Chapter thirty-eight of Jane Eyre, is largely spent tying up the loose ends of the plot of the larger novel: Jane discusses her marriage, the fate of the other characters, and the general mental state she finds herself in after having completed her narrative. Within these happy moments is a distinctive Biblical narrative that works to color the end of the novel with thoroughly Christian imagery. Rochester sees again, just as the blind man in Mark 8:25. In this case, Jane acts as a type of Christ in her ability to restore his sight. Jane’s characterizations of St. John Rivers are equally Biblical in nature:
As to St. John Rivers, he left England: he went to India. He entered on the path he had marked for himself; he pursues it still. A more resolute, indefatigable pioneer never wrought amidst rocks and dangers. Firm, faithful, and devoted, full of energy, and zeal, and truth, he labours for his race; he clears their painful way to improvement; he hews down like a giant the prejudices of creed and caste that encumber it. He may be stern; he may be exacting; he may be ambitious yet; but his is the sternness of the warrior Greatheart, who guards his pilgrim convoy from the onslaught of Apollyon. His is the exaction of the apostle, who speaks but for Christ, when he says — “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” His is the ambition of the high master-spirit, which aims to fill a place in the first rank of those who are redeemed from the earth — who stand without fault before the throne of God, who share the last mighty victories of the Lamb, who are called, and chosen, and faithful.
St. John is unmarried: he never will marry now. Himself has hitherto sufficed to the toil, and the toil draws near its close: his glorious sun hastens to its setting. The last letter I received from him drew from my eyes human tears, and yet filled my heart with divine joy: he anticipated his sure reward, his incorruptible crown. I know that a stranger’s hand will write to me next, to say that the good and faithful servant has been called at length into the joy of his Lord. And why weep for this? No fear of death will darken St. John’s last hour: his mind will be unclouded, his heart will be undaunted, his hope will be sure, his faith steadfast. His own words are a pledge of this — “My Master,” he says, “has forewarned me. Daily He announces more distinctly, — ‘Surely I come quickly!’ and hourly I more eagerly respond, — ‘Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!’”
Many different religious characterizations are used to finish the story — Pilgrim’s Progress is referred to through Apollyon, Mark 8 again enters, and the final line of the novel is St. John Rivers’ call for Jesus to return. The plot resolves itself almost entirely through religious imagery that is in part driven by both Jane and St. John Rivers as versions of Christ.
Questions for Consideration
1. Why does Brontë choose to end her novel on a religious note? On a basic level, what mood does it leave the reader in at the end after all the loose ends of the plot have been successfully tied up?
2. There seems to be a discrepancy here between happiness on earth and happiness in Heaven. Jane’s epilogue seems steeped in earthly happiness with a dash of the miraculous — the restoration of Rochester’s sight. St. John Rivers, on the other hand, seems to have sacrificed his basic earthly happiness in favor of a devotion to missionary work and securing for himself as one of “those first redeemed.” How does Brontë contrast these two versions of Jesus?
3. How does Pilgrim’s Progress fit into this ending?
4. How does the religious nature of the ending complicate the class structures in the novel? More specifically, how does the missionary work of St. John Rivers fit into the colonial context (for instance, “he hews down like a giant the prejudices of creed and caste that encumber it”)?
I discovered the Mark and Pilgrim’s Progress references through my edition’s notes. I’m using the Norton Critical Edition (edited by Richard Dunn).
Last modified 14 July 2012