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Jane Eyre as a Fairy Tale
The fairy tale master plots of rags to riches and good versus evil are recurring themes throughout stories from many different cultures. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, can be likened to a fairy tale, as certain elements of the master plot of the story, as it contains certain aspects of traditional fairy tale stories, such as Briar Rose and Cinderella. Jane Eyre was one of the first books with a female author that was widely read by the literate public. Since its first publication it has become part of the literary canon and continues to be the basis of discussion and debate among scholars even today, over a century after it was written. Jane Eyre is similar to many fairy tales due to the fact that there are elements of traditional fairy tale master plots, such as rags to riches, good versus evil and a lost love found again; and, ultimately, the implication of this is that the reader has a good idea that the novel will end with the traditional fairy tale ending of the characters living “happily ever after”.
Many fairy tales, such as Cinderella involve a main character who is suffering and in order to escape their suffering they use their imagination as an escape. In Cinderella the singing birds and talking mice are all examples of how she uses her imagination to escape the world that imprisons her (Cinderella). Jane’s experience in the red room reminds the reader that imagination is very important to Jane, as it is a way for her to escape the realities of her everyday life. The narrative that Jane creates also has a mythological element to it as she mixes the realistic aspects of her life with fantasy. We see the first instance of this as Jane sits nervously in the red-room and imagines a gleam of light shining on the wall; for her, this indicates a vision from another world (Bronte 25). Throughout the book, the appearance of supernatural incidents such as the one in the red room, usually occur before there is a big change in Jane’s life. As Jane’s departure from Gateshead was marked by her pseudo-supernatural experience in the red-room, her movement away from Lowood also has a fairy tale component. As Jane is contemplating what would be the best way for her to gain new employment, she is visited by a “kind fairy” who gives her specific advice to place an advertisement in a local paper (Bronte 101). Jane takes the fairy’s advice and places the ad in the paper with responses addressed to J.E.; through the newspaper Jane is offered the job at Thornfield and soon after accepts the position. These different paranormal experiences of Jane, share many elements with stories such as Cinderella, where the fairy God mother of Cinderella makes it possible for her to attend the kings ball and provides the necessary components for her to change her circumstances.
Jane’s rise from a poor orphan girl to a rather wealthy lady who has inherited a fortune from her unknown family members is another example of fairy tale elements that are present in the book. Whether it be Cinderella or any other rags to riches fairy tale, the idea of coming form nothing and ending up rich is an overarching theme throughout many fairy tales. In addition to being wealthy, the character also tends to find true love as part of the good luck that has been bestowed upon them. We see this to be the fact, as Jane ends up with her “Prince Charming” in Rochester and goes on to get married and lives happily together.
The love story element in Jane Eyre is another example of how the story shares elements with the traditional fairy tale genre. Bronte emphasizes the idea that Jane and Rochester are an example “true lovers” by creating an almost mythical scene for their first meeting (Bronte 128). Her association of Rochester’s horse and dog with the mythical Gytrash places their initial meeting in an almost fairytale-like setting. Later, Rochester reveals that at this initial meeting, he thought Jane was a fairy who had bewitched his horse, and he repeatedly refers to her as a sprite or elfin character, claiming the “men in green” are her relatives. At the end of the novel, when Jane returns to Rochester, the reunion between the two of them has another fairy tale like element. As she is about to accept St. John’s proposal of marriage, Jane experiences a sensation as “sharp, as strange, as shocking” similar to an electric shock (Bronte 466). Afterwards, she hears Rochester’s voice call her name; the voice comes from nowhere, speaking “in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently” (Bronte 466). So powerful is this voice that Jane cries, “I am coming,” and runs out the door into the garden, but she discovers no sign of Rochester (Bronte 467). Although Jane dismisses the voice of Rochester that she heard as not being witchcraft or some other form of the devil, she feels that it is the natural environment trying its very best to help her and Rochester to come together and continue their relationship, Rochester feels that Jane’s answer to him is echoing around him. Through the use of incidents such as this, Bronte makes it very apparent to us that Rochester and Jane are not just ordinary lovers, but are the archetypes of ideal lovers that are often brought forth in stories and in particular fairy tale stories. Very often the archetypes of lovers can be found in fairy tales such as Briar Rose and Cinderella. In Briar Rose the Prince is portrayed as being the one true love for the Princess as the hedge surrounding the castle allowed only him to pass through, to find and save his true love (Grimm 18). The stories Briar Rose and Cinderella end up with the Prince saving the princess and the two of them living happily ever after, Jane Eyre also ends in a similar way with Jane and Rochester getting married.
The discovery, followed by the loss of some great love is an element that is present in Cinderella and is also present in Jane Eyre. In Cinderella, she is able to attend the ball and find her true love, however she has to leave by midnight and she leaves the Prince behind (Cinderella). The prince doesn’t stop looking for her though and is able to find his true love again by finding the woman whose foot fit the glass slipper, when he finds her they are married and live happily ever after (Cinderella). The relationship between Jane and Rochester is similar to Cinderella, as Jane runs away but in the end find each other again, end up getting married and as far as the reader knows live “happily ever after”.
Throughout Jane Eyre, the element of the fairy tale master plot is present and by using the master plot, Bronte creates a new style of story. Bronte blends the realistic aspects of the Victorian era life of Jane with the somewhat unrealistic elements from fairy tales like Briar Rose and Cinderella. In the end, the implication of using the fairy tale master plot throughout the novel, means that the reader will be able to expect that story to follow a certain pattern and to end with the traditional “happily ever after”. The end of the novel finishes with the marriage of Jane and Rochester and the two of them being very happy together which is what the reader has come to expect from the use of elements of the fairy tale master plot.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Group, 2003.
Cinderella. Dir. Clyde Geronimi and Wilfred Jackson. 1950. DVD. Disney 2005.
Grimms, Jakob and Wilhelm. Little Briar Rose. Online Posting. Kelowna BC: U. British Columbia Okanagan. 30Oct. 2007 < http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm050.html>