It Is the Minor Characters Who Create Much of the Interest in Jane Eyre
Minor Characters often act as the catalysts for larger events with in a characters life; it is through interaction with people around them that our protagonists are defined and redefined. It is thought this interaction and the interest individual characters evoke that make minor characters with in both these novels so vital. This essay will explore how minor characters with in the novels ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ impact upon the lives of our central characters; as well as the interest they bring through their individual complexities, and how this in turn creates much of the interest with in these novels.
Within the troubled childhoods of our protagonists particular importance is often placed upon the parental figures with in there early lives. Within ‘Jane Eyre’ Mrs Reed and Mr Brocklehurst are the most notable examples of this. Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst both take the needy in to their care, but do not take care of them. Mrs. Reed abuses Jane and allows her children, especially her son, John to abuse her behind her back. Mr. Brocklehurst is far worse and attempts to justify himself through the farce of education, justifying his cruelty by claiming that his ‘aim is not to pamper the body but strengthen the soul’.
Whilst both appear at first glance to be generous benefactors, they are in fact disguising a rotten core- this acts as an interesting metaphor for the corruption within the class system- and is a continuing theme throughout the novel, as we later notice the wealthy exterior of Thornfield disguises a dark secret. Similarly Annette also experiences injustice with in her childhood from people in positions of guardianship and authority; the most notable example being Annette, her mother. It is Annette’s cruelty and her mysterious death that creates much of the interest with in the novel.
An example of this indifference is when Annette wishes to leave Jamaica and comments ‘It is not safe for Pierre’, in this moment it is as if Annette forgets she has another child, creating sympathy for Antoinette from the audience and causing us to wonder, why? Just like Jane’s early disconnection with her parental/custodian figures Annette’s lack of bond with her mother shapes the character she will later become, and engages the reader by providing a character who has many depths and who has the ability to be altered throughout the novel.
Annette’s death also presents another point of interest for the reader, Antoinette comments upon her passing casually and we are never made aware of how she truly died. This foreshadows the mysterious death of Antoinette and as the reader is already aware at this point of Annette’s mental deterioration we begin to wonder how it is that the novel will end. Interestingly this proceeds in to a cycle with in Jane Eyre as Bertha’s death causes the reader to question: what will become of Jane?
Helen Burns acts as a very positive point of interest with in Jane Eyre. It is firstly important to note the name Bronte used for ‘Helen Burns’. Firstly fire has positive connotations in ‘Jane Eyre’ and is often associated with positive destruction, as the name Helen can be translated to ‘reed’ this may refer to the destruction of Mrs Reed’s negative impact upon Jane. It also seems to have religious connotations as it sounds like a Minimal Pair of Hell burns, which mirrors Helen’s deeply religious character.
The biggest impact Helen has with in the novel is that she teaches Jane the lesson of forgiveness; whilst Jane begins her time at Lowood believing that’s she should ‘fight fire with fire’ Helen teaches her to ‘return good for evil’. This is significant as later in the novel Jane proves this lesson learnt when she forgives Mrs Reed at her death bed. Helens influence may also be why Jane chooses to leave Rochester after discovering the existence of Bertha; it is in this moment that she again illustrates a self-sacrificing nature much like Helen’s.
This not only creates interest because of the events triggered with in the novel from Helen’s teachings but Helen also gives a moral to the story. Miss Temple also has a semi-allegorical aspect; for eight years, she provides Jane with a place of refuge, which is mirrored in her name ‘Temple’. Miss Temple also provides Jane with a female role model she was lacking in early life. These two characters provide the novel with a religious undertone, and provide Bronte with a voice to comment upon her own religious beliefs and to question the morality with in Victorian society.
Antoinette’s experience differs from Jane’s; the only character who is consistently kind to Antoinette throughout the novel is Christophine. In the case of Miss Temple and Helen Burns to Jane, Christophine becomes a role model to Antoinette. As a woman of colour, Christophine should be doubly disadvantaged by the patriarchal imperialism that rules the West Indies in the post-emancipation period. Yet, she is in many ways likened to the White men that are apparently more civilized than her.
Christophine even seems to share the same values as these men: ‘Three children I have…each one a different father, but no husband, I thank my God’. However, whilst Jane finds an antidote to her passion and inner ‘id’, Christophine’s passion only adds fuel to Antoinette’s, resulting in her eventual destruction. Christophine’s character also adds much of the mystery to the novel, her practice of Obeah adds a sense of foreboding to the novel and paints her as a character to be feared, and compared to the ‘civilised’ Mr Rochester.
Minor characters can also act as points of comparison for both the reader and the protagonist. In ‘Jane Eyre’ both Blanche Ingram and Bertha are provided as characters to be contrasted with Jane. Firstly Blanche Ingram is viewed by Jane as her love rival for Rochester’s attentions. In creating contrasting portraits of herself and Blanche, Jane emphasizes her own plainness. To Blanche, on the other hand, she gives the loveliest face she can imagine; here Jane’s passions become hyperbolic, as she cannot fully discipline her jealousy of Blanche.
However Bronte’s use of words describes a much different character, she is described as having ‘raven-black’ hair arranged in glossy curls, and ‘brilliant black eyes’, which contrast with the ‘pure white’ clothes she wears. As with Jane’s descriptions of Mrs. Reed and her son John, ‘darkness’ often has negative connotations. Therefore, Jane’s (and so Bronte’s) description of Blanche, which emphasizes her dark, Spanish features, implies a negative side of her personality and creates dramatic irony i. e.
It allows the reader to know that Blanche will not end up with Rochester instead of Jane. Within ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ Bertha is most prominently compared with her mother, Bertha’s true name ‘Antoinette’ means ‘daughter of Annette’ and part of the reason why Rochester changes Antoinette’s name is that he fears she will become mad just like her. Unfortunately this is the fate that Antoinette meets; and not only does she suffer the ‘anglicising’ that her mother experienced at the hands of her husband but also the dissent in to madness.
Providing her mother as a point of comparison not only foreshadows Antoinette’s fate, creating more suspense for the reader, but also causes the reader to question whether Antoinette’s madness was hereditary or a result of Rochester’s cruelty. In conclusion minor characters with in ‘Jane Eyre’ do create much of the interest It is a combination of their influence on our protagonist and the opportunity they provide for the authors to comment upon society and the protagonist they have created that makes minor characters such a point of interest for the reader.