Jane Eyre enters the Gateshead household once again, after vowing years ago as a child never to again associate with it or its inhabitants. She comes at Bessie's request, since Mrs. Reed asks only for Jane on her deathbed. She is present moments before her aunt's death and witnesses her in a brief spell of lucidity. In their exchange, Mrs. Reed, who admits that she treated Jane badly as a child, confesses she intentionally withheld correspondence from Jane's paternal uncle out of spite. However, Jane is unfazed and takes the moral high ground by apologizing for past grievances as well as offering her own forgiveness:
"Dear Mrs. Reed," said I, as I offered her the draught she required, "think no more of all this, let it pass away from your mind. Forgive me for my passionate language: I was a child then; eight, nine years have passed since that day."
I approached my cheek to her lips: she would not touch it. She said I oppressed her by leaning over the bed, and again demanded water. As I laid her down--for I raised her and supported her on my arm while she drank--I covered her ice-cold and clammy hand with mine: the feeble fingers shrank from my touch--the glazing eyes shunned my gaze.
"Love me, then, or hate me, as you will," I said at last, "you have my full and free forgiveness: ask now for God's, and be at peace."
Poor, suffering woman! it was too late for her to make now the effort to change her habitual frame of mind: living, she had ever hated me--dying, she must hate me still. [Jane Eyre, Chapter 21]
Mrs. Reed does not forgive her before her death a few hours later. As Jane looks upon the corpse, she feels sadness not for her own loss of a close relative, but for her aunt's woes that resided in a hardened self, unable to obtain peace even at the end. It strikes her as a frightening way to die.
1. How is this death different from the experience Jane had of Helen Burn's death? How does Brontë use these two intimate experiences of death to make Jane appeal to her readers?
2. Is this mature representation of Jane's behavior at her aunt's bed believable?
3. Why does Brontë include a petty quarrel between the two Reed sisters shortly before this scene?
4. What is Brontë trying to achieve by portraying Jane as having grown into a neutral character in between the religious extremes of Mr. Brocklehurst and Helen Burns?
Last modified 28 January 2009