The novel begins with Jane living at her aunt's, Mrs Reed. Mrs Reed and her children are very cruel towards Jane and one night Mrs Reed locks Jane into the 'Red Room', a supposedly haunted room in the family home.
Mrs Reed sends Jane to Lowood School where the headmaster, Mr Brocklehurst, is also cruel towards Jane. Conditions are very poor at the school and Jane's best friend, Helen Burns, dies of consumption. Jane later becomes a teacher at Lowood.
Jane applies for a governess position at Thornfield Hall and gets the post. She becomes governess for Adele. Jane begins to fall in love with her employer, Mr Rochester.
A fire breaks out at Thornfield, nearly killing Rochester as he sleeps. Jane saves him. Rochester claims it was Grace Poole - a servant - who started the fire, however Jane doesn't think it was.
Jane is shocked when Rochester confesses his love and desire to marry her. She thought he wanted to marry Blanche Ingram. On the day of their wedding, a man turns up at the church to declare that Rochester cannot marry as he is already married. Rochester reveals all about his marriage, claiming his wife Bertha, is mad and he still wants to be with Jane.
Jane cannot be with Rochester when he is still married so she runs away, becoming homeless and then sick. The Rivers family take her in and nurse her back to health.
Jane inherits her uncle's wealth and estate. She finds out that the family that took her in are actually her cousins. St John Rivers asks Jane to join him in his missionary work abroad and be his wife. She nearly accepts but when she hears Rochester calling her in a dream, she decides she cannot marry someone she doesn't love.
Jane returns to Thornfield. When she arrives, she discovers it has burnt down and Rochester is now living at Ferndean, his usual retreat, and is blind. Jane rushes to him and they marry. The novel concludes with Jane and Rochester married with children. Rochester also regains his sight in one eye.
Jane Eyre is a bildungsroman. It is a novel about personal suffering and having the courage, determination and wit to overcome these barriers.