Jane Eyre and The One and Only Ivan: Kindred Spirits of an English Governness and a Lowland Gorilla

Jane Eyre and Ivan are two of my favorite literary characters. When I finished reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, it occurred to me how much they have in common. Yes, one is a woman and the other is a gorilla. But still, they aren’t so different.

They are both alone, until they meet a friend. 

Ivan meets Bob:

… when I woke in the dark, I discovered a tiny puppy snoring on top of my belly. It’d been so long since I’d felt the comfort of another’s warmth that I wasn’t sure what to do … I didn’t move all night, for fear of waking him.

And Jane meets Helen:

I clasped my arms closer round Helen; she seemed dearer to me than ever; I felt as if I could not let her go; I lay with my face hidden in her neck … ‘I’ll stay with you, Helen: no one shall take me away.’

They’re perpetually grateful for what little they have.

For most of their lives, they don’t have much. But they find value in what they do have. Says Ivan:

I am lucky my domain has three windowed walls. I can see the whole mall and a bit of the world beyond.

And here’s Jane:

My cottage is clean and weather-proof; my furniture sufficient … All I see has made me thankful. I do not repine.


jane_eyre__jane_sketch
They are both artists.

Here’s what Jane says as she prepares to draw a portrait of her friend Rosamond:

I felt a thrill of artist-delight at the idea of copying from so perfect and radiant a model. … While you draw you will not feel lonely.

And Ivan:

I never get bored with my art. When I’m drawing, that’s all I think about. I don’t think about  where I am, about yesterday or tomorrow. I just move my crayons across the paper.

They’re underestimated for being what they are.

In Jane’s case, she’s underestimated as a woman.

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise of the faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings.

Here’s what Ivan says about how humans perceive gorillas:

In my size humans see a test of themselves. They hear fighting words on the wind, when all I’m thinking is how the late-day sun reminds me of a ripe nectarine. … I know what humans think. They think gorillas don’t have imaginations. They think we don’t remember our pasts or ponder our futures. … I suppose you think gorillas can’t understand you. 

They don’t waste words.

One of the things I admire most about Jane is that she “uses her words.” She doesn’t talk without thinking. She says what she means. Everything Jane says has a purpose. When Mr. Rochester tries to coax a reaction from her, this is what she thinks:

If he expects me to talk for the mere sake of talking, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person.

Ivan has a problem with how humans use their words, too.

Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. 

They are unbelievably patient and level-headed.

Jane says: It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action.

And here’s Ivan:

Patient is a useful way to be … Gorillas are as patient as stones. Humans, not so much.

IVAN