Charlotte Brontë's protagonist endured a harsh life in the home of her benefactress, her cruel aunt Mrs. Reed. One of the punishments Jane remembers most vividly is her internment in the isolated and abandoned red-room, formerly belonging to Jane's deceased uncle. Jane is forced to inhabit the forlorn chamber on her own while she is in a state of pain and fury, and her own abandonment inside the bedroom reflects the state of the room itself:
This room was chill, because it seldom had a fire; it was silent, because remote from the nursery and kitchen; solemn, because it was known to be so seldom entered. The house-maid alone came here on Saturdays, to wipe from the mirrors and the furniture a week's quiet dust: and Mrs. Reed herself, at far intervals, visited it to review the contents of a certain secret drawer in the wardrobe, where were stored divers parchments, her jewel-casket, and a miniature of her deceased husband; and in those last words lies the secret of the red-room — the spell which kept it so lonely in spite of its grandeur.
Mr. Reed had been dead nine years: it was in this chamber he breathed his last; here he lay in state; hence his coffin was borne by the undertaker's men; and, since that day, a sense of dreary consecration had guarded it from frequent intrusion." [Jane Eyre, Broadview (1999), 71]
As night begins to fall, the red-room begins to have a an eerie effect on Jane as the lonesome aspect of the room and its supernatural qualities begin to take their toll on Jane's imagination:
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 . . . 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." [Jane Eyre, Broadview (1999), 74]
Jane's fright is the result of being forsaken to a place where she is alone only with her own mind and the disturbing past the room holds, manifesting itself in the possibility of a ghostly encounter. When the event is over, Jane emerges from it changed; she cannot find the joy in activities from which she used to derive pleasure, and her spirited soul appears beaten.
1. What is Brontë's purpose in having Jane's prison be a location so seldom frequented? How does this affect Jane's reaction to her internment, and why is it so devastating to her?
2. What is the significance of the room being mostly furnished in red? How does it specifically affect the ambience of the bedchamber? What is the importance, if any, of Jane noting the contrast of the white mattresses and pillows with the rest of the room?
3. Jane eventually believes herself to be in the presence of a ghost, and she proceeds to panic and go into a fit, eventually losing consciousness. What point does this frenzy and temporary insanity make with regards to Jane's characterization? Why does Brontë equate supernatural situations with insanity?
4. Is the reader supposed to believe that a truly supernatural event is occurring at this point in the novel, or are we to suppose that Jane is merely using her imagination too much? How does this coincide with the other events in the story that might have a supernatural explanation?
5. Why does Jane fear this possible ghost if she thinks it is Mr. Reed coming to avenge her mistreatment? If the ghost is friendly as she imagined, and attempting to right the injustice she has experienced, why does she try to escape in order to avoid it?
Last modified 25 January 2009