The development of Jane Eyre’s character is central to Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre. The novel charts the growth of Jane, the first-person narrator, from her unhappy childhood with her nasty relatives, the Reeds, to her blissful marriage to Rochester at Ferndean. Reading, education, and creativity are all essential components of Jane's growth. From the beginning, Jane possesses a sense of her self-worth and dignity, a commitment to justice and principle, a trust in God, and a passionate disposition. Her integrity is continually tested over the course of the novel, and Jane learns to balance the frequently conflicting aspects of herself so as to find contentment.
An orphan since early childhood, Jane feels exiled and ostracized at the beginning of the novel, and the cruel treatment she receives from her Aunt Reed and her cousins only enhance her feeling of alienation. Afraid that she will never find a true sense of home or community, Jane feels the need to belong somewhere, to find “kin,” or at least “kindred spirits.” This desire tempers her equally intense need for autonomy and freedom.
In her struggle for freedom, Jane is met with fierce opposition at each stage of life from those around her, often because of her low social class and lack of economic independence. Yet, Jane maintains her independent spirit, growing stronger in her beliefs and ideals with each conflict. Although artistic and educational pursuits are essential elements of Jane's personality, she also feels a need to assert her identity through rebellion. In the opening chapters of the novel, Jane refers to herself as a "rebel slave," and throughout the story she opposes the forces that prevent her from finding happiness: Mrs. Reed's unfair accusations, Brocklehurst’s harsh treatment at Lowood, Rochester's attempt to make her his mistress, and much later, St. John's desire to transform her into a missionary wife. She has to face the greatest shock of her life when she learns that Mr. Rochester has a wife. She refuses to give in to the temptation of staying with Mr. Rochester as his mistress. At this point her moral strength and determination are demonstrated in her decision to flee from Thornfield.
During the days with the Rivers family, Jane gets the chance to develop further her self-confidence. Not only does she have acceptance from a wholesome family, she is also influenced by the positive way the pupils at her new school respond to her. Jane's episode with St. John is another opportunity for self-discovery. Although she admires his piety, she does not accept his stern outlook. She especially dislikes his tendency to dominate her. Only after much struggle is she able to overcome his influence over her.
Only after she has attained the financial independence and self-esteem to maintain a marriage of equality does Jane allow herself to marry Mr. Rochester and enjoy a life of love.
Jane's personality balances social awareness with spiritual power. Throughout the novel, Jane is referred to as an imp, a fairy. Jane identifies herself as a special, magical creature. Connecting herself with the mythical beings in Bessie's stories, Jane is affiliated with the realms of imagination, with the fantastic. Jane's psychic abilities aren't merely imaginary: her dreams and visions have a real impact on her life. For example, supernatural experiences, heralds of visions "from another world," foreshadow drastic changes in Jane's life, such as her move from Rochester’s house, or her rediscovery of Rochester after their time apart. Thus, Jane's spirituality isn't a purely Christian one — in fact, she rejects many of the Christian characters in the novel, such as St. John Rivers, Eliza Reed, and Mr. Brocklehurst — but a mixture of Christian and pagan ideas. Like nature, Jane's God is filled with bounty, compassion, and forgiveness — qualities lacking in many of the spiritual leaders she criticizes in the novel.
Charlotte Brontë may have created the character of Jane Eyre as a means of coming to terms with elements of her own life. At many points in the book, Jane voices the author’s then-radical opinions on religion, social class, and gender.