Charlotte Bronte uses the setting in Jane Eyre to show the struggles that Jane Eyre faces. Jane Eyre’s location is a major factor in her future actions. She is constantly moving around, demonstrating her desire to live a fulfilling life and respect the social codes of nineteenth century. She wants to preserve her dignity but also knows that she must conform to the Victorian social codes. Jane Eyre’s constant struggle for permanence is manifested in the ever-changing setting.
Jane’s journey begins at Gateshead Hall, her aunt’s home, which is full of prejudice and insensitivity. Its gates are symbolic of Jane’s departure from home to live life without guidance. She departs at the crack of dawn, “whirling away to remote and mystery regions”, symbolizing a new beginning free from familial constraints (35). Her arrival in Lowood’s restrictive boarding-school begins with a winter that is “stiffened, shrouded, and chilly as death”. It mirrors how lonely it can be to adjust to the school routine. Jane discovers, over the course of her schooling, that her aesthetic needs are not met by the walls that protect her from the outside world. She must leave her routine and “seek real information” in the midst of “the perils and dangers” that surround her.
Jane’s self-fulfillment quest is encouraged by a new setting, the “quiet hills and solitude” of Thornfield where she serves as a governess. Rochester’s informality, which is a welcome change, allows Jane to speak her mind without fear of being judged. She feels content at Thornfield Hall, as Rochester is her equal. The discovery of Rochester’s first, insane wife shakes her out of complacency. As Rochester’s wife’s insanity slowly spreads, the black clouds that are cast over Thornfield and the red moon setting into the waves of the ocean, like hot cannon balls, also grow. Jane decides that she must leave Thornfield because, “the more isolated, the friendless [she] becomes, the more unsupported [she] becomes, the better [she] will feel about herself” (302). She leaves Thornfield as the sun rises, symbolizing the end of one life and the beginning of another.
Jane’s first temporary home, after leaving Thornfield and the four-road intersection, is Whitcross. This crossroads symbolizes Jane’s uncertainty and aimlessness about where her life will take her. It also represents her vulnerability, since she is financially dependent on others. Moor House is the humble home of her three cousins, and also where she settles down. It’s “very simply furnished, but comfortable” (328). Jane is able, despite Thornfield’s grandeur, to “comprehend and share this feeling”. “There were] a lot of pure and sweet pleasures” (334). She grows close to Moor House’s inhabitants and pastoral land. Jane’s final residence is at the Ferndean manor-house, where “the dark and thick wood around it was so thick” (411). The manor house, where Jane cares for Rochester, a disabled boy, is hidden within “a heavy forest frame” (412). This last dwelling represents the end of her journey and the permanence that she has sought since leaving Gateshead.
Jane Eyre’s constant movement is a reflection of her struggle to maintain her personal integrity as she searches for happiness. She is able to marry Rochester in a manor house that is secluded. This is where she learns to live for and with the things that are most important to her on earth. Her happiness is found in Rochester and her search for permanence ends when the iron gates of the forest are closed.