Superstitions in “Jane Eyre” Essay
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When reading literature from different cultures around the world, most readers become familiar with certain aspects of each region’s folklore. Every tribe or nation has heroes and villains, mythical or historical, which figure into its everyday conversation. As powerful as heroic men and women may be, often the more potent characters are the mysterious ones: the ghosts, the vampires, the banshees. These beasts are the visions dreamed in darkness, when people are less sensible of their surroundings and more emotionally anxious; they have a more supernatural feel about them.
Charlotte Bronte plays off of these disturbing superstitions in her novel Jane Eyre. She creates a system so that each supernatural episode has certain elements and manifestations. These manifestations are interesting to observe, but Bronte uses them as much to emphasize the importance of events that do not follow the rules as to set the scene for the incidents that do. All of these episodes surround Jane Eyre, and each has some affect on her, influencing her either psychologically or in her decisions.
;The first appearance of Jane’s superstition is the event in the Red Room. It seems as though Aunt Reed means to punish Jane by isolating her from her cousins, but the night alone is much more difficult for the girl because of her graphic imagination and superstitions. At first, she is too impassioned to think of anything other than her relatives’ injustice. Mostly, Jane does not credit these superstitions when she’s hotheaded, but when she’s composed or when the atmosphere is cold. She is relatively calm in the Red Room until she grows “by degrees cold as stone” and she remembers what others have told her.
Her superstitions are not merely a little girl’s imaginative fabrication, but she was taught them by people she believed. Remembering the tales of dead men seeking justice at night, Jane is frightened that Mr. Reed’s ghost, “harassed by the wrongs of his sister’s child, might quit his abode.” Thus her reason as well as imagination makes her frightened. In the future, Jane peacefully sleeps with a dying girl, showing her growth in acceptance of death and the supernatural, especially when it concerns good people whom she loves. This early and false supernatural experience shows Jane as a naive child, and as the story progresses, the heroine matures, but her imagination and superstition stay with her.
At the age of eighteen, Jane seems completely rational, devoid of any of that early naiveté, but her superstitious nature appears again soon after she begins employment at Thornfield Hall. The situation is somewhat different: she is there because she chose to be, it is outside rather than in a closed room, and a physical appearance sparks her imagination instead of the other way around. While in the Red Room, her nerves are cool and collected; similarly, during this episode the weather is cold and dark. When Jane is returning to Thornfield in the dark after an errand, she hears a horse and dog approaching and again remembers stories others have told her about a haunting Gytrash.
In the chilly night, she fantasizes that this horse with its canine companion is the very mythical beast and again, her rationale adds to the experience “a vigor and vividness beyond what childhood could bring.” However, unlike her episode at Gateshead, Jane’s superstition does not prevail until daylight or unconsciousness. When she sees a rider on the horse, “the man broke the spell at once;” her reason overcomes her fear and superstition falls away. As a child, Bessie saved Jane during her supernatural crisis, but now Rochester plays the savior. From this point, before Jane even speaks with him, he becomes the savior or hero in most of Jane’s superstitious fears.
Rochester ends most of Jane’s fears, but not all of them. When left to watch a dying man, Jane waits for Rochester, knowing only he can relieve her. When Jane dreams of a baby–a horrible omen–and wakes to a terrifying visitor, she keeps restless vigil until he returns home. However, Jane’s final supernatural experience differs from the rest in many aspects. This takes place in a warm room. Jane is not alone, and unlike the weak Mr. Mason and silent Bertha, St. John speaks passionately and persuasively with her.
While other experiences are mixtures of reason and fear, this happens when Jane’s thoughts are the blurriest and the whole passage confuses her, St. John, and the readers. In fact, it occurs right when Jane almost makes her least rational decision to perhaps accept St. John’s marriage proposal and rather than a cold setting, Jane feels a fiery sensation like an electric shock. She hears Rochester calling her name and it shakes her so violently that even St. John notices something powerful about her. Jane is so confounded and panicked that she makes St. John leave her. Again, Rochester plays the savior, but he is also mostly to blame for Jane’s supernatural anxiety.
In writing “Jane Eyre”, Bronte often suggests supernatural events only to deny them by providing commonplace explanations. She uses Jane’s reason, emotion, and imagination to set up daunting passages and uses the same devices as evidence of a much more practical event. In doing so, she sets up a Gothic mood for the novel while keeping it realistic and altogether rational. Then, when the reader least suspects it, she can use the supernatural to emphasize Jane and Rochester’s most crucial feelings through an inexplicable connection. The contrast between most of Jane’s mild superstitions and her final episode effectively convince the reader at least one, if only one, of these incidents is truly supernatural.