Jane Eyre Chapter 31 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of Chapter 31 of Jane Eyre, in which Jane has a job and a home but still struggles with the effects of her decision to leave Mr. Rochester.

Jane's New Home

In this chapter, we find Jane after she has settled into her new home as mistress of the school St. John Rivers has opened. Her cottage is simple, plain, and sparsely furnished, but it is sufficient, and it is her own. As promised, there is a little orphan girl who is paid to serve as Jane's handmaid.

On the first day of school, Jane has 20 girls in her class. Jane knew before she accepted the position that she would be teaching children of a different kind than she had previously. The reality of the situation is a little more shocking than she had anticipated. Only three of the 20 girls can read, and none of them can write or cypher, which means to count or use numbers. Also, Jane's students speak with such thick local accents that she sometimes has trouble understanding them. Jane tries to focus on the good, but she can't help feeling a little discouraged.

Jane's Struggles

Jane tells us she feels 'degraded. I doubted I had taken a step which sank instead of raising me in the scale of social existence, I was weakly dismayed at the ignorance, the poverty, the coarseness of all I heard and saw round me.' Jane strives against these feelings even as she experiences them. She knows she shouldn't feel this way about these girls. She hopes that 'the happiness of seeing progress, and a change for the better in my scholars, may substitute gratification for disgust.'

Another deeper struggle besets Jane in her lonely cottage--her unrelenting love for Mr. Rochester. Ultimately she is glad that she was strong enough to leave. Otherwise, she would have become his mistress and been completely dependent on and subject to his whims. She is glad instead 'to be a village-schoolmistress, free and honest, in a breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England.' Despite all of these very sensible thoughts, she finds herself weeping and longing for the man she loves and worrying that he will have gone and done something stupid after she left him.

St. John's Advice

St. John pays a visit to Jane in her cottage in the midst of her weeping. He has brought a package of art supplies which his sisters left for Jane. St. John notices her tear-stained face and asks what troubles her. Is it the school? The students? Her living quarters? Jane answers in the negative to all of these, at which St. John decides to offer some unsolicited advice: 'What you had left before I saw you, of course I do not know; but I counsel you to resist, firmly, every temptation which would incline you to look back: pursue your present career steadily, for some months at least.' Jane answers simply, 'it is what I mean to do,' but the reader can probably imagine Jane's irritation here. No one loves unsolicited advice, especially when it is of such a personal and presumptive nature!

St. John's Struggles

After telling Jane what to do, St. John goes on to tell a little bit about himself and elaborate on his future plans. The reader will remember he alluded to these in the previous chapter. He tells Jane that in the last year he was 'intensely miserable' because he was regretting his decision to enter the ministry. He was bored to death and felt that his many skills and attributes were going to waste. In the midst of his struggle, it occurred to him that another job in God's service could solve all of his problems. It would provide him with interest and variety and would require from him greater exertion. His solution was to become a missionary.

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