Notes on Jane Eyre Themes

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Jane Eyre Topic Tracking: Gothic Imagery

Gothic Imagery 1: The red-room is dark like blood. It emits strange noises and has a large mirror that distorts Jane's appearance. The late Mr. Reed died there, and Jane imagines his ghost now haunts the room, troubled by wrongdoing regarding his last wishes. Outside it is raining, the wind blows against the moors, faint voices are heard. All of these elements--a dark and foreboding room where a family member died, the color red, ghosts and phantoms, and the romantic gothic scene of rain on the moors--are Gothic and predict future Gothic locales and themes in the plot.

Gothic Imagery 2: This incident on the third floor of Thornfield Hall introduces Jane and the reader to the first Gothic aspects of what is to be the most extended location for the rest of the novel. Jane describes the decoration of Thornfield Hall as dark, old, labored with the secrets and memories of the past. Immediately this sets Thornfield Hall off--the Gothic local of the old and mysterious castle or great manor, which has the potential to turn supernatural "strange, indeed, by the pallid gleam of moonlight." (pg. 92), as Jane herself says.

This introduction of locale is enforced by Jane's hearing of the strange and disturbingly curious laugh from the attic door. Mrs. Fairfax says it is only Grace Poole, sewing with Leah. But we know immediately that there is more to the story than this simply answer; the intuitive description of the odd laugh by Jane herself, foreshadows a more complex and disturbing explanation to come in the future. As she describes:

"I lingered in the long passageway to which this led, separating the front and back rooms of the third story: narrow, low, and dim, with only one little window at the far end, and looking, with its two rows of small black doors all shut, like a corridor in some Bluebeard's castle...the laugh was as tragic, as preternatural a laugh as any I ever heard; and, but that it was a high room, and that no circumstance of ghostliness accompanied the curious cachinnation, but that neither scene nor season favoured fear, I should have been superstitiously afraid." Chapter 11, pg. 94

The reference to Bluebeard's Castle is also an important allusion; the French fairy tale referenced is a pre-Gothic account of a Duke who murders all his wives, locking their bodies in different closets, while forbidding each new wife to look inside each closet. When each bride breaks his commands, they find the dead wives, and are themselves, murdered. This tale provides an interesting foreshadowing of what is behind the door, while using a tale based off a pre-Gothic plot, in the sense that the Gothic plot is composed of the mysterious castle, the cold, damp and mysterious, moonlit natural environment, the mysterious, misunderstood, enigmatic yet lovable male hero, who is only understood and cured of his inner self-torment by the marriage or affiliation with a good, Christian and virginal female character who enters the plot. The opposing dynamic consists of a bad female character, often insane, sexualized and racially inferior by English class standards, who is the hidden secret of the male lead, and the reason for his unending torment. The Gothic plot is Romantic in the literary sense; the myth of Bluebeard is not. It is a dark drama/comedy in some interpretations--a didactic and frightening commentary of society in others.

Gothic Imagery 3: The whole incident of meeting Mr. Rochester on the road, against the pallid moon-lit hills and vales, introduces the tortured yet romantic character of the male hero, against a backdrop which is particularly Gothic and contrasting to bringing forth his intense nature. Jane describes Mr. Rochester, and her inclinations toward him well:

"I traced the general points of middle height, and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features, and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but a little shyness. Had he been a handsome, heroic-looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against his will, and offering my services unasked...I had a theoretical reverence an homage for beauty, elegance, gallantry, fascination; but had I met those qualities incarnate in masculine shape, I should have known instinctively that they neither had nor could have sympathy with anything in me and should have shunned them as one would fire, lightning, or anything else that is bright but antipathetic." Chapter 12, pg. 99

Rochester is further marked in the following pages and chapters, by dark red, purple or fire imagery given to décor, nature or the sky.

Gothic Imagery 4: This event with 'Grace Poole' lighting Rochester's bedclothes on fire, introduces more dangerous and foreboding elements related to the secret creature who resides upstairs. No information is given here, except that Jane's description of Rochester belies that there is more to the story than simply Grace Poole; also the presence of the violence and destructiveness of fire foreshadows a dark side and violence to come from this secret. The apparent contrast would be Jane, whose imagery is always based off the color white, black or very cool imagery and descriptions.

Rochester's gratitude also introduce the plot necessity of the tortured male hero who can only be redeemed through the good, not violent, wild or sexual female lead; Rochester intimates this when he says, "I knew...you would do me good in some way...I have heard of good genii...," calling her his 'cherished preserver'. This plot aspect resurfaces throughout their relationship, and especially later, where Jane becomes a symbol of what is good, clean, pure and innocent in women, as opposed to Rochester's deranged first wife.

Gothic Imagery 5: The striking of the chestnut tree, under which Jane and Rochester had just sat when he proposed the previous night, is foreshadowing of impending separation, disaster and danger for Jane and Rochester. It is also a perfect Gothic symbol, nature predicting human fate to come.

Gothic Imagery 6: Jane meets her double here, in this visitation to her room the night before her wedding. As we will see, it is not Grace Poole, but Rochester's first wife who is hysterical and insane, being watched over by Grace Poole in the upstairs attic. This double is the eternal whore, the dirty, befouled and evil woman, to Jane's religious goodness and clean bodily appearance (despite Jane's not fitting into this stereotype in mind and soul).

In her visit to Jane's room, Jane is revisited with the greatest terror, only equaled by her time in the Red Room, for it is the only other time Jane ever passes out. This enactment of the trying on of the veil, and gazing into the mirror, is later reenacted by Jane the morning of the wedding (page 252). When Jane looks in that very mirror, she says she does not recognize herself, but sees only, "a robed and veiled figure...the image of a stranger." This is typical Gothic imagery.

Gothic Imagery 7: A basic plot component of the Gothic novel, and often of the Bildungsroman (or coming-of-age novel), is a romantic and desperate escape/fleeing from the site of romance/male hero. This escape must exist for the female heroine to later return to the locale, often a castle-like structure.

Gothic Imagery 8: Jane comments:

"I recalled the voice I had heard; again I questioned whence it came, as vainly as before: it seemed in me--not in the external world. I asked, was it a mere nervous impression--a delusion? I could not conceive or believe: it was more like an inspiration. The wondrous shock of feeling had come like the earthquake which shook the foundations of Paul and Silas's prison: it had opened the doors of the soul's cell, and loosed its bands--it had wakened it out of its sleep, whence it sprang trembling, listening, aghast; then vibrated thrice a cry on my startled ear, an din my quaking heart, and through my spirit; which neither feared nor shook, but exulted as if in joy over the success of one effort it had been privileged to make, independent of the cumbrous body." Chapter 36, pg. 371

This manifestation of the voice within Jane's actual frame, where she perceives it in her spirit and mind, and not external, is a traditional Gothic affectation. Once again, it is the idea inherent in the romance novel transferred to the Gothic setting. The romantic soulmate's voice is realized and conjured through the dark spectre/ disembodied voice, irrational and superstitious forms. The importance is placed in the contrast between St. John who is wholly mental is formula, and the transmutation the voice enacts in Jane; she says "her soul woke up--she began to feel". The balance comes in a harmony of spirit, instinct, emotion, mind and body. Her the choice of investigating the voice is raised by Bronte to the equal level of something God-sent and spiritual "independent of the cumbrous body"; meaning it is equal in value and meaning to St. John's previous religious quest for Jane.

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