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Jane Eyre Discussion Questions



The following questions approach the novel from a number of different angles, i.e., how the novel functions as a work of art, how it reflects the time period, how it addresses fundamental questions of humanity, and how it engages the reader. A good discussion tends to start with our “heads” and end with our “hearts.” So, you may want to save subjective opinions of taste until after you have discussed the more objective elements of why this work is considered a classic. It is tempting to begin with, “What did everyone think?” But if a number of people really didn’t like the novel, their opinions may derail a discussion of the novel’s merits. On the other hand, I recommend starting with a few accessible questions and asking every member to respond to ensure that all voices are present and heard from the beginning. Just a few suggestions! Enjoy…
Warm up questions:



  • Which character did you empathize with the most? Which characters did you dislike the most and why?

  • Which sections did you enjoy the most?

  • Did any sections drag?


1.Jane Eyre was originally subtitled “an autobiography.” How does the use of Jane as a first person narrator affect the reader’s experience? She directly addresses the reader throughout – notice the first sentence of chapter 38: “Reader, I married him.” How does this affect the narrative?
2.Jane has many teachers throughout the novel – Mrs. Reed, Helen Burns, Miss Temple, St. John Rivers – what lessons does she learn from each and which seem most valuable to her development?
3.In chapter 13, when describing Mr. Rochester to Jane, Mrs. Fairfax states: “…we can none of us help our nature…” Do you agree with this observation? What does she mean by “nature”?
4.Throughout the novel, references to Jane and Rochester’s lack of conventional physical beauty are made. Why do you believe Bronte does this? What about Mr. Rochester attracts Jane and vice versa?
5.Soon after they are engaged, Rochester takes Jane on a shopping trip to prepare for their wedding and Jane observes, “…the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation.” Why does Mr. Rochester’s actions have this effect on Jane?
6.In her Preface, Charlotte famously states:

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last…These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded; appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.”

First, what does she mean by “conventionality”? In the novel, which characters are the most self-righteous, while thinking themselves religious? What does she mean by “truth” versus appearance?
7.Based on the above quote, why doesn’t Jane accept Rochester’s proposal – how is her decision not merely a matter of “convention”?
8.Throughout the novel, Jane expresses a restlessness and a desire for “experience”:

“[I] looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and along dim skyline: that then I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen; that then I desired more of practical experience than I possessed…the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes…It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” (ch 12)

She seems content at the end of the story – how are her above desires satisfactorily met? Were you satisfied with the ending? How did you react to Rochester’s physical state?
9.St. John Rivers believes that Jane is made for a life bigger than merely making a home. He states “…but seriously, I trust when the first flush of vivacity is over, you will look a little higher than domestic endearments and household joys.” Jane replies, “The best thing the world has!” Why does Jane feel that domesticity is the “best” for her?
10.Jane Eyre presents us with two very different models of religion: Mr. Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers. How are these two men foils? Are you compassionate towards either?
11.In 1880, Queen Victoria stated that Jane Eyre is “…really a wonderful book, very peculiar in parts, but so powerfully and admirably written…such fine religious feeling, and such beautiful writings.” What parts was she describing as “very peculiar”?


12.In the feminist classic A Literature of their Own, Elaine Showalter observes:
“Bronte’s most profound innovation…is the division of the Victorian female psyche into its extreme components of mind and body which she externalizes as…Helen Burns and Bertha Mason. Both…function at realistic levels in the narrative, and present implied and explicit connections to Victorian sexual ideology…Bronte gives us not one but three faces of Jane, and she resolves her heroine’s psychic dilemma by literally and metaphorically destroying the two polar personalities to make way for the full strength and development of the central consciousness, for the integration of the spirit and the body.”
First, did both Helen and Bertha function as realistic characters? In what way do we see elements of Helen and Bertha in Jane?
13.In another feminist classic, The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, observe:
“[Jane’s] story, providing a pattern for countless others, is … a story of enclosure and escape, a distinctively female Bildungsroman in which the problems encountered by the protagonist as she struggles from the imprisonment of her childhood toward an almost unthinkable goal of mature freedom are symptomatic of difficulties Everywoman in a patriarchal society must meet and overcome: oppression (at Gateshead), starvation (at Lowood), madness (at Thornfield), and coldness (at Marsh End). Most important, her confrontation not with Rochester but with … Bertha, is the book’s central confrontation, an encounter… not with her own sexuality but with her own imprisoned “hunger, rebellion, and rage,” a secret dialogue of self and soul on whose outcome… the novel’s plot, Rochester’s fate, and Jane’s coming-of-age all depend.”
What qualities does Jane possess to enable this transformation to be successful – and believable? What else could Bertha represent?
14.The noted poet and scholar, Adrienne Rich, wrote in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978 that
“One of the impressive qualities of Charlotte Bronte’s heroines, the quality which makes them more valuable to the woman reader than Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, and Catherine Earnshaw combined, is their determined refusal of the romantic. They are not immune to it; in fact, they are far more tempted by it than are the cooler-headed heroines of Jane Austen; there is far more in their circumstances of orphaned wandering and intellectual eroticism to heat their imaginations – they have, in fact, more imagination. Jane Eyre is a passionate girl and woman; but she displays early an inner clarity which helps her to distinguish between intense feelings which can lead to greater fulfillment, and those which can only lead to self-destructiveness. The thrill of masochism is not for her, though it is one of her temptations as we have seen; having tasted a drop of it, she rejects it. In the central episode of the novel, her meeting with Mr. Rochester at Thornfield, Jane, young, inexperienced, and hungry for experience, has to confront the central temptation of the female condition – the temptation of romantic love and surrender.”
What is Rich referring to when she states that Jane tasted masochism and rejects it?
15.In Principles of Education, drawn from nature and revelation, and applied to female education in the upper classes, Elizabeth Missing Sewell wrote,
“The real discomfort of a governess’s position in a private family arises from the fact that it is undefined. She is not a relation, not a guest, not a mistress, not a servant – but something made up of all. No one knows exactly how to treat her.”
Where do we see this quote most in the novel? How would a modern-day “nanny” respond to this quote? Is it still true today?

16.In many respects, Jane Eyre mirrors the story of Cinderella. However, what elevates this narrative to the status of great literature?

Wrap up Questions!


  1. Would you recommend the book to others?

  2. If you could change anything, what would it be?

  3. Do you believe this should be considered a classic?

  4. Do you believe this novel should be taught in high schools?


Jane Eyre – The Film(s)
Many film and television versions have been made of Jane Eyre, including a recent award-winning mini-series in 2006 and a wonderful film version in 1996.
Your group could watch a version of the movie together and discuss your impressions, or group members could watch a version before the meeting and then discuss impressions as a group. Time permitting, multiple versions could be viewed and then compared. Here are a few possible movie questions:


  • While viewing the movie, which characters were most unlike how you pictured them while reading the novel?

  • Which characters seemed “right on” in their portrayal?

  • What plot elements were left out or changed in the movie?

  • How was your enjoyment affected by what was left out/changed?

  • Was the film able to recreate Eyre’s tone and sense of atmosphere, as well as the struggles Jane endures?

  • If this movie were remade today, who would you cast as Jane and Rochester? Bertha? St. John Rivers? Grace Poole?



More information on the film(s):

Here is a list of movie versions:
http://www.imdb.com/find?s=all&q=%22jane+eyre%22
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