In coming of age novels, the protagonist faces many hardships and obstacles before they mature and realize where they stand in the world. The story of Jane Eyre follows this same path as Jane evolves from youth to adulthood. During this time, she lives at five different places: Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Marsh End, and Ferndean. Each one shapes a bit of her personality and changes the way she thinks about certain topics, such as religion and infidelity.
As the novel opens, Jane lives at Gateshead with her Aunt Reed and three cousins, John, Eliza, and Georgiana. Her family mistreats her, which in turn fills her childhood with abusiveness and neglect. These beginning stages are the most influential parts of Jane’s life. Gateshead teaches her that the only important trait of someone is the amount of money they own. This then determines their social class and if they have manners and good morals. Jane even goes as far as to say that poverty for her is “synonymous with degradation” (Bronte, LOOKK). In addition to this, she states that she would rather stay with the Reeds than live with her poor relatives. Jane is close-minded at this time in her life, and the word “gate” in Gateshead represents the gate between Jane and the outside world. The red room in this house symbolizes the internal angry Jane has for her family. Gateshead traps her with them and in a mindset that is with her until she reaches Lowood.
While at Lowood, Jane is still in a “low” part of her life. Mr. Brocklehurst emotionally abuses her, but she finds solidarity in Miss Temple and her first friend, Helen. Lowood is the place where Jane learns about education and religion. Helen teaches her that her hate for Mrs. Reed must be let go and to not obsess about it. This helps Jane finds herself spiritually, and it is one of her first lessons about religion. Miss Temple is a maternal figure for Jane, and she forms a base for what Jane will behave like in adulthood. While she stays at Lowood, Jane experiences death all around her, including Helen. She lives there for eight years and acts as a teacher for two of them. When Miss Temple leaves to get married, Jane believes that it is her time as well to continue on her journey. She finds a job as a governess at a place called Thornfield.
One of the most important places Jane lives at is Thornfield. Here is where she meets Rochester and is isolated from the rest of society. She develops close relationships with most of the house members, and Jane matures into a woman while she is staying there. She is treated with respect and gets paid a lot of money for teaching Adele. There is a sense of mystery there, however, because Jane does not know what is on the third floor. There are many strange instances such as when Rochester’s room catches on fire, Jane’s veil being torn to pieces the night before Jane and Rochester’s wedding, and the screams Jane hears throughout her stay. Thornfield represents a field or thorns that Jane is not able to escape from. It traps her there, and once again it isolates her from the outside world. However, it is also the place where Jane first feels as if she is truly loved. She begins to find happiness and a life that she could live with Rochester and Adele. This changes though when she discovers that Rochester is already married. She refuses to be his mistress and leaves the place immediately.
Jane suffers through many ordeals while she is wandering from Thornfield. She experiences hunger and isolation. She finds comfort in nature and results to begging others for food or a job. She is at a crossroads during this time, and Bronte further suggests with naming the town she is in Whitcross. When Jane almost loses all hope, she stumbles upon Marsh End; there lives her cousins, Diana, Mary, and St.John. It is unbeknownst to them that they are all related, but St. John relieves their relation after seeing her full name- Jane Eyre. Marsh End symbolizes the end of Jane’s journey. She meets her family there and discovers that her Uncle John left her with fortune. She also has a fresh start, as no one knew anything about her past. She forgets about her life with Rochester and strives to find her true self. When St. John asks Jane to marry him, she refuses and hears a voice call to her. She believes that it is Rochester calling out to her, which then prompts to return to her love and Thornfield.
When she reaches her destination, she discovers that Thornfield was burned down, and according to townspeople, Rochester lost his hand and sight. She finds him at Ferndean, and since Bertha is dead, they decide to get married. Rochester and Jane start over and begin to construct a new life together. Thornfield and Ferndean juxtapose each other as they are places where Jane and Rochester are together. Ferndean is the new Thornfield after it was burnt down. Ferns are the new plants that sprout after the thorns were gone.
The five places Jane lives at form her into the final version of herself once she reaches Ferndean. They all teach her valuable lessons of love, purity, and religion. If Jane did not live at all of these places, then she would not have been the person that she grows into. Jane’s last name Eyre symbolizes the idea that she floats from place to place like air. She does not stay at only one house but instead moves on when she feels as though her presence is no longer needed there.