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Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë

Theme: Being True to Yourself
Grades: Grades 11-12

In 19th century England, Jane is an orphan, a teacher, and a governess. She is fiercely independent and moral in spirit—qualities that are tested and that ultimately bring her the happiness she has searched for. The heroine claims her right to feel strong emotions and to act on her own convictions.

  1. Role-Playing.
    Have students discuss or role-play one of these situations:

    • You are falsely accused of stealing someone's wallet at school. Your accuser is a credible witness, believed by your peers. Do you insist on your innocence and try to prove it? Do you confront your accuser? How do you live with the disapproval of your peers? Is the knowledge of your innocence enough to sustain you?
    • Imagine that you begin dating someone and gradually fall in love with that person. After about a year, you discover through a mutual acquaintance that your boyfriend or girlfriend has been "two-timing" you the whole time, with someone he or she has known and dated since junior high school. How do you feel? What do you say? What do you do? What would you consider to be a reasonable explanation for the behavior?
  1. Linking to Today: Divorce.
    Ask students what they think about the traditional marriage vow, "for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." Help students explore their views on marriage and divorce, and what they think are legitimate grounds for breaking up a marriage. Discuss how views of marriage and divorce have changed since the 19th century.
  1. Balladeers, Rockers, and Rappers.
    Interested students can do some research on 19th century English love songs and ballads, such as the one that Rochester sings for Jane. Then they can compose their own ballad (either using a tune that they know or making one up) to relate the love story of Rochester and Jane. You might have the same group or a different group write a contemporary love song—either rock or rap—as a counterpoint. Rockers and rappers can tell Rochester and Jane's story or use another incident in the book for their lyrics.

  1. Debate.
    Even though Jane Eyre is deeply in love with Rochester and knows he genuinely loves her, she chooses to leave him when she learns he is married and can offer her only an "unsanctified" liaison. Ask students if they think Jane made the right decision. Suggest that they make a "pro" and "con" chart and then divide them into groups to debate the decision. Make sure they use examples from the book to back up their opinions.
  1. Children in the 19th Century.
    Have students research the status of children in two or more sectors of society in 19th century England. They might research how children were viewed, what legal or property rights they had, how they were educated, and what they did for recreation. Then instruct them to write a comparison of the groups of children they researched.

  2. Psychology Then and Now.
    In this project, students will study the novel from a psychological perspective and stage a conference on the psychology of Jane Eyre. After researching psychological topics in groups, students will create psychological profiles of four characters in the novel.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Divide students into groups and have them first tackle the research. Suggested topics that each group can look into include mental asylums in the 19th century; theories of mental illness in the 19th century; treatment of the mentally ill in the 19th century; Freud and the early psychologists; mental health reform; current psychological trends and theories; current treatment of mental illness; and so forth. You may want to suggest more general sources for information gathering; for example, encyclopedias and popular magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and Psychology Today.
  • Each group member should have a specific role in the process, which includes research, summarizing, and presenting to the class. As a whole, the group should decide on the best way to present their material.
  • When all the reports have been presented, divide the class into four groups. Have each group create a psychological case study on one of the following characters: Jane, Rochester, Bertha, St. John. This can be done through one or more group discussions, in and out of class. One person in each group can record major points discussed.