Jane Eyre | Study Guide

Charlotte Brontë

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Chapter 21

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 21 of Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

Jane begins the chapter by reflecting on the value of "presentiments," or premonitions, and signs. The day after the incident with Mason, Jane receives the news that John Reed has died, a possible suicide, after leading a "wild" life. Mrs. Reed has had a stroke and wants to speak to Jane. Before Jane leaves she requests permission to do so from Rochester. As they talk Jane asks about Adèle's future when Rochester marries (she thinks to Miss Ingram).

Jane goes to Gateshead and has a pleasant reunion with Bessie. Georgiana and Eliza are as cold as ever, but this no longer upsets Jane. Mrs. Reed is expected to live only for a few weeks. Ten-plus days pass before Jane learns why her aunt sent for her. In the meantime Jane and her cousins develop a more tolerable relationship, though the two of them despise each other. When she finally speaks with Mrs. Reed, her aunt expresses no regret for the way she treated Jane. She shows Jane a letter she received three years earlier from John Eyre, Jane's uncle. He wanted to find Jane so he could adopt her and have her come to Madeira. He has been successful in business and wants to leave his fortune to Jane. Not wanting to see Jane become wealthy, Mrs. Reed replied to John Eyre that Jane had died of typhus at Lowood. This, she says, was her revenge for Jane's outburst against her before she left Gateshead. Jane asks for Mrs. Reed's forgiveness but is refused. Nevertheless Jane forgives her aunt, who dies just a few hours later.

Analysis

This chapter highlights how much Jane has changed and matured since she left Gateshead at the age of 10. Although she had sworn to never again to call Mrs. Read her aunt or come to see her, she does both. Although her aunt refuses to forgive Jane's childish excesses, Jane forgives her aunt for the treatment she received. No longer defensive, angry, or dependent, Jane is now confident, forgiving, and independent. She has internalized the message that Helen Burns taught her. The differences between her aunt and her highlight the difference between hypocrisy and true Christian values. At the same time, Jane does not grieve over her aunt's death.

Jane's female cousins provide a counterpoint to her. Georgina and Eliza want nothing to do with her at first, though, when they see Jane's skill in portraiture, they become more interested in her and agree to pose so that Jane can draw their portraits. Over time they open up to Jane. Georgina adores fashion and society and speaks often of a possible match with a titled suitor. Eliza is much more devout and contemplative and spends her time largely by herself. The two reveal their mutual ill-feeling when Eliza attacks Georgiana for being overly caught up in society, causing her sister to accuse her of spreading rumors out of jealousy to torpedo her own chances at receiving a desired marriage proposal. Jane, it seems, is preferred by each of them to her own sister. Yet the coldness they initially show her and the bitterness they display toward each other contrasts with what we later see in the Rivers sisters, who accept Jane from the start.

The letter from Jane's uncle raises to the reader the possibility that Jane's position in life may change in the future, though that is not something she thinks about. If she inherits wealth, how will her life change? Or did her aunt's response to her uncle dash any chance of her inheriting that wealth? Jane's mention of the value of presentiments and signs alerts the reader to look for some in the coming chapters.

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