Jane Eyre


Charlotte Brontë

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Jane Eyre: Allegory 3 key examples

Definition of Allegory
An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and events. The story of "The Tortoise and The Hare" is... read full definition
An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and events. The story of "The... read full definition
An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and... read full definition
Chapter 27
Explanation and Analysis—Cursed Colonialism:

Mr. Rochester's first marriage is an allegory for the corruption of colonial profiteering, and the bad fortune many people believed would befall society as a result of it. In Chapter 27, Mr. Rochester describes to Jane how he married into the Mason family:

"My bride’s mother I had never seen; I understood she was dead. The honeymoon over, I learned my mistake; she was only mad, and shut up in a lunatic asylum. There was a younger brother, too – a complete dumb idiot. The elder one, whom you have seen (and whom I cannot hate, whilst I abhor all his kindred, because he has some grains of affection in his feeble mind, shown in the continued interest he takes in his wretched sister, and also in a dog-like attachment he once bore me), will probably be in the same state one day.["]

Mr. Mason is "a West Indian planter and merchant," meaning that he has made his fortune in connection with colonialism, slavery, and the slave trade. Mr. Mason's line of business was a good way to get extremely rich in this time period, but people had a lot of ethical concerns about slavery (especially by the nineteenth century). Many people thought of this kind of money as blood money. Some even believed that major disasters, such as epidemics, were God's punishment to white people for benefiting off slavery. Marrying Bertha was supposed to provide Rochester with a fortune so that his brother could inherit the entire domestic estate, but it meant that Rochester became financially entangled in Mr. Mason's bad business.

The union is cursed, just as people believed empires to be cursed by their reliance on the slave trade. Bertha's mother, who may or may not be Black, turns out to have mental health struggles that make her "mad," and she has passed this trait onto her children. Rochester blames all of Bertha's "madness" on her family history, a history that is now his as well. Bertha is Rochester's punishment for trying to profit off colonialism, just as epidemics and other large-scale disasters could be seen as the British empire's curse for trying to do the same.

Mr. Rochester's marriage to Jane serves as his redemption. Divested of Bertha, her family, and the manor home where his wealth was consolidated, Mr. Rochester now has a chance to rebuild his life without getting involved in international affairs. The marriage at the end of the novel suggests that England's long-term happiness requires reinvesting money and energy into domestic affairs. For instance, putting a modest amount of money into reforming charity schools would be a less risky investment than putting that same money toward imperial expansion, and it would result in the greater happiness of English people. England might have to settle for more modest wealth, as Mr. Rochester does, but it would be less tortured by its own sins.

Chapter 29
Explanation and Analysis—Death Bed:

In Chapter 29, Jane is safe at the Rivers family home after a brief but harrowing period of being unhoused. The chapter opens with a simile that evokes a Christian allegory of resurrection:

To that bed I seemed to have grown; I lay on it motionless as a stone; and to have torn me from it would have been almost to kill me.

Jane lies in bed for three days (or so the narrator reports). She compares herself to a stone lying on the bed, almost as though she is carved into it. This comparison conjures the idea of a sarcophagus, where the likeness of a dead person is carved into the stone tomb that contains their body. The period of three days is significant because in the Bible, Christ is resurrected on the third day after his death. Whether things happened exactly this way or not, the narrator constructs this moment in the narrative as a sort of resurrection for Jane. She went into the woods expecting to die, surrendering to God's will instead of returning to Thornfield. She follows a distant light to the Rivers cottage, as if guided by God. Her surrender to death and the afterlife sets her up to rise from the bed and get a fresh start in a home where she is neither too rich nor too poor to belong. As it turns out, the Rivers are her blood relatives—this rebirth gives Jane the chance to start her life again not as an outcast orphan, but as a welcome addition to the family.

From this moment on, there is a clear path of least resistance for Jane to follow. She could easily resolve all tensions in her family history by marrying St. John Rivers and sharing the money their uncle has bestowed on her at the Rivers' expense. She would finally belong somewhere. There seems to be a real chance, at this point, that the novel is going to veer away from the gothic and toward a more run-of-the-mill marriage plot. But Jane eventually reclaims her role as a gothic heroine by refusing to resolve her own family history in this pat way. Instead she uses her second chance at life to marry the man she loves and to resolve Mr. Rochester's troubled family history. 

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Chapter 38
Explanation and Analysis—For Love and Country:

Jane and Mr. Rochester's relationship is an allegory for England's salvation from the corruption and dangers of colonialism. Mr. Rochester represents a class of English landowners who have tried to make their fortune through foreign speculation and trade.

Although some people amassed major wealth in this way, others had major ethical concerns about England's entanglement with colonialism and the slave trade. By the time Brontë was writing, the slave trade had been abolished in the British empire, and slavery itself had recently been outlawed. But the wealth to be found in the West Indies, where Mr. Rochester meets Bertha, cannot be disentangled from the history of slavery and the slave trade. Continued attempts to get rich quick in the New World seemed risky: the Haitian Revolution, for instance, had resulted in major financial losses for French planters. Having England's national wealth yoked to exploitation in the Atlantic posed major questions about not only morality, but also about immigration, the stability of national wealth, and the incorporation of formerly enslaved people as citizens. Many people felt it was better to cut ties with the New World.

Jane represents a more isolationist England. Her mother married an Englishman for love, not money. Unlike Mr. Rochester and even the Reeds, she represents a past that is largely free of colonial speculation. By marrying Jane, Mr. Rochester corrects the sins of his past, disentangling himself from the West Indies and reinvesting in England. In fact, the novel rewards Mr. Rochester with the return of his sight in time for his and Jane's fully English (and unquestionably white) child to be born.

He had the advice of an eminent oculist; and he eventually recovered the sight of that one eye. He cannot now see very distinctly: he cannot read or write much; but he can find his way without being led by the hand: the sky is no longer a blank to him – the earth no longer a void.

In Chapter 38, the last lines of the novel reveal that St. John, by contrast, will die on his mission to India. In a novel full of dreadful harbingers, the narrator is remarkably unconcerned by St. John's prediction of his own death. As she writes,

And why weep for this? No fear of death will darken St John’s last hour: his mind will be unclouded, his heart will be undaunted, his hope will be sure, his faith steadfast.

St. John is fully comfortable with his choices to participate in the English colonial project in India, and he is fully comfortable in the belief that he will go to heaven because of his work there. This lack of concern for St. John's afterlife reveals that Brontë's horror at England's involvement in the Atlantic does not extend to its involvement in India. Plenty of British people were conflicted about colonization in India, but they were not afraid of India as they were afraid of colonies in the Atlantic. Despite Brontë's comparative ambivalence about India, Jane and Rochester, (who turn their attention back to domestic England) get an arguably happier ending than St. John.

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