In Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, supernatural and mystical forces play an important role throughout the novel. Immense coincidences support the text in many instances, suggesting a greater force is at work where this story is concerned. Dreams, premonitions, and visions also have their place within the text, and in certain instances they seem to guide Jane as she embarks upon her journey. Jane from a young age has a fascination with the magic and the unexplained, and it is exactly such an unexplainable event that reunites Jane and her Mr. Rochester at the novel's end.

The supernatural element is introduced into the novel from the outset. In the very first chapter Jane is unfairly convicted of attacking her cousin John Reed, and her punishment entails that she be locked in the red-room. The red-room, being the place where Jane's uncle Mr. Reed passed away, is a room that even the adults in the house avoid at all costs, as it is said to be haunted. Jane, only ten years old at the time, is locked in the ominous room without so much as a candle to comfort her. Jane relates the awful events that ultimately to her permanent removal from Gateshead Hall:

A singular notion dawned upon me. I doubted not — never doubted — that if Mr. Reed had been alive he would have treated me kindly; and now, as I sat looking at the white bed and overshadowed walls — occasionally also turning a fascinated eye towards the dimly gleaming mirror — I began to recall what I had heard of dead men, troubled in their graves by the violation of their last wishes, revisiting the earth to punish the perjured and avenge the oppressed; and I thought Mr. Reed's spirit, harassed by the wrongs of his sister's child, might quit its abode — whether in the church vault or in the unknown world of the departed — and rise before me in this chamber. I wiped my tears and hushed my sobs, fearful lest any sign of violent grief might waken a preternatural voice to comfort me, or elicit from the gloom some haloed face, bending over me with strange pity. This idea, consolatory in theory, I felt would be terrible if realized: with all my might I endeavoured to stifle it — I endeavoured to be firm. Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room: at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern, carried by some one across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift-darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings; something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated; endurance broke down; I rushed to the door and shook the lock in desperate effort. Steps came running along the outer passage; the key turned, Bessie and Abbot entered. [Jane Eyre, Signet (1997), 16]

Questions

Within the above passage, the narrator alludes to the fact that this story is actually being told in hindsight by an older and perhaps less superstitious Jane Eyre. What is the effect of this upon the passage and upon the novel as a whole?

By attributing the gleam of light to a more realistic source, how does this add to or take away from Jane's childish fancy and the effect of the passage?

Is Jane's analysis of her situation within the above text typical of a ten-year-old child? Does she react to the situation as any ten year old child might if put in her place? Why and why not?

How do the other characters' reactions to Jane's actions within this passage shape the reader's view of them? Are any of the other characters, besides Jane, intended to be sympathized with?

How does Brontë play with color and shadows within this passage? Is the light and dark imagery continued in other areas of the novel, and if so how can it be related back to the red-room incident?


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Last modified 2 February 2004