Situational Irony

Jane Eyre


Charlotte Brontë

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Jane Eyre: Situational Irony 2 key examples

Chapter 4
Explanation and Analysis—Liar Liar:

One example of situational irony occurs in Chapter 4, when Mrs. Reed introduces Jane to Mr. Brocklehurst as a liar. Jane rejects this label, and with it the "Child's Guide" Mr. Brocklehurst has given her to caution her out of lying:

‘I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed: and this book about the Liar you may give to your girl, Georgiana, for it is she who tells lies, and not I.’

This is an example of situational irony because, as Jane points out to Mrs. Reed, her own children are the real liars in the family. The Reed children have consistently lied about Jane's behavior to get her in trouble. If anyone, they should read the cautionary tale about the child whose deceit results in her death. To add insult to injury, Mr. Brocklehurst believes Mrs. Reed's lie that Jane is a deceitful child. The Reeds, who are the real liars, are easily believed, while the label "liar" will now follow Jane and earn her a sentence of public humiliation when she is at Mr. Brocklehurst's school.

One of the things that makes Jane a remarkable protagonist is her ability to spot this kind of situational irony and speak up for herself. She must learn throughout the novel not to let her temper get the best of her, but she must also learn to follow her internal sense of truth and morality. By describing her early resistance to the label of "liar," the narrator also vindicates her own work. She wants the reader to see a distinction between her self-narration (which may not always be factually reliable because it is colored by emotion) and falsification. The narrator may be an artist, but as she declared when she was young, "I am not deceitful."

Chapter 27
Explanation and Analysis—Victim Complex:

Although the novel truly seems to buy into the idea that Mr. Rochester suffers for the sin of colonial entanglement, there is also situational irony in the way he describes his own suffering. In Chapter 27, he describes the "agony" of being married to Bertha Mason, agony that he claims led him to lock her in the attic:

I lived with that woman upstairs four years, and before that time she had tried me indeed: her character ripened and developed with frightful rapidity; her vices sprang up fast and rank: they were so strong, only cruelty could check them, and I would not use cruelty. [...] How fearful were the curses those propensities entailed on me! Bertha Mason, the true daughter of an infamous mother, dragged me through all the hideous and degrading agonies which must attend a man bound to a wife at once intemperate and unchaste.

Mr. Rochester's self-pity is ironic considering the agony Bertha must feel being married to him. He keeps her imprisoned in the attic and pretends she doesn't exist. This neglect and abuse is surely worse than whatever Mr. Rochester has endured. Jane tells Mr. Rochester in the scene that she pities him, but the narrator has made clear elsewhere that her spoken words do not always express the entirety of what she is feeling. The reader has already read about Jane's own experience of being locked up in solitary confinement, when Mrs. Reed locked her in the Red Room as a child. Jane was only there for one night, but it was almost unbearable for her. Between Mr. Rochester and Bertha, Jane has more reason to pity Bertha than Mr. Rochester.

Mr. Rochester's victim complex makes him a good proxy for England. He is implicated not only in colonialism, but also in domestic abuse that he has committed in response to the consequences for his actions. He fails to see all the ways in which he is responsible for the bad situation at Thornfield. Similarly, England's investment in imperial expansion has exacerbated problems at home that it is not dealing with well. For instance, the novel criticizes the treatment of poor orphan children at charity schools. Economic changes under imperialism were at least partly responsible for increased wealth inequality that lay at the root of this problem. Whereas imperialism was supposed to increase economic prosperity for English people, it had also led to complications. According to the novel, Mr. Rochester and England alike need to take more responsibility for the messes they have created, rather than leaning on their roles as victims of circumstance. Mr. Rochester must undergo a major transformative experience before he is ready for Jane to marry him. He loses his wife, his house, his sight, and the hand with which he locked Bertha up. The novel suggests that England needs a similarly dramatic transformation.

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