Places are of Great Significance in Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’
Charlotte Bronte, the author of ‘Jane Eyre’ uses places to give the reader a deeper understanding as to the way in which the character of Jane Eyre progresses in age, status and spiritually through the novel. Places featured within the novel are structured around five socially different locations because of the differences in Jane’s character. These places are set in both the North and Midlands of England where Bronte grew up around the 1820s and 1830s during a period of great social and industrial change.
During these times in which Bronte wrote ‘Jane Eyre’; middle-class women were expected to cater for the needs of their men and to put aside their own lives to make way for their husbands to succeed in their careers and activities. Security of financial and general protection were of utmost importance to women of this era as women were less fortunate, less educated and thought of as the lesser sex in the general man driven society.
When settled with a husband, middle-class women’s lives were troublesome although outwardly appearing as straightforward and financially comfortable. It would not have been easy for them to be made to stay home alone with little to do but sit, read, sew or play the piano whilst the rest was done for them. Although these activities were looked upon pleasingly in a woman, having to change outfits more than three times per day and looking good on your husband’s arm couldn’t have been fulfilling enough for all women.
Charlotte Bronte herself felt this social pressure, as when writing and publishing this book she worked under the pseudonym Currer Bell for fear that her books would not be accepted with publishers knowing that she was in fact a woman. Being brought up in this Victorian era, the middle-class environment, which Jane had been brought up in, meant that she should behave and look a certain way. However, even from an early age, Jane represented an alternative view to how an ideal girl of ten was thought of.
During the openings of the novel, Jane is shown as a quiet and sombre character. Bronte uses pathetic fallacy with remarks such as; ‘clouds so sombre and a rain so penetrating’ to reflect the way in which Jane is feeling. It also gives an insight into the way that she sees her life at Gateshead. “I was a discord at Gateshead Hall” Jane says this to imply that although she is in a family situation, there is constant disagreement between those who she would be expected to get along with and a general lack of harmony between them all .
Gateshead, to Jane, brings back many bad memories as she finds herself with no lasting or meaningful relationships with any of the Reed family. After the death of Mr Reed, Jane’s uncle, Mrs Reed had been entrusted with Jane’s care and vowed to take care of her as if she was her own child, a promise that she didn’t keep. Not only is no love expressed towards Jane from her adopted family, but also no acknowledgement towards Jane’s existence is made either as Jane is thought of to be ‘less than a servant’ because she does nothing to earn her keep.
John Reed, who Jane is supposed to look upon as her master, beats Jane and blames her for everything in order to make her look guilty in front of her aunt. It is Jane’s integrity, which allows for her to overcome everything which the cruel Reed’s throw at her. She has intelligence above them all and engrosses herself in book upon book as a use of escapism, which excites her imagination. “Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland. ”
Jane, although often confined to Gateshead in a prison like manner obviously is very aware of the greater world outside which she one day may get to explore. Jane’s dreams show her to be quite unconventional. She aspires to leave Gateshead to gain her own freedom. The rules forced upon her by her environment oppresses Jane up until the point when she does release her anger upon Master John Reed and allow herself to be so overcome with rage and anguish that she must this time stand up for herself, and not let the Reed’s wickedness defeat her.
John had referred to Jane as a ‘rat’ and a ‘bad animal’ on several occasions and so she says that she has become ‘accustomed’ to these acts of violence but it was only when Jane’s ‘terror had reached its climax’ that she attacked him. The connotations of Jane being referred to as an animal conjure up thoughts in a readers mind on how Jane is tormented and abused both mentally and verbally through the Reed’s thoughts and actions.
As a punishment for attacking her cousin Master John Reed, Jane is sent to the confinement of the Red-Room, which exists at Gateshead as a symbol of what Jane must overcome in order to move herself on in her journey towards finding her freedom. The Red-Room itself, was “A spare, yet grand chamber and although rarely slept in remained as one of the most stately in the Reed mansion. ”
To accommodate such a room, the Reed mansion must have been large in size, with every room being used to show off the wealth of this middle-class family. Contained inside the Red-Room were; A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask stood out like a tabernacle in the centre” A tabernacle being the box used to contain the consecrated body of Christ, is usually situated at the front in the centre of the altar (also directly in the centre) inside a Catholic Church, the placement of this is what is being mimicked in the Red-Room It is use of the language by Bronte, which helps to point out the different connotations the Red-Room, has and displays firstly signs of danger through the constant and dramatic colour and shades of red.
Signs of death, not only through the red colour as a representation of blood, but also through the imagery created from ‘blinds always drawn down, were half shrouded in festoons’, shrouded displaying connotations of death through the meaning of the word as it refers to burial cloths which are used to cover up the dead. Jane’s initial impressions of the colours featured within the Red-Room, such as ‘soft fawn’ and ‘blush of pink’, do not at first portray themselves as negative, but gradually the colours become increasingly more threatening to her as the darker, deeper shades of red come to attract her attention.
The carpet was red, the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a crimson cloth”. Although a rich and powerful colour, the darkness of the Red-Room displays a gothic style which was increasingly popular with authors of the time who would deal with cruel passions and supernatural terrors in order to create elements of suspense in gloomy and desolate locations such as Gateshead Hall by Charlotte Bronte, and in the case of the Red-Room where perhaps the most dominant gothic style shown is the presence Mr Reed, whose presence Jane can feel whilst trapped inside there.
During one of her last days at Gateshead Jane demonstrates her authority and newfound confidence in herself as she confronts Mrs Reed about the way in which she treats Jane. “If anyone asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty. ” Mrs Reed is powerless to deny anything, which Jane has to say, as they both know Jane is right in the accusations she makes.
This being the case, when Jane is sent to Lowood school, Jane is able to stand up to any troubles she faces like for example when she is called a ‘liar’ by the evil Brocklehurst but proves her innocence, and consequently the respect of her fellow students. Jane, throughout the novel is set apart from not only the Reed family but also from the conformist view of the time.
She travels on a journey from not only location to location but also in her growth of independence which helps her character to experience love outside of Gateshead and learning from dealing with the different which situations she has had to face at a very young age and endeavour to break free from the ‘bonds’ which have so far oppressed her. To conclude, during her time at Gateshead Jane came through her challenging moments to give herself better prospects so as to succeed in whatever she undertakes and explore those places which before she could only read about in books or discover in her imagination.
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