‘Jane Eyre’ was written By Charlotte Bronte in 1847. The novel follows the pattern of a bildungsroman and has a large amount of gothic features present. A bildungsroman is a novel whose main character grows as a person (physically and mentally) through encountering certain turning points in the story or specific events. I am going to talk about the structure of the novel and find out how the novel fits these patterns and whether it is necessary and effective. I will also be finding out whether the uses of these 2 genres help to make the novel more effective and contribute to the plot. The Novel is written ‘by’ Jane as an adult looking back over her life.
The novel starts with Jane in a depressed state at Gateshead: her prison. She is depressed and the mood is very negative. As we go on through the novel Jane develops and the mood becomes more positive as she becomes more fulfilled and independent.
In the first chapter Bronte uses pathetic fallacy to set the mood (the environment sets the mood). She uses phrases like “. . The leafless shrubbery” and “Clouds so sombre and a rain so penetrating” The first quote reflects how Jane looks, skinny and maltreated. The next quote really emphasises Jane’s mind set: she is sombre as well as the cloud looking so.
When we meet the Reed family, they first appear as a happy loving family from which Jane is excluded. These are 2 extremes which reveal how life at the Reed household is for Jane.
When we first meet Jane we get the impression that she is self contained, independent and has a thirst for knowledge. Jane is intensely interested in reading. She is reading Bewick’s history of British birds. She finds the captions rather enthralling – “The words in these introductory pages connected themselves with the succeeding vignettes, and gave significance to the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray . . .” I think this shows Jane to us as a rather capable girl who takes a intelligent and logic approach to the development of her mind. She appears rather intellectual judging from her reading preferences.
Relating back to Jane’s passion for reading – She takes refuge in novels. She is not happy in her own reality so she tries to lose herself in novels. In this case Bewick’s History of British Birds. She sits on the windows seat with the curtain drawn. I think this symbolises the barrier between her and the Reeds. It also depicts her isolation to. The Reeds have the whole house whilst Jane is in a small confined space, the outside being the wilderness she wishes to visit. The window symbolises Mrs. Reed’s restraining of Jane.
“With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy: happy at least in my way. I feared nothing but interruption” Jane treats the novel like a person. She doesn’t have anyone (apart from Bessie) so she tries to ‘socialize’ with novels, it is almost as if she humanizes the novel as she lacks people to talk to.
The story of Bewick also presents us with more pathetic fallacy; “. . . and those forlorn regions of dreary space, – that reservoir of frost and snow . . . of these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own. . .” These quotes compliment the earlier pathetic fallacy and thus reinforce our idea of Jane’s mental state at the start of the novel.
Jane really enjoys the adventures that Bewick goes on and I think would like to go on a journey of her own. This is one of the aims of the bildungsroman; Jane’s dream is to go on a journey. This ‘journey’ is fulfilled throughout the novel as Jane meets the St. John family (she gains a family when she finds out they are relatives) She gets married and finds out a lot about herself.
One could compare Jane to Cinderella: Mrs. Reed – the evil step mother, the Reed children – evil step sisters. Jane is made to work for Mrs. Reed and their children, she is terribly unhappy with her current situation, When she goes to Lowood she is doing chores for her step family. The ball is Jane marrying Mr. Rochester. However Jane’s ending is better than getting married off into ‘royalty’ she achieves more than this. She gains independence and learns to love herself rather than loathe herself.
In the red room Jane reflects on her life and raises some very negative points about herself (not for the first time in the novel), these have been ground into her by Mrs. Reed and her actions towards her. “They were not bound to regard with affection a thing that could not sympathise with one amongst them; a heterogeneous thing.” Jane describes herself as ‘heterogeneous’ – this means a different kind (coming from the Greek: ‘heteros’ meaning different and ‘genos’ meaning kind) she has obviously had it drummed into her that she is a bad person and different to the Reed family.
“My habitual mood of humiliation, self-doubt, forlorn depression, fell damp on the embers of my decaying ire.” Again this is result of her mistreatment and Jane’s psychological state. Her self-loathing is so severe she even believes she might even be fit to die – “. . . and was I fit to die?”
When Jane is relieved from the Red room and calmed by Bessie, Bessie sings her a song. This song is about a ‘poor orphan child’ describing how she is sore, tired, lonely and then goes on to tell how the orphan gains strength and becomes more positive. This is pretty much an overview of the journey Jane goes on. At the time Bessie is singing it to give something for Jane to relate to. The poor orphan child is very similar to Jane (it expresses Jane’s identity). The song helps Jane feel less lonely as if there is another suffering like her, the song gives her strength to persevere and try and achieve what she wants.
When Brocklehurst comes to visit the Reed household to speak to Mrs. Reed about Jane and education at Lowood; the novel raises some controversial (at the time of publication) views on religion. Jane finds herself in front of Brocklehurst being interviewed by him.
“Do you know where the wicked go after death?”
“They go to hell”
“What must you do to avoid it?”
“I must keep in good health and not die”
Jane isn’t religious she is far more rational than religious, she cannot understand how there could be a god. This is partially due to her upbringing full of suffering and depression. She cannot imagine a god who would allow this hence her views. She answers with such an unorthodox answer startling Brocklehurst (who is in turn the exact opposite, He is all for the view of god as an angry and vengeful god). This incident in Jane’s life shows us that she has some self confidence as to stand up to a man of Brocklehurst’s stature and challenge his views – a turning point in her life.
The next episode in Jane’s journey is at Lowood when Jane meets Helen. Helen is the epitome of religion and suffering embodied in a girl. Helen tries to teach Jane that suffering and religion are key to life. One may suffer in this life however the eternal life will be rich; the phrase “you reap what you sew” is very fitting for Helen’s view on life on earth. However Helen is quite inattentive in lessons which shows us that she cares very little for her ‘current’ life.
“If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way; they would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should – so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again”
“You will change your mind, I hope, when you grow older: as yet you are but a little untaught girl”
Jane is very feisty and fiery. She singularly believes that you should treat people as they treat you. Helen has been taught by Christianity to love thy enemy etc. She is a very forgiving person. Jane is at the opposite end of the spectrum. To some extent Jane admires Helen so much she takes on the trait of forgiveness (as she displays later on in the novel when she forgives Mrs. Reed).
“Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how he acts; make his word your rule, and his conduct your example”
“What does he say”
“Love your enemies”
“Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I cannot do; I should bless her son john , which is impossible”
Helen is again trying to force her religious views onto Jane. However Jane is far too single minded on her hate for Mrs. Reed which is why she cannot conform to what Helen is saying about loving her enemies. It is in human nature to love and hate.
The gothic genre features in the novel primarily in the red room scene. I think that this style is used to open the novel to a wider audience who may enjoy mainly gothic writing (popular at the time) therefore exposing them to different genres.
The Red room scene is used to excite the reader and break from sympathising with Jane and her situation and introduce a more lively passage.
The red room was a square chamber, very large and very stale. The bed was made from mahogany with pillars supporting it. Deep red curtains (symbolising blood) and a red carpet add to the gothic aura of the room. I think this symbolises blood to Jane, especially since Mr. Reed died in there. This starts to create a supernatural, suspense-filled atmosphere. The red room was Mr. Reed’s deathbed. Jane having a vivid imagination without the input the added intensity of gothic aspects (e.g. colours in the room, furniture and mood) can easily imagine frightening things hence putting Jane into a very frightening room with her knowing someone died in there makes her extremely stressed with her imagination going into overdrive.
Jane’s first reactions to the room are that it is: very cold, due to no fire (and its winter) it’s dark and lonely. Jane spots a mirror and glances at her stature. This suggests she has been malnourished and neglected. Jane is also shocked by her looks and dwells on how she got to be this way. The combinations of a dark, sinister chamber, a young haunted looking girl and dark winter months with terrible weather give for a very dramatic gothic mood in this chapter. Bronte uses lots of mysterious/fantasy words to amplify the mood such as “glittering, half-fairy, half-imp, phantoms” These also lead us to conclude that Jane’s only withdrawal from the real world is that of a fairy fantasy in her mind. It also contrasts quite nicely with her imprisonment in the Reed household. The use of ghosts and strange lights is traditionally very gothic. These features add to the mood but perhaps over exaggerate it.
In conclusion the use of Gothic features adds to the already impressive array of techniques used in Jane Eyre to good effect. I believe that without the red room scene the novel would be a lot less engaging and Jane would not have enough of a back story. Many books have been based on the red room such as “The red room” by H.G. Wells due to its effectiveness achieved in Jane Eyre. However I think a lot of what is labelled gothic relates more to the folklore genre e.g. lonely houses on the moor and a mad woman (Bertha) kept in the attic seems far more applicable to folklore in comparison to gothic.
The effectiveness of following the pattern of a ‘Bildungsroman’ is extremely effective and adds a significant base to the plot to have been built on. The first 9 chapters set the journey Jane has to go on and what she must achieve; Jane changes from a very negative self loathing person and blossoms into a confident and independent woman.