Academic | Essay Contest
Fairytale romances are, by definition, unfair. Fate is cheated, reality suspended, and the bumps in the path to everlasting happiness are paved over with one magical kiss. The sacrifice in the relationship is predominantly left to the woman; Cinderella works her fingers to the bone, Snow White spends her days with seven altitude-challenged males, and the Goose Girl cries her heart out into the horse's mane, but what does the prince ever do to deserve his bride? In a way, fairytales describe the core of realism: life is not fair. Thousands of marriages begin and fail simply because of inequality of feeling, nature, and sacrifice between the two parties involved. The fantastic element lies in the fact that two different individuals are able to live "happily ever after" without struggles or further trials. In its elements Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece combines both these extremes: it is a fairytale and a realistic romance.
Jane Eyre is structured around the titular character's formative years and experiences. When Jane takes a place as a governess at Thornfield Hall, the course of her life and the focus of the novel shift to include the powerful will and character of Mr. Rochester. Their first meeting on Hay Lane compels both Jane and Rochester to consider the other person with interest. There is an instant, though vague, attraction and a piercing understanding springs up that neither character has ever experienced with any other being. There is no true love's kiss. Rochester is unlike any man Jane has ever met: grim and harsh, but neither cruel nor hypocritical. Rochester recognizes in Jane an intellectual equal, despite her status as a governess. His understanding of her begins as he looks at her watercolors; in them he sees a peculiar, "elfish" imagination unlike that of any other woman he has known.
Their love develops through conversation and experience. Mr. Rochester calls Jane fairy-like and independent, but what he really means is that she is equal to him in spirit. His will is strong. Ever since his arranged marriage he has done nothing but attempt to satisfy his own desires. Nearly everyone around him does his will at the slightest command. In Jane, however, he has met his match. He has no purpose; she derives hers from unwavering faith in God. He can move anyone to do his bidding; she is unconquerable and unmovable. Her very nature rebels when called upon to do what she knows is wrong. Rochester values her willit is the force that binds his heart to hers more tightly than any other. In truth, Jane's spirit is her best quality. It is what makes her unique and strong. Rochester's greatest flaw is his prideful selfishness: he knows that Jane will not have him if he tells her the truth and so he conceals Bertha's existence from her. In his quest to get what he wants Rochester tries to destroy the part of Jane he loves the most. Most princes don't get half as much screen time.
Jane and Mr. Rochester may be equal in intelligence and understanding, but Jane is Rochester's infinite superior in morality. It is this that allows her to leave him when she knows how much it may harm him. She has respect for herself that will not be challenged, and therefore is independent of all other people, even the person she loves the most. She loves Rochester too much to allow herself to live with him as his mistress. Unfortunately, Rochester, though he professes to love her greatly, cannot let her leave. He underestimates both Jane and Jane's love in his quest to quench his longing for her. Selfishness appears in life and in fiction: Rochester's love is no fantasy. Jane's love is truer than Rochester's. True love based on sacrifice may seem fantastic, but it is a realistic trait. Few fairytales allow for any relationship development beyond first kiss and quick engagementit is only in the world that we find evidence of real true love.
Jane Eyre is no Cinderella, nor any other fairytale heroine. In such romances the prince is essential to the success of the princess's story. Not only must he rescue her from circumstances beyond her control, but he must also rescue her from a future as a miserable, poverty-stricken misfit. It is true that Edward Rochester casts a long shadow in Brontë's book, and that a happy ending culminating with Jane's marriage is the expectation of the reader. Yet, the time she spends with the Rivers family proves that Jane does not need Mr. Rochester in order to live a happy life. She can fulfill her intellectual needs and even her need for friendship and family in the company of her cousins. She comes very close to marrying St. John. The love of God that drives him in his purpose would be enough for her to live on. This is further proof: no fairytale princess would consider spending the rest of her life helping Rumplestiltskin spin straw into gold instead of marrying the king.
The time has come for the prince to show true love. When Jane returns to Mr. Rochester's presence she finds him blind, maimed, despondent, and unmarried. She herself is young, wealthy, and vigorous. The inequality in their circumstances has tipped in the princess's favor: an ending never considered in a fairytale. Rochester has changed. He, who valued his independence more than life, must now be dependent upon that which he loves best. This is his sacrifice for Jane: he loves her enough to give up his pride. Yes, Reader, she married him. They lived happily ever after, but their relationship was based upon equal intelligence, equal spirit, and equal love. Two different creatures came together as one and were all the stronger for their trials. If they were not completely equal in the end, well, is that not reality? Is that not fact? Life is not fair, but then, neither are fairytales.