Jane Eyre

by

Charlotte Brontë

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Jane Eyre: Imagery 5 key examples

Definition of Imagery
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... read full definition
Prologue
Explanation and Analysis—Vanity Fair:

The prologue makes an allusion to a popular Victorian novel, William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Brontë thinks Thackeray's satire is far better than that of previously popular satirists, and she dedicates Jane Eyre to him:

[Thackeray] resembles Fielding as an eagle does a vulture: Fielding could stoop on carrion, but Thackeray never does. His wit is bright, his humour attractive, but both bear the same relation to his serious genius that the mere lambent sheet-lightning playing under the edge of the summer-cloud does to the electric death-spark hid in its womb. Finally, I have alluded to Mr Thackeray, because to him – if he will accept the tribute of a total stranger – I have dedicated this second edition of ‘Jane Eyre.’

This dedication to a social satirist indicates that Brontë wants the novel to be read as social commentary. Her specific attention to Thackeray helps explain how readers might interpret such a dark gothic novel as Jane Eyre through a satirical lens. Brontë did not set out to write a novel that simply makes fun of all its characters, as the 18th century satirist Henry Fielding was famous for doing. Brontë uses the image of lightning to describe Thackeray's satire as far more effective than that of Fielding because it does not pander to the audience's desire for cheap laughs. It is serious social commentary that strikes at corruption. Brontë, like Thackeray, aims to bring the serious "electric death spark" on the parts of society she wants to condemn (charity schools, for example). She is not going to "stoop on carrion," or go for cheap shots.

Brontë's praise of Thackeray over Fielding reflects a general trend toward more seriousness in Victorian literature. Brontë and many other Victorian novelists believed, in a more straightforward way than 18th century novelists ever did, that their work was a way to directly influence social issues. This was partly because of Victorian attitudes about social reform and partly because writing novels had come to be seen more seriously as a profession. Then again, Brontë signs the prologue with her pseudonym. Although Brontë used a pseudonym in part to deal with the publishing industry, this also might be a playful reminder that the novel is mediated by many speakers, and not all them are entirely open about who they are. As is the case with Vanity Fair, readers should go in with a healthy degree of suspicion about the perspectives represented in the novel. Vanity Fair's subtitle "a novel without a hero," offers a clue as to how Brontë would like readers to treat Jane as an autobiographer. The idea that no character is a hero invites both criticism of flawed characters and sympathy for them. Likewise, Brontë may not want Jane to be read as a straightforward heroine. Readers should both love her and criticize her decisions, listening always for ways her perspective might differ from Brontë's or from the reader's own perspective. Truth is a tricky thing that requires careful work and attention to uncover.

Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis—Housing Insecurity:

Housing insecurity is a motif throughout the novel because Jane depends on others to keep a roof over her head. The first hint of housing insecurity occurs on the "drear November day" when Chapter 1 begins:

The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mamma in the drawing-room […]. Me, she had dispensed from joining the group [...] Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves in my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

Everyone has come into the drawing room to get inside from the chilly winter day. The rain is "ceaseless" and "wild," and the wind blows in "lamentable blasts." The weather outside is so bad that, as the first line of the chapter notes, "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." The idea of a walk is framed as a leisure activity that rich people might take on a quiet afternoon, but it is also clear that being left outside on a day like this could be life-threatening. Unlike Mrs. Reed's biological children, Jane does not automatically belong "clustered" around Mrs. Reed, sheltered from the storm by a mother who is bound to protect her. Jane relies on Mrs. Reed to keep her inside the protective windows with their "folds of scarlet drapery," but Jane's marginal status means that she will never truly be "separated" from the world outside that protection.

Jane is soon sent to Lowood, another temporary home. Eventually, she must find a way to support herself when she leaves Lowood. This means entering into "a new servitude" as a governess. At Thornfield, Jane's housing is again contingent, this time on her employment and Mr. Rochester's good graces toward her. But as opposed to feeling always on the verge of being turned out, Jane feels "stagnant" and stifled at Thornfield, as though she is stuck there. Mr. Rochester wants to keep her there even when she wants to leave, and so Jane comes to long for housing insecurity and the freedom it has previously given her to forge her own path. The narrator psychologizes her own former longing for housing insecurity in Chapter 12:

What good it would have done me at that time to have been tossed in the storms of an uncertain struggling life, and to have been taught by rough and bitter experience to long for the calm amidst which I now repined!

Jane fights to leave Thornfield and suffers the consequences. After refusing to be Mr. Rochester's mistress and after striking out on her own again, Jane nearly dies without a roof over her head. She recovers in the Rivers family cottage and finally comes to appreciate a certain kind of security. The security she wants is tinged with excitement and freedom. When she eventually marries Mr. Rochester on her own terms, she also rejects a man (St. John) who promises a more stable marriage. With Mr. Rochester in a household they build together from the ground up, Jane finds a mix of security and freedom.

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Chapter 9
Explanation and Analysis—Death and Rebirth:

There are several moments throughout the novel at which Jane's life seems to begin anew. In Chapter 9, vivid imagery describing spring at Lowood helps position the school as a place of metaphorical rebirth:

How different had this scene looked when I viewed it laid out beneath the iron sky of winter, stiffened in frost, shrouded with snow! – when mists as chill as death wandered to the impulse of east winds along those purple peaks, and rolled down ‘ing’ and holm till they blended with the frozen fog of the beck! That beck itself was then a torrent, turbid and curbless; it tore asunder the wood, and sent a raving sound through the air, often thickened with wild rain or whirling sleet; and for the forest on its banks, that showed only ranks of skeletons.

Jane imagines that she is emerging from a bleak winter, stormy and full of danger and death. The sky was "iron," and the ground was "stiff" and "shrouded," like a body first in rigor mortis and then laid out for a funeral. Death rolled over the horizon in the form of mist, and the forest looked like "ranks of skeletons." This is the environment Jane is used to. Although she is describing the surroundings she saw when she arrived at Lowood, it was also winter at the opening of the novel and when she left Gateshead. She described the outdoors at Gateshead with similar, deathlike imagery. Thus far, Jane has only ever seen death as what awaits on the horizon of her life.

As spring arrives for the first time in the novel, Jane sees new splendor in her new surroundings:

I discovered, too, that a great pleasure, an enjoyment which the horizon only bounded, lay all outside the high and spike-guarded walls of our garden: this pleasure consisted in prospect of noble summits girdling a great hill-hollow, rich in verdure and shadow; in a bright beck, full of dark stones and sparkling eddies.

The "noble summits" beyond the boundaries of the garden walls are there not as symbols of death, but rather for Jane to take "pleasure" in. The imagery here is colorful and full of life. It conveys the idea that the world is Jane's to explore and enjoy, all the way to the edge of the horizon. The transition from winter to spring, captured here through vivid imagery, stands in for Jane's first steps out of Gateshead and into the rest of her life. Notwithstanding the epidemic that is about to tear through Lowood, Jane is beginning to see the school as a second chance at life.

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Chapter 12
Explanation and Analysis—Housing Insecurity:

Housing insecurity is a motif throughout the novel because Jane depends on others to keep a roof over her head. The first hint of housing insecurity occurs on the "drear November day" when Chapter 1 begins:

The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mamma in the drawing-room […]. Me, she had dispensed from joining the group [...] Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves in my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

Everyone has come into the drawing room to get inside from the chilly winter day. The rain is "ceaseless" and "wild," and the wind blows in "lamentable blasts." The weather outside is so bad that, as the first line of the chapter notes, "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." The idea of a walk is framed as a leisure activity that rich people might take on a quiet afternoon, but it is also clear that being left outside on a day like this could be life-threatening. Unlike Mrs. Reed's biological children, Jane does not automatically belong "clustered" around Mrs. Reed, sheltered from the storm by a mother who is bound to protect her. Jane relies on Mrs. Reed to keep her inside the protective windows with their "folds of scarlet drapery," but Jane's marginal status means that she will never truly be "separated" from the world outside that protection.

Jane is soon sent to Lowood, another temporary home. Eventually, she must find a way to support herself when she leaves Lowood. This means entering into "a new servitude" as a governess. At Thornfield, Jane's housing is again contingent, this time on her employment and Mr. Rochester's good graces toward her. But as opposed to feeling always on the verge of being turned out, Jane feels "stagnant" and stifled at Thornfield, as though she is stuck there. Mr. Rochester wants to keep her there even when she wants to leave, and so Jane comes to long for housing insecurity and the freedom it has previously given her to forge her own path. The narrator psychologizes her own former longing for housing insecurity in Chapter 12:

What good it would have done me at that time to have been tossed in the storms of an uncertain struggling life, and to have been taught by rough and bitter experience to long for the calm amidst which I now repined!

Jane fights to leave Thornfield and suffers the consequences. After refusing to be Mr. Rochester's mistress and after striking out on her own again, Jane nearly dies without a roof over her head. She recovers in the Rivers family cottage and finally comes to appreciate a certain kind of security. The security she wants is tinged with excitement and freedom. When she eventually marries Mr. Rochester on her own terms, she also rejects a man (St. John) who promises a more stable marriage. With Mr. Rochester in a household they build together from the ground up, Jane finds a mix of security and freedom.

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Chapter 13
Explanation and Analysis—Sublime Visions:

The imagery with which Jane describes her watercolor paintings in Chapter 13 emphasizes the fact that the novel is told by an unreliable narrator. The watercolors represent landscapes Jane has tried to recreate through the filter of her imagination:

The first represented clouds low and livid, rolling over a swollen sea: all the distance was in eclipse; so, too, was the foreground; or, rather, the nearest billows, for there was no land. One gleam of light lifted into relief a half-submerged mast, on which sat a cormorant, dark and large, with wings flecked with foam[.]

The vivid imagery here is similar to that which the narrator often uses to describe landscapes themselves. If Jane were to visit the seaside during the course of the novel, it is easy to imagine a passage describing "low and livid" clouds, a "swollen sea," and strange light patterns. The narrator is the first to point out that the watercolors are "representations" of the natural world. For example, she has tried to inject the clouds with a sense that they are "livid." This is the feeling Jane projected onto the clouds when she saw them, and it helped her to paint them as she saw them, not necessarily as they were. Because of the similarity between the paintings and the narrator's descriptions of landscapes, the idea of painting as representation draws attention to the fact that throughout the entire novel, the narrator is representing her story. As with a painting, it is impossible to deliver an exact and objective copy of reality.

All narrators are "unreliable" in that they always represent events in their own language. Jane (both the character and the narrator) begins to look more unreliable as she continues describing the painting:

[I]ts beak held a gold bracelet, set with gems, that I had touched with as brilliant tints as my palette could yield, and as glittering distinctness as my pencil could impart. Sinking below the bird and mast, a drowned corpse glanced through the green water; a fair arm was the only limb clearly visible, whence the bracelet had been washed or torn.

Jane's watercolor builds a fantastical horror plot into the landscape: the bird has stolen a bracelet off the arm of a drowning corpse. It seems unlikely that Jane actually witnessed this event. If she did, the gold bracelet would likely have appeared with less "glittering distinctness" than Jane renders here. She makes the bracelet the focal point in order to draw the viewer's attention to the innate horror of the scene. The watercolors demonstrate that Jane is interested in the sublime and the ways in which natural scenery can terrify the viewer. Just as she distorts objective reality in the painting in order to emphasize one aspect of it, the narrator is likely distorting objective facts in order to emphasize the horror and fantasy she feels are central to her own autobiography.

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Chapter 14
Explanation and Analysis—Mr. Rochester's Eyes:

The narrator often uses imagery to describe Mr. Rochester's eyes as windows into the secrets he has concealed inside. For example, in Chapter 14, Jane admires Mr. Rochester's eyes after they have dinner together:

[H]e had great, dark eyes, and very fine eyes, too – not without a certain change in their depths sometimes, which, if it was not softness, reminded you, at least, of that feeling.

Mr. Rochester has mostly avoided speaking with Jane and even looking at her. On this occasion he has been drinking, which seems to have lowered his inhibitions. It is notable that this is not only one of the first chances Jane has had to hear Mr. Rochester speak about himself, but also one of the first chances she has to get a good look at his eyes. She is not only hearing, but also seeing some of his closely-held secrets for the first time. His eyes are likely not much larger than average, but the narrator describes them as "great," "dark," and of changing "depths," as though each eye is a lake or an ocean in which Jane might get lost. The imagery evokes the idea of shipwrecks and hidden treasure on the seabed, and of monsters lurking in the deep water. Jane is convinced that there is an emotional "softness" hidden there -- a treasure -- but it is also possible that something dangerous will jump out of the water.

As the novel unfolds, Jane discovers more about both the monstrous secrets and the hidden sincerity she sees in Mr. Rochester's eyes. Mr. Rochester's blindness and the return of his sight at the end of the novel represents the exorcism of his secrets. When he gets his sight back, his eyes are no longer dark pools of concealment, but rather lighted pathways that allow him to connect with his child.

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