“‘—soothe him; save him; love him: tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? Or who will be injured by what you do?’ ”
In the penultimate scene in Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre, we see Jane take control of her life and of her circumstances. The action being that despite her love for him, and despite her forgiveness of him, she resolves in her heart that she will not marry Rochester because she believes that the marriage will not save her. For the audience, this is a rallying moment for Jane, leading us to cheer and clap for her. But in that moment, the one to thank for her resolve is none other than Bertha Mason, Rochester’s estranged and insane wife.
We learn in Chapter 26 and 27 that Bertha was married to Rochester strictly for money, despite the two loving each other. However, her family’s propensity for psychological problems led her to be insane. She was forced away from the world and given no contact with anyone, save for Mason and Rochester. Bertha’s condition has deteriorated to the point where she even attacks Mason, rips Jane’s wedding veil, and screams and howls in terror. In Jane’s descriptions, she says “whether [Bertha] was a beast of a human being, one could not tell.”
If certain circumstances in Jane’s life went differently, could this be where she was headed?
We have already determined that Jane harbors anger in her heart due to her isolation from the rest of the family. In the beginning of the novel, Jane separates herself from her cousins and talks about Mrs. Reed disdain for her (a fact unfortunately confirmed on the latter’s deathbed). Then, even when she gets a chance to go to school and get away from her family, she is still isolated and hidden at Lowood thanks to Mr. Brocklehurst. One key difference at this point is that she had Helen and Ms. Temple to confide to, which changed Jane’s personality for the better. If she didn’t have those two, then Jane’s transition eight years later into a calmer and vibrant young woman would not have happened.
But think of Bertha in this context: without that contact, without that chance to be rehabilitated, she had nothing else to do but harbor her hatred toward her husband and her brother – and even towards Jane herself. Her isolation went unbroken for years while her “husband” went on every trip he took to find himself a new wife. No one got to Bertha before she became this way and unfortunately, no one cared.
In the eyes of an interpreter, Bertha can be Jane’s darker being. She can be the one who Jane would have been if not for the love and support that she received later on. It is why Jane’s message to herself about “taking care of herself” is so important: she is no longer trapped by the whims and wills of others. She no longer lets her isolation control her and become her. Instead, Jane is determined to make it on her own no matter what. Jane has that choice, whereas Bertha does not. Jane is not only leaving behind her isolation, she is leaving behind her past and moving forward into her bright future with her words:
“…Still indomitable was the reply – ‘I care for myself.’”