Jane Eyre

Inciting Event: After being brutally cast out by her unloving aunt, the young orphaned Jane arrives at the Spartan and unhealthy Lowood School for Girls. Jane Eyre’s entire first quarter is arguably unnecessary, since the real story does not begin until the adult Jane goes to work for Mr. Rochester. But Jane’s arrival at Lowood is the Inciting Event of her character arc, which solidifies her belief that she is unworthy of love except through servitude.

First Plot Point: Here, Rochester’s arrival knocks Jane’s orderly world off its axis. Had he come and gone again within a day, or had he turned out to be a nice, boring old gentleman with a gouty foot, his arrival probably wouldn’t have qualified as the First Plot Point. But because the entire story will revolve around his arrival in Jane’s life, the changes he works in her personality, and most importantly the previously unthought of dreams and desires he awakes within her, he is the catalyst the story has been waiting for. From here on, nothing will be the same.

First Pinch Point: Just as Jane is beginning to fall in love with Mr. Rochester, he returns home from a lengthy absence and brings with him a cavalcade of guests, chief among them the haughty Miss Blanche Ingram—whom he is evidently courting. This presents the “new clue” of a previously unforeseen rival for Rochester’s affections, as well as suddenly bringing the stakes of what Jane stands to lose into sharper focus—both both herself and the readers. This pinch point is beautifully relevant, since Jane will ultimately face a much more potent rival in Rochester’s mad wife. Miss Ingram allows these stakes to be emphasized without giving away the plot twist.

Midpoint: When Mr. Mason is mysteriously attacked and a desperate Rochester summons Jane to help with the wound, the story shifts on several levels. Thornfield’s mystery is brought to the foreground, Rochester’s trust in and reliance upon Jane becomes undeniably evident, and Jane herself is forced to a place of decision. All of this, in turn, prompts many new events, including the breaking up of the house party, Jane’s determination to distance herself from Rochester, and her subsequent acceptance of the summons back to Gateshead. Thanks to the personal growth forced upon her by the uncertainties of the first half of the Second Act, she is now capable of actions she wouldn’t have been able to take earlier. Even still, she needs the push of the Midpoint’s shocking events to force her to move from reaction to action.

Second Pinch Point: After accepting Rochester’s marriage proposal, Jane “dreams” of a ghost who enters her bedroom and rends her bridal veil. She also has actual nightmares that seem to portend doom for her coming marriage–all of which serves to emphasize the stakes in general and set the tone for the tragedy to come at the Third Plot Point.

The Third Plot Point: Brontë gives us a wonderful example of an emotionally harrowing Third Plot Point when Jane’s marriage is interrupted with the revelation that Rochester is already married to a madwoman. Just when Jane’s outer goal (marrying Rochester) is finally within her reach, Brontë dashes it out of her hand. Nothing could be calculated to hit Jane harder. She can either choose to stay in Thornfield as Rochester’s mistress and spiritual and emotional slave, or she can abandon the thing she wants most in order to gain her spiritual freedom. If she chooses the former, her story ends in tragedy and defeat. But, of course, she doesn’t. She chooses to take the hard road. She chooses to be true to herself and her moral convictions even when it costs her everything. From here, the Third Act will race ahead in a flurry of events and further character growth. Jane will spend the time between now and the Climax struggling with the repercussions of her decision and trying to figure out how to reject the remaining remnants of the Lie, so she can stand upon her new truth.

Climax: As Brontë shows us here, the Climax needs to begin with a bang. Brontë smacks both her protagonist and her readers for a loop with the unexpected echo of Rochester’s voice in Jane’s head. He needs her, he’s calling her back. Even though Jane can’t explain how she heard his voice, she reacts without hesitation. She abruptly brushes off her cousin St. John and his persistent advances. He no longer holds any power over her in comparison to her new inner strength and the necessity of the goal that now presses upon her. She overcomes him without even having to think about it.

Climactic Moment: The Climactic Moment itself needs to be caused by an external action. Something has to happen. Maybe the good guy slays the bad guy, the lovers kiss, the hero boards a ship to a new country, the daughter hugs her estranged mother, or the heroine shows up for her new job. Here, all it takes is Jane’s entering Rochester’s presence and being recognized by him.

The Resolution: Brontë’s conclusion is easily the shortest chapter in the book, but it’s more than long enough. Here, readers discover the characters’ emotional reactions to the Climax and catch a glimpse of what happens to them afterwards. In just a few paragraphs of summary, Brontë ties off the remaining loose ends by allowing us to learn the general fate of all the prominent characters, including Adele and the Riverses.

(These are excerpts from Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic.)

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