Jane Eyre is described as plain, with an elfin look. She sees herself as "poor, obscure, plain and little". Mr. Rochester once compliments Jane's "Hazel eyes and hazel hair", but she tells the reader about Mr. Rochester's error that her eyes are not hazel; they are in fact green.
Jane's parents, Mr. Eyre and Mrs. Jane Eyre (née Reed), died not long after her birth. Jane is adopted by her Uncle Reed, her mother's brother. Before he dies, he makes his wife, Mrs. Sarah Gibson-Reed, promise to care for Jane. Mrs. Reed dislikes Jane, and treats her ill, while spoiling her own children, John, Eliza and Georgiana. John Reed is particularly horrible to Jane, often hitting his younger, smaller cousin, whom he calls an "animal".
When Jane is ten, she is sent to Lowood School — a miserable place run by the sadistic clergyman, Mr. Brocklehurst, who preaches a hypocritical religious doctrine. There, Jane makes her first friend, Helen Burns, who warns Jane that she "[thinks] too much of the love of human beings." The students at Lowood are over-taxed and under-fed; moreover, their care and sanitation is bad, and many become ill and die. Helen Burns is one such pupil. As she dies, Helen explains that she "[has] faith [that she is] going to God", and so is unafraid. Jane has trouble comprehending this. "Where is God? What is God?" she asks. "It is true Jane does right, and exerts great moral strength, but it is the strength of a mere heathen mind which is a law unto itself. No Christian grace is perceptible upon her".Jane spends her childhood searching for love, at Lowood, and cannot find it — though she is liked by one of her teachers, Miss Temple.
Jane stayed at Lowood for eight years, six as a student and two as a teacher
When Jane is eighteen, her mentor, Miss Temple, marries and leaves Lowood. Jane decides to advertise for works as a teacher. She is employed by a Mrs. Alice Fairfax of Thornfield Hall. Jane assumes that she will be teaching Mrs. Fairfax's child, but learns that Mrs. Fairfax is only the housekeeper of Thornfield. Jane will be teaching Adèle Varens, ward and possibly illegitimate daughter of Edward Rochester, Thornfield's owner. Mrs. Fairfax warns Jane that Rochester is rarely at home, and she will see little of him. One evening, when walking through the mist on the moors, Jane is almost run into by a man on a horse. Veering to avoid Jane, the man falls off; Jane helps him remount, as his ankle is hurt. When Jane returns from her walk, she finds that Mr. Rochester has come home; in fact, Rochester is the man whom she met on the moors. Rochester claims Jane to be a witch, thinking she has bewitched his horse.
Soon Jane and Mr. Rochester fall in love, and Jane agrees to marry him once proclaiming herself as his equal. It turns out, however, that Mr. Rochester is already married; his mentally ill wife Bertha lives hidden in the attic of Thornfield. Distraught and heartbroken, Rochester explains to Jane how he came to be married. After Rochester left college, his father told him of a meeting he'd arranged for his son between Rochester and a young woman named Bertha Mason whose beauty made her the pride of Spanish Town. Rochester set out to meet her and, lured by her wealth and beauty along with the persuasion of the Mason family, married Bertha.
It has been said that "Jane is determined to find [her happiness] here on Earth", rather than in Heaven, as Helen assumed she would.However, though Jane loves Rochester, she has too much self-respect to be his mistress. Unsure of what her future holds, Jane sneaks away from Thornfield. She travels some time in a coach, and accidentally leaves her things in it, when she disembarks. Jane wanders for a few days on the moors, before collapsing — hungry, depressed, and ill. She is discovered and saved by a young minister, St John Rivers. He takes her to his sisters, Mary and Diana; they nurse Jane back to health. When well, she becomes a teacher to the local farm girls — under the alias of Jane Elliot.
St John Rivers, in love with a local gentlewoman, Rosamund Oliver claims she would not make him a good wife. St John Rivers later discovers Jane's true identity and tells her that her uncle John Eyre (who resides in Madeira) has died leaving her a twenty thousand pound fortune. It is then explained by St John that John Eyre was his mother's brother, meaning St John, Mary and Diana Rivers are Jane's cousins. Jane decides she would not be happy with such a large fortune so plans to divide it equally between herself, St John, Mary and Diana. St John then asks Jane to marry him as she would make a good missionary's wife. Rivers wants not passion in marriage, but a woman who would be a good worker. It is his life-long ambition to become a missionary. Jane, to this purpose, learns Hindustani; however, whilst she is willing to travel with St. John as his assistant, she will not marry him as she knows that they do not love each other, and will not enter into such an unhappy state of affairs.
One night, however, Jane hears Rochester's voice calling "Jane, Jane, Jane!" Desperate to see him, Jane rushes back to Thornfield only to find that it has been burnt down. It turns out that Bertha, some nights after Jane's disappearance, set fire to the place, before jumping off of the roof to her death. Rochester tried to save her but could not stop his wife from leaping. Rochester has been badly hurt by a falling beam, in the fire. He has gone blind and lost his left hand. Jane travels to Ferndean, Rochester's other house, where he is staying, looking "desperate and brooding." Rochester and Jane marry. At the end of the story, Rochester is beginning to get some of his sight back, and when his and Jane's first son is born, Rochester can see him.