In ”Jane Eyre”, Charlotte Bronte places her narrator and central character in the middle of dramatic events. One of these is at the start of the novel when Jane is trapped in the Red Room and the next is when she attends Thornfield Hall to work as a governess. Charlotte Bronte uses certain features of gothic literature to create a tense atmosphere for the reader. Jane Eyre is sent to live with her unfeeling aunt and abusive cousins, after her parents sadly passed away. Jane Eyre leads a very unhappy life as the people whom she grows up with do not treat her like family and blame her for any trouble.
Now, Jane Eyre is locked in the Red-Room after an incident with her cousin, for which she takes the blame. As the years pass and Jane grows into a young woman, she is sent to Thornfield to work as a governess and, in the passage, is being shown around the estate. In the Red Room and at Thornfield hall, Bronte establishes a typical gloomy, gothic setting to create suspense and terror.
Charlotte Bronte uses powerfully gothic descriptions of objects especially in the Red -Room. The name seems more important because of the alliteration and the fact that the room is identified as ‘red’ makes the reader feel that it is perhaps dangerous. The colour is often associated with blood and death, both of which create fear for the reader. We are told by the narrator that “The red-room was a square chamber, very seldom slept in, I might say never”. The use of the word ”chamber” makes it sound much larger and grander and perhaps more uninviting than a regular room. The fact that the room is hardly ever slept in suggests that it is abandoned by all human company and creates a tense mood for the reader raising several questions about its safety. Bronte, therefore, uses colour to reflect the turmoil of emotions such as rage, fear and frustration which Jane is now experiencing.
The objects which Charlotte Bronte describes in the Red Room create a typical gothic environment. We are told that the room is decorated very darkly. ‘The chairs were of darkly polished old mahogany’, which suggests that the furniture in the room is sombre, old and heavy. Colours associated with the gothic are generally darker shades, and the Red Room purposely creates images in the reader’s mind of gloomy objects to create a depressing atmosphere. When the writer describes the bed as “glar(ing) white” and the “snowy Marseilles counterpane”, this creates a contrast to the surrounding redness of the rest of the room. “Glared white” uses personification to describe the bedding as antagonistic to Jane as if it is watching her. This creates more torment for the reader.
Even though the colour white might seem a much more optimistic colour than red, here it is used to create negative thoughts. The “snowy white counterpane” presents the bed as being icy cold, like death. When Jane looks in this mirror she sees a “half imp, half fairy” staring back at her. This introduces an element of the supernatural and suggests that Jane believes evil forces within the room may have possessed her and are reflected in the glass. Charlotte Bronte plays here on the superstitious fears of the reader. The fact that Jane Eyre is trapped in the red-room where her uncle died is terrifying enough but the idea that the room might have the power to drive Jane mad plays on our deepest anxieties. Death is a prominent feature of the gothic and Bronte uses the dead uncle and the possibility that he haunts the room to intensify the atmosphere. When Jane looks in this mirror is the most disturbing moment in the description of the red-room. Horror and fascination are created for Jane at this moment. The description of her ”white face” and ”glittering eyes of fear” show that Jane appears like a ghost to herself, the word ”glittering” hinting at madness.
The idea that Jane is trapped in the Red-Room creates a strong impression. Jane’s statement that “They went, shutting the door, and locking it behind them” creates terror for the reader. The simple literal description brings a sense of awful finality to their actions. Jane is separated from the rest of the family and is unable to escape from the Red-Room and must face its ghostly terrors alone. People fear the madness which might come from being locked away in confined spaces. Jane Eyre has been excluded from everyone and everything she knows.
“Jane Eyre” features a strong supernatural element to make these passages memorable. Miss Abbot tells Jane that “Something bad might be permitted to come down the chimney and fetch you away”. This is almost a threat to Jane Eyre that something like a spirit or devil will hurt her if she moves from the room. Use of the word ”permitted” makes Jane feel that if something did take her away, she would have deserved it. “The spell which kept it so lonely in spite of its grandeur” suggests that although the chamber is large, it still remains lonely and quiet as no one has entered the room since the death of Mr Reed. Questions are raised about why no one has entered the room and why people are afraid. The information that Mr Reed “breathed his last” in this room suggests that his spirits still linger in the room after his death and this creates a tense and mysterious atmosphere for the reader, hinting at the fact that the room is maybe haunted.
Charlotte Bronte also uses religious associations to add impact to her presentation of significant events. In the nineteenth century, religious beliefs were very influential. In this part of the novel, the house maids Bessie and Miss Abbot treat Jane very harshly and say, ” God will punish her: he might strike her dead in the midst of her tantrums”. The maids choose to use God as a threat hoping that this will scare Jane into behaving appropriately.
God is presented here as a harsh and daunting judge who is capable of hurting us. Bronte uses the servants’ alarmist words to create a strong sense of threat to Jane’s safety in the room.
A later stage in Jane Eyre’s life finds the heroine at Thornfield where she has just come to work as a governess. Thornfield perhaps gives her more freedom but both Thornfield and the Red-Room are described as being overpowering and disturbing for Jane, although the narrator copes better now she is older. Bronte also employs a gothic setting in Thornfield to create a sense of drama for the reader. Jane is being shown around the house by Mrs Fairfax and Bronte soon establishes a striking contrast between the interior and exterior parts of the house. When Jane is looking over the battlements, she describes the view as having a ‘bright and velvet lawn closely girdling the grey base of the mansion’. This reference shows that the view has peaceful, beautiful aspects to it which creates a pleasant atmosphere for Jane. Before she leaves the battlements she comments on the sky being ‘marbled with pearly white’ making a connection with heaven and a beautiful jewel, but when she looks back inside she describes the interior as being ‘black as a vault’. Bronte uses this as a contrast between light and dark, to create confined spaces linked with death.
The idea that there is something to fear in Thornfield Hall is similar to the Red-Room. The rooms in Thornfield contain dark, old furniture and ‘wide and heavy beds, shut in some of them’. Fear is created for the reader as the beds are described as being enclosed, almost like some kind of trap. Jane comments on the room as having ‘effigies of strange flowers, and stranger birds, and strangest human beings- all which would have looked strange by the pallid gleam of moonlight.’ The unearthly effect of the moonlight injects personality into these lifeless beings. The power that the ghostly moon has over objects is strong enough to change the narrator’s perspective of her surroundings and the repetition of the word “strange” accentuates the idea of hidden powers. It is features like this in Thornfield and in the Red-Room which make the reader anticipate disturbance.
Bronte continues to use aspects of the supernatural to create a strong impression on the reader when Jane is being shown around Thornfield. Mrs. Fairfax informs Jane that ‘if there were a ghost in Thornfield, this would be its haunt’, placing the possibility of such a thing in our minds. As Jane continues her tour around Thornfield, she hears a ‘curious laugh’. As the narrator thought Thornfield to have a quiet atmosphere, to hear this sound is the last thing Jane expected to hear in ‘so still a region’. The reference to the laugh being ‘preternatural’ suggests something non human and devilish. The laugh creates mystery for the reader and the heroine herself as it raises questions as to where the laugh originated from.
Charlotte Bronte definitely uses the gothic throughout her novel ‘Jane Eyre’ to create fear and anxiety for her central character. Bronte focuses on the darker side of human feelings using period settings in particular to reflect a sense of the unknown and to create tension in her novel. Even today, books and films still feature aspects of the gothic. For example the popular Twilight books and Harry Potter books all feature some parts of the gothic. Bronte recognised the power that the Gothic genre has to represent.
By Karishma Kapoor 10H
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