Jane Eyre

by

Charlotte Brontë

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Jane Eyre: Metaphors 5 key examples

Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Chapter 2
Explanation and Analysis—Anti-Blackness:

Brontë's novel critiques colonialism, but part of that critique rests on the novel's racist use of Blackness as a metaphor for corruption and uncontrolled violence. One striking example of the novel's anti-Blackness occurs in Chapter 10, in which Bessie comes to see Jane and Lowood and tells her about the grown-up John Reed:

"Some people call him a fine-looking young man; but he has such thick lips."

Bessie seems concerned that John Reed's "thick lips," a phrase that is used in Shakespeare's Othello and elsewhere as a racist epithet for a Black man, are damaging his prospects and making him less "fine-looking" than he might otherwise be. The Reeds have ambiguous racial markers. In Chapter 2, the reader learns that John Reed also

sometimes reviled [Mrs Reed] for her dark skin, similar to his own[.]

The Reeds are not explicitly Black, but they are at the very least filtered through the notion that dark skin and other characteristics associated with Blackness are to be lamented and even reviled. The Reeds have absorbed anti-Blackness in their attitudes about themselves, and this seems to be behind their hatred of Jane, who is whiter than them. Jane's whiteness is complicated and does not have to do only with her skin color. In addition, her parents' disinterest in increasing their wealth also means that she is less tainted than many English people by "new money" earned through colonial trade. The Reeds seem to resent Jane in part for her "purity" from markers of Blackness, colonialism, or the slave trade.

Bertha Mason, the wife Mr. Rochester locks in the attic, can also be read as a racist caricature of Blackness. She is Creole, meaning she was born in the West Indies and may have mixed ancestry. She suffers abuse at Mr. Rochester's hand, but within the novel she also symbolizes the evil Mr. Rochester has introduced to England by making his money in colonial trade. Bertha makes "canine" growling sounds and substitutes violent outbursts for speech. By the time Brontë was writing, there was already a long history of white writers likening Black people to monsters or animals. It became especially popular in the 18th century to describe Black and Indigenous people as proto-humans, not yet evolved to the point of white Europeans. Again, whether or not Bertha must be interpreted as a Black woman, there is no doubt that the reader is to see her through the filter of anti-Blackness.

Through both the Reeds and Bertha, Blackness in the text is connected with violence. In the world of the novel, Blackness or proximity to it makes people less likely to be able to suppress their emotional outbursts. Jane's education and development involve learning to feel her emotions while keeping them under rational control, and to get what she wants without indulging in corruption. Blackness stands in for the lack of control Jane rejects (uncontrolled colonialism, uncontrolled spending on foreign goods, uncontrolled emotions, uncontrolled bodies).

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 10
Explanation and Analysis—Anti-Blackness:

Brontë's novel critiques colonialism, but part of that critique rests on the novel's racist use of Blackness as a metaphor for corruption and uncontrolled violence. One striking example of the novel's anti-Blackness occurs in Chapter 10, in which Bessie comes to see Jane and Lowood and tells her about the grown-up John Reed:

"Some people call him a fine-looking young man; but he has such thick lips."

Bessie seems concerned that John Reed's "thick lips," a phrase that is used in Shakespeare's Othello and elsewhere as a racist epithet for a Black man, are damaging his prospects and making him less "fine-looking" than he might otherwise be. The Reeds have ambiguous racial markers. In Chapter 2, the reader learns that John Reed also

sometimes reviled [Mrs Reed] for her dark skin, similar to his own[.]

The Reeds are not explicitly Black, but they are at the very least filtered through the notion that dark skin and other characteristics associated with Blackness are to be lamented and even reviled. The Reeds have absorbed anti-Blackness in their attitudes about themselves, and this seems to be behind their hatred of Jane, who is whiter than them. Jane's whiteness is complicated and does not have to do only with her skin color. In addition, her parents' disinterest in increasing their wealth also means that she is less tainted than many English people by "new money" earned through colonial trade. The Reeds seem to resent Jane in part for her "purity" from markers of Blackness, colonialism, or the slave trade.

Bertha Mason, the wife Mr. Rochester locks in the attic, can also be read as a racist caricature of Blackness. She is Creole, meaning she was born in the West Indies and may have mixed ancestry. She suffers abuse at Mr. Rochester's hand, but within the novel she also symbolizes the evil Mr. Rochester has introduced to England by making his money in colonial trade. Bertha makes "canine" growling sounds and substitutes violent outbursts for speech. By the time Brontë was writing, there was already a long history of white writers likening Black people to monsters or animals. It became especially popular in the 18th century to describe Black and Indigenous people as proto-humans, not yet evolved to the point of white Europeans. Again, whether or not Bertha must be interpreted as a Black woman, there is no doubt that the reader is to see her through the filter of anti-Blackness.

Through both the Reeds and Bertha, Blackness in the text is connected with violence. In the world of the novel, Blackness or proximity to it makes people less likely to be able to suppress their emotional outbursts. Jane's education and development involve learning to feel her emotions while keeping them under rational control, and to get what she wants without indulging in corruption. Blackness stands in for the lack of control Jane rejects (uncontrolled colonialism, uncontrolled spending on foreign goods, uncontrolled emotions, uncontrolled bodies).

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Chapter 11
Explanation and Analysis—Autobiography as Art:

Throughout the novel, which styles itself "an autobiography," the narrator crafts her image as an artist and styles the novel as an artistic creation. For example, Chapter 11 begins with a comparison between a novel and a play:

A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote [...]

The narrator is supposedly an adult Jane, recounting the autobiographical events of her life, but she calls her story a "novel," or a work of fiction. The distance between Brontë and the narrator collapses in this moment, as the narrator calls herself a novelist. This "autobiography" is literary art, not a long report of historical fact. There may also be a way in which Brontë's fiction is a kind of autobiography, even if the events didn't exactly happen to her. The line between fact and fiction is blurry. To further complicate the question of truth and artifice in the novel, the narrator also compares herself to the director of a play, staging a new scene before the reader. It is as if the characters in the novel are actors on a stage the narrator controls.

This does not necessarily mean that the narrator is a liar, but she is drawing attention to the hand she has in telling the story. The way Jane describes her drawings in Chapter 13 reveals that Brontë, Jane, and the narrator (the more mature Jane) share a sense of the artist as a mediator between her inner world and the outer world:

The subjects had, indeed, risen vividly on my mind. As I saw them with the spiritual eye, before I attempted to embody them, they were striking; but my hand would not second my fancy, and in each case it had wrought out but a pale portrait of the thing I had conceived.

When she draws, Jane renders the best version she can of the "picture" she has in her mind's eye, but it is difficult to convey what is inside her head. The "autobiography," too, is a rendering, not necessarily a precise copy of the truth. The narrator's job as an autobiographer is to craft a narrative that will allow the reader to experience the closest thing possible to the truth.

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Chapter 13
Explanation and Analysis—Autobiography as Art:

Throughout the novel, which styles itself "an autobiography," the narrator crafts her image as an artist and styles the novel as an artistic creation. For example, Chapter 11 begins with a comparison between a novel and a play:

A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote [...]

The narrator is supposedly an adult Jane, recounting the autobiographical events of her life, but she calls her story a "novel," or a work of fiction. The distance between Brontë and the narrator collapses in this moment, as the narrator calls herself a novelist. This "autobiography" is literary art, not a long report of historical fact. There may also be a way in which Brontë's fiction is a kind of autobiography, even if the events didn't exactly happen to her. The line between fact and fiction is blurry. To further complicate the question of truth and artifice in the novel, the narrator also compares herself to the director of a play, staging a new scene before the reader. It is as if the characters in the novel are actors on a stage the narrator controls.

This does not necessarily mean that the narrator is a liar, but she is drawing attention to the hand she has in telling the story. The way Jane describes her drawings in Chapter 13 reveals that Brontë, Jane, and the narrator (the more mature Jane) share a sense of the artist as a mediator between her inner world and the outer world:

The subjects had, indeed, risen vividly on my mind. As I saw them with the spiritual eye, before I attempted to embody them, they were striking; but my hand would not second my fancy, and in each case it had wrought out but a pale portrait of the thing I had conceived.

When she draws, Jane renders the best version she can of the "picture" she has in her mind's eye, but it is difficult to convey what is inside her head. The "autobiography," too, is a rendering, not necessarily a precise copy of the truth. The narrator's job as an autobiographer is to craft a narrative that will allow the reader to experience the closest thing possible to the truth.

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Chapter 21
Explanation and Analysis—Human Natures Rendered:

In Chapter 21, Jane has returned to Gateshead at the dying Mrs. Reed's command. Describing Georgiana and Eliza Reed's opposite temperaments, the narrator (the older and retrospective Jane) uses a metaphor comparing human nature to food and drink:

True, generous feeling is made small account of by some; but here were two natures rendered, the one intolerably acrid, the other despicably savourless for the want of it. Feeling without judgment is a washy draught indeed; but judgment untempered by feeling is too bitter and husky a morsel for human deglutition.

According to the narrator, human nature is something other people have to swallow. Georgiana offers other people "feeling without judgment," which is likened to a thin, watery drink—possibly an alcoholic drink, or even a medicine, that is disappointing and ineffective. On the other hand, Eliza's "judgment untempered by feeling" has such a caustic taste and tough texture that humans cannot swallow it.

This metaphor draws on the symbolism attached to food throughout the novel. Food can signal nourishment and care on the one hand, or poison and neglect on the other hand. For instance, the burnt porridge at Lowood represents the institution's lack of care for the students' well-being. Along with the burnt porridge, the students swallow the bitter understanding that the school is not a nurturing home. When Miss Temple flouts institutional rules to offer the students high-quality food in the wake of the burned porridge, she is also nourishing them with the knowledge that someone cares about them. Neither Georgiana nor Eliza can offer anyone a good "meal" of human connection. Interactions with the overly emotional Georgiana are empty and meaningless, whereas to interact with the overly rational Eliza is to eat more burnt porridge.

By comparing the best human nature to well-prepared food, the narrator not only condemns Georgiana and Eliza, but also suggests that it is a social responsibility to nourish others by cultivating the right balance of "judgment" and "feeling." The idea that individuals needed to balance reason and emotion in order for society to be healthy became common in England in the late 18th century. During the Victorian era, there was a great deal of pressure on individuals to govern their feelings and direct them toward solving social dilemmas. The novel grapples with this pressure: Jane's development involves learning to strike the right balance between reason and emotion as her guiding forces. Through this metaphor of human nature as something other people must consume, the reader can see the narrator reflecting on her social responsibility to cultivate a balanced personality.

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Chapter 23
Explanation and Analysis—Bird Women:

In Chapter 23, Mr. Rochester tells Jane that he is going to marry Blanche Ingram and that he has arranged a governess position for Jane in Ireland. When she gets upset with him, he says she should stay at Thornfield, kisses her, and attempts to subdue her with a simile:

‘Jane, be still; don’t struggle so, like a wild frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.’

‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.’

Rochester can't make up his mind about whether Jane should stay at Thornfield or leave. As soon as Jane decides to cut her losses by taking up the governess position, Rochester decides he won't let go of her. By comparing Jane to a bird that is destroying its own feathers in a futile attempt to escape, Mr. Rochester frames her attempt to leave him as self-sabotage. Jane sees through his manipulative accusation that she is being too emotional. She resists the simile, asserting to Mr. Rochester that she is no scared animal caught in a human man's trap. Rather, she is just as human as he is. Her will has equal weight to his, and she is going to use it to walk away.

There is an underlying metaphor here: whereas Jane can manage to get away, Bertha remains caught in Mr. Rochester's net. She is the real "wild frantic bird." Jane and the reader do not yet know about Bertha's existence, but Jane has noticed the signs of her "desperation." Mr. Rochester carefully elides Bertha's existence in order to get his way. He tells Jane that it is her he intends to marry and that "my bride is here [...] because my equal is here, and my likeness." He even asks Jane to marry him. Technically, he is telling the truth: he does intend to marry Jane someday, and his bride is at Thornfield. But the bride who is there is Bertha, not Jane. Because Bertha is married to Mr. Rochester, she is legally bound to him and cannot walk away like Jane can. She must remain his dirty secret in the attic. Bertha, unlike Jane, has lost her mind and cannot resist the comparison to a trapped animal.

This comparison brings complexity to a central question of the novel, which is whether Bertha is responsible for destroying herself. Mr. Rochester blames her family history of mental illness and does not think he is responsible for her decline and eventual death. He believes he is only responsible for the marriage's detrimental effects on his own life. But Mr. Rochester's own simile contains ambiguity about who is to blame for the bird's destroyed feathers. He claims that the bird is responsible for "rending its own plumage." Jane, meanwhile, draws attention to the net holding the bird. Someone is responsible for trapping the bird in the net in the first place, Jane helps the reader see. The bird is only fighting for the freedom it had before a human ensnared it. The simile and underlying metaphor thus implicate Mr. Rochester in Bertha's demise in a way Mr. Rochester himself struggles to see.

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