Jane’s relationship with wealth is puzzling and her actions regarding wealth seem to be contradictory. Orphaned and without independent wealth, Jane grows up at the mercy of her aunt, Mrs. Reed who resents being forced to care for Jane. Jane is mistreated and hates living with Mrs. Reed and yet, when asked whether she would rather live with her father’s poor, but kind relatives instead of Mrs. Reed, Jane declines saying, “No; I should not like to belong to poor people … I [am] not heroic enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste” (Bronte 20).
Jane simply cannot imagine being happy without having at least some societal status, without education and with uncouth manners. Consequently, she suffers at Gateshead and lets Mrs. Reed send her to Lowood.
However, the reality of Jane’s relationship with wealth is more complicated and this one example does not tell the whole story. Jane clearly does not crave all the trappings of wealth.
When Mr. Rochester tries to lavish Jane with jewels and expensive dresses, Jane forcefully declines despite Mr. Rochester’s entireties. Jane claims that such extravagancies would change her telling Mr. Rochester, “And then you won’t know me, sir; and I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer, but an ape in a harlequin’s jacket-a jay in borrowed plumes” (Bronte 278). Jane’s words reveal that she does not really desire wealth or at least the frivolous aspects of it. Her actions here seem to contradict her earlier beliefs that wealth is important and necessary for happiness.
Clearly, Jane doesn’t need money to be happy because she leaves Mr. Rochester with only 20 shillings and a willingness to do exactly what she said she would not do when she was young – to purchase liberty at the price of caste.
Despite Jane’s seeming willingness to live as a poor person, Jane still embraces societal hierarchy and views herself as belonging to a higher class. This is clear when Jane begins her job teaching poor farmers’ children causing her to feel demeaned explaining “ I felt degraded … I had taken a step which sank instead of raising me in the scale of social existence” (Bronte 389). However, despite these feelings, Jane’s views regarding wealth have clearly evolved over the course of her life. Despite feeling degraded, at this point in her life Jane recognizes that her classist feelings are wrong and she strives to overcome them and find joy and satisfaction in her new job. Ultimately, it seems that when it comes to wealth Jane is continually conflicted – enjoying the education that she received on account of her family’s higher social standing, but knowing that most aspects of wealth are not what will make her happy in life.