to share her inheritance equally with her three newfound relatives. Her cousin, St. John Rivers, finds in Jane a capacity for hard work and a missionary zeal. As he is planning a religious mission to India, he wants her to accompany him as his wife. He offers her a marriage without love. At this point, Mr. Rochester's mysterious cry, borne by the wind, spurs Jane to run from a loveless union with her willful cousin. In his attempt to make her comply with him and turn from her natural inclinations, St. John is the last of her antagonists.
Anxiety about Mr. Rochester makes her undertake her journey to Thornfield. She learns about the Thornfield fire and Bertha's death from an innkeeper. The climax of the novel occurs here. With Bertha's removal from the scene of action, the plot moves towards a resolution. It is certain by now that nothing will come in the way of Mr. Rochester and Jane. With the marriage of Jane and the disfigured and blind Rochester in the Ferndean section of the novel, the plot reaches a denouement. At the end of her story, Jane writes that she has been married for ten blissful years of perfect equality. Rochester regained sight in one eye and was able to behold their first son at his birth.
Primarily of the bildungsroman genre, Jane Eyre focuses is on the gradual unfolding of Jane's moral and spiritual sensibility. The novel contains elements of social criticism, with a strong sense of morality at its core. It also contains a lot of Gothic elements.