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Minor Characters in Jane Eyre: Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Clayton Tarr

Clayton has taught college English and has a PhD in literature.

In this lesson, we will examine minor characters in Charlotte Bronte's ''Jane Eyre.'' We will focus especially on Bessie, Mr. Brocklehurst, Miss Temple, Blanche Ingram, Adele, Grace Poole, Diana and Mary Rivers, and Rosamond Oliver.

Major and Minor Characters

In literary works, both fictional and non-fictional, there are generally two types of characters. Authors fully form major characters, giving them backstories or fleshed out narratives. We see them change in some manner, and we feel their emotions and motivations. Minor characters are along for the ride, so to speak. They often affect the path of major characters, but we rarely learn much about them. In other words, minor characters typically function to support or challenge major characters. In Jane Eyre, minor characters create learning events from which the major characters change and grow.

The literary critic Alex Woloch applies a useful tool for thinking about these characters. Major characters are round. They have depth. They exist, in some sense, in a three-dimensional space because we know so much about them. Minor characters, on the other hand, are flat. They are two-dimensional and don't tend to jump out of the narrative. In other words, they often aren't very memorable. The examples that follow are 'flat' characters in Jane Eyre compared to the 'round' characters of Jane and Rochester.

Jane Eyre and Rochester
Jane Eyre and Rochester

Bessie at Gateshead Hall

Jane's life at Gateshead Hall is miserable. She is hated by her relatives, the Reeds, especially Mrs. Reed and her child, John. Bessie, who is the housekeeper, is the one voice of comfort. We learn that Bessie, though often stern, 'sometimes narrated tales winter evenings.' These moments of kindness give Jane some stability and hope for the future.

Brocklehurst and Miss Temple at Lowood

After Jane's outburst at Gateshead Hall, she is sent to a boarding school called Lowood. Mr. Brocklehurst is the cruel, duplicitous manager of the school. 'Deceit is, indeed, a sad fault in a child,' he says. The irony lies in the fact that he is the deceitful one at the school, stealing money that should be used to keep the girls healthy. Not everything is bad at Lowood, however. Jane befriends a girl named Helen Burns, and both are mentored by Miss Temple, a kind teacher. Helen puts it best: 'Miss Temple is very good and very clever; she is above the rest, because she knows far more than they do.' Both Helen and Miss Temple serve as bright lights for Jane at Lowood School.

Blanche, Adele, and Grace at Thornfield Hall

Following her time at Lowood, Jane takes a governess position at Thornfield Hall, the home of the mysterious aristocrat Rochester. The people she meets at Thornfield Hall help further the plot, including Jane and Rochester's budding romance. Blanche Ingram, 'an accomplished lady of rank,' hopes to marry Rochester and inherit his wealth. She hates Jane for the clear connection Jane has with him.

Adele is Rochester's young ward, meaning that he is responsible for seeing to her safe upbringing and successful education. Jane moves to Thornfield Hall to be Adele's governess, which means Jane is both teacher and mentor. Adele is initially a spoiled and precocious young girl, but she matures under Jane's close tutelage.

We only meet Grace Poole briefly in the novel. She is a maid whom Rochester has assigned to watch over his 'mad' wife, Bertha Mason, in the attic. The problem is that Grace likes to drink on duty, and at least once she falls asleep, allowing Bertha to escape. Grace is also important because Mrs. Fairfax, the main housekeeper, blames the maid for making all of Bertha's strange noises. Jane asks: 'Did you hear that loud laugh? Who is it?' Mrs. Fairfax replies: 'Some of the servants . . . perhaps Grace Poole.'

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