Jane Eyre - Analysis

Immediately the reader is positioned on Jane's side through careful novelistic craftsmanship. From the first page, Jane is oppressed, sent off while her cousins play. We learn through exposition from John that she is a penniless orphan, dependent on the heartless Reed family; indeed, social class will play an important role in the rest of the novel. She is also a sensitive girl given to flights of fancy while reading, but she also displays her strength in her defense against John. All the elements are in place for a classic "Bildungsroman," the literary genre originating in the German literally as "novel of formation" or, as it is generally known, the "coming-of-age" story. In the Bildungsroman, classic examples of which are Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, the young protagonist matures through a series of obstacles and defines his or her identity.

The red-room has both deathly associations (red as the color of blood, the room's containing a miniature version of the dead Mr. Reed, and Jane's belief that she sees a ghost in it) and is a clear symbol of imprisonment. Throughout the novel, Jane will be imprisoned in more metaphorical ways, particularly relating to class, gender, and religion. Ironically, although John is the root cause of Jane's imprisonment here, the three aggressors in this chapter are all women, and Jane's one savior, it appears, was her uncle.

The chapter also introduces Gothic details with the ghost Jane thinks she sees and the revelation that Mr. Reed's body lies beneath the church. The Gothic novel, popularized in the 18th-century, utilizes supernatural, suspenseful, and mysterious settings and events to create an atmosphere of horror and morbidity. The Gothic novel is also characterized by damsels in distress (and women are frequently the protagonists); though Jane faints here, common for Gothic women, she proves herself strong-willed and determined to fight back against her oppressors.

The conflicts of social class, which were suggested in Chapter I by John's taunting of Jane, deepen here. Jane has the odd situation of being poor within a rich family. As such, her notions of poverty are skewed; as she admits, children "have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable povertyŠpoverty for me was synonymous with degradation." Her parents, too, ran into problems with class, as her rich mother's marriage to her poor father directly resulted in both their deaths.

Adding insult to injury, Bessie's song drums home Jane's status as a "poor orphan child." Jane, of course, is poor in both pitiable and pecuniary terms, without anyone to love her and without any money for self-sufficiency.

Jane's love for her doll constitutes one of the major themes of the novel, that "human beings must love something." However, being loved is just as important, and the only affection Jane receives is from Bessie, who acts as a surrogate mother figure.

Religion makes its first formal appearance in the novel through Mr. Brocklehurst. Already, we can see the religious hypocrisies Brontë exposes; he believes the deceitful Mrs. Reed over Jane, and relishes the seemingly heartless reformations that take place at school.

Fire and ice are running motifs throughout the novel; the former is associated with Jane and with positive creation, while the latter is associated with her antagonists and with negative destruction. Brontë is often subtle with these symbolic attachments; Mrs. Reed's eyes, for instance, are twice compared to ice in this chapter: "herŠcold, composed grey eyeŠher eye of ice continued to dwell freezingly on mine."

Immediately we see that Lowood's religious education does not necessarily mean the orphans are treated well. Their food is basically inedible, their lodgings are cramped, and some of the teachers are cruel. Brontë drops a few hints about the suspicious goings-on when Helen reveals that "benevolent-minded ladies and gentlemen" make up the tuition and that Mr. Brocklehurst is the treasurer of the house.

Another possible surrogate mother figure arrives in the form of Miss Temple. Her name, with its religious overtones, indicates that she is the only teacher at Lowood who truly upholds the Christian ethic.

Helen presents to Jane her Christian philosophy of forgiveness and endurance: one must bear the sins of others, turn the other cheek, and love thy enemy. Jane, of course, is at odds with this idea, believing that standing up for herself frequently means fighting back. We have already witnessed several situations in which she availed herself of these tactics, particularly the fight with John and her lashing out at Mrs. Reed. The former led to her imprisonment in the red-room, while the latter was a short-lived victory that soon turned into remorse. While Helen's Christianity is not useful for Jane, neither is Jane's attitude of self-defense; she must find and develop her own brand of spirituality.

Helen's philosophy of Christian forgiveness is tested as Mr. Brocklehurst unjustly punishes Jane. Though Jane does not fight back, she inwardly seethes and thinks, "I was no Helen Burns."

Mr. Brocklehurst's Christianity shows more hypocritical flaws. Though he claims that privation leads to purity, his relatives are dressed to the nines. He even wants to cut off one girl's naturally curly hair, demonstrating his lust for absolute power over others.

Jane explicates her need for love from others, while Helen outlines her belief that spirituality is enough. While it is clear that Jane will not accept these notions, Helen is correct in noting that Jane needs to be less reliant on others. Jane will have to find a combination of self-reliance and love from others.

As we have seen before, ice is a motif in Jane Eyre for cruel, negative destruction, and here fire fans out as a symbol of goodness and creation. The fire in Miss Temple's room warms the girls, as does Miss Temple's kindness, conversation, and treats. More interestingly, Jane burns Helen's shameful "Slattern" crown in fire; even when destructive, fire is a sort of positive destruction that obliterates evil in the world.
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Jane's devotion to Helen is moving, and Helen lives out her Christian beliefs to her dying day. Jane continues to question Helen's unshakable faith‹she wonders, though does not speak aloud, if heaven truly does exist. Helen completes her representation as a Christ figure for Jane, dying so Jane can learn more of what it means to be Christian; though Jane is not willing to accept fully everything Helen espouses, the "Resurgam" tablet (placed by Jane, it seems) indicates that she has incorporated her beliefs into her own ideology.

This brief transitional chapter jumps eight years through ...

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