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Jane Eyre | Study Guide

Charlotte Brontë

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Jane Eyre | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Jane Eyre what is the symbolic significance of the old chestnut tree at Thornfield?

Jane and Rochester become engaged while sitting under the chestnut tree. That night the tree is struck by lightning and split in two. This is both an omen that foreshadows the rift between Jane and Rochester and a symbol that represents growth, destruction, and regeneration. The day before her wedding, Jane sees that, although the tree is split down the middle, the two halves are still joined at the base and by the roots. Jane says to the tree: "the time of pleasure and love is over with you: but you are not desolate: each of you has a comrade to sympathize with him in his decay." This statement foreshadows her coming separation from, and reunion with, Rochester. At the end of the novel, when Jane goes to Rochester at Ferndean, he laments that with his injuries he's no better than the old chestnut tree at Thornfield. Jane disagrees, saying he is still "green and vigorous." This more positive image suggests the happy ending that they will enjoy.

How does Brontë use supernatural elements in Jane Eyre?

Brontë uses supernatural elements throughout Jane Eyre to add excitement and heighten suspense. In the red-room at Gateshead, Jane sees a light and thinks it's a ghost; at Thornfield she hears unearthly screams and "demoniacal laughter" and sees a vampire-like figure in her room. Although all of these are explained in the novel as having natural causes, that does not occur until well after the fact. The mystery that clings to them in the interim adds to the dramatic tension of the novel. The most fantastical element—and the only one that is unexplained—is Jane and Rochester hearing each other's voices calling when they are actually far away from each other. Were these events the blessing of God? Were they the inexplicable work of nature, sympathetic to the two separated lovers? That question remains a mystery; readers must answer it for themselves.

What emotional struggle does Jane experience after her marriage is halted in Jane Eyre?

Immediately after the marriage is halted, Jane is brokenhearted, overwhelmed by feelings of loss and grief. Rochester's deception has shattered her faith in him, yet she doesn't think he is evil or that he has betrayed her. She doubts that he really loves her. Instead she thinks all he felt for her was passion, and now that his plan has been halted, he won't want her. She feels devastated and alone. The only thing that sustains her is "a remembrance of God," and she whispers a prayer asking God to stay with and support her, as "trouble is near" and "there is none to help." Her impulse is to flee, and for a time her physical needs are more pressing than her emotional ones. As she begins to find a new sense of self as a teacher in Morton, however, she remains in love with Mr. Rochester. Her cousin St. John's campaign to make her marry him and go with him to India as a missionary cannot stamp out her love; instead she resents St. John's pressure. When she miraculously hears Mr. Rochester calling to her, she seeks him out and finds him. Her emotional struggle ends when they are reunited.

In Jane Eyre what does Rochester's decision to keep Bertha at Thornfield rather than at a more remote location say about his character?

Rochester didn't want to send her to Ferndean, a remote house in the woods, because he thought it would be damp and unhealthy. Mental institutions, called lunatic asylums at that time, were horrible, chaotic places, so he did not want to place her in one, indicating some compassion for her condition. At the same time, he wanted to hide the fact that he had a wife, and committing her to an asylum might have risked exposure. Thornfield offered a more controlled environment. The few servants who suspected there may have been someone on the third floor may well have believed the rumors that she was an insane mistress or half-sister. Rochester seems to have tried to be as responsible as possible about Bertha's care and comfort.

In Chapter 27 of Jane Eyre, how does learning about Rochester's mistresses affect Jane's thinking about her future?

Jane thinks that, if she gives in to Rochester now, she will essentially be following in the footsteps of Rochester's three mistresses. He says he now hates the memory of the time he spent with them, and Jane thinks it is possible he may one day think of her with the same contempt. She makes a mental note to remember this if she is tempted to stay with Rochester. These thoughts seem only a secondary matter to Jane, however. Despite her deep love for Rochester, her first reaction to the knowledge of his marriage is that she must leave Thornfield. She never budges from that resolve, even when Rochester holds her in an embrace and tries to persuade her to stay.

In Chapter 27 of Jane Eyre, why does Jane worry more about Rochester's fate than her own when she leaves him?

Jane is certain of her own acceptance of the need to part and strong in her belief that she has the self-control to live with that resolution. She, after all, is accustomed to being alone. However brokenhearted, she will survive. Rochester, on the other hand, has passions that can easily run out of control. She thinks of "his headlong nature" and his "recklessness" that followed "despair" earlier in his life and probably fears that he will do something rash. She may remember that he said he had thought of committing suicide when he learned of Bertha's madness and may fear that he would do so again. Later in the book, in talking to St. John about Rochester, she reflects that her "worst fears" are that he went to Europe and slipped back into a life of pleasure-seeking. "What opiate" would he seek to soothe his "severe sufferings," she wonders.

In Chapter 28 of Jane Eyre, Jane refers to Nature as her mother. How does Nature bring her comfort?

In Chapter 28 Jane says that she has "no relative but the universal mother, Nature." She has spent all of her money on coach fare, so she decides to sleep on the moors. Unable to sleep because of her worry about Mr. Rochester, she rises to her knees to pray for him. Looking up she is stunned by the beauty of the Milky Way and she feels "the might and strength of God." Echoing an idea that Helen Burns had said many years ago at Lowood school, when Helen was dying, Jane is sure that God will save and protect the souls of all humans. She feels sure that God will guard Rochester. Nature brings Jane comfort by bringing her closer to God. Her sense of religious faith is spurred by her connection to nature. In Chapter 35, when Jane thinks she hears Rochester's voice, she concludes it is nature that is communicating with her. She senses that the voice comes from something sympathetic to them, not the work of an evil force.

In Chapter 28 of Jane Eyre, how does a clergyman save Jane's life, and why is this significant?

After wandering for days with no food or shelter, Jane seeks shelter from the pouring rain at Marsh End (or Moor House), a house on the moor. The servant, Hannah, turns her away, and Jane collapses on the front walk. There she is found by St. John Rivers, a clergyman returning home. He takes her indoors, where his sisters nurse Jane back to health. Jane's rescue by a clergyman is significant because her dire situation was the result of a decision she made based largely on her religious beliefs. The fact that a clergyman rescues Jane seems to validate her conviction that God saves and protects souls.

How does Brontë use descriptions of nature in Jane Eyre to set mood?

Brontë uses descriptions of the natural world to mirror Jane's emotional state at various points of Jane Eyre. The first instance comes in Chapter 1, when "the cold winter wind" and "penetrating" rain forced the Reeds and Jane to remain indoors rather than walk outside. The dismal weather reflects Jane's isolation and also the turmoil that she feels at her position in the Reed household. In Chapter 9 mood contrasts with the natural world. Jane describes a beautiful and vibrant spring at Lowood. But spring in the school still overseen by Mr. Brocklehurst can hardly be healthy, and typhus enters the school, making many of the girls sick. It is in this hopeful spring that Helen Burns dies. In Chapter 23 the hopefulness of Jane's engagement with Rochester is counteracted by the storm that comes to Thornfield. The storm drives the two of them indoors and includes the lightning bolt that destroys the chestnut tree. In Chapter 30 the natural setting around Marsh End is described in positive, restful terms: "purple moors," "a hollow vale," "fern-banks," "flower-sprinkled turf," and "soft breezes." Jane feels the "consecration of its loneliness" as it becomes a place of respite for her, full of "so many pure and sweet sources of pleasure." Jane is at peace at this point of the novel, accepting her decision to leave Thornfield and ready to move on from the emotional turmoil of having to leave Rochester.

Considering the various times the moon appears, what is the significance of the moon motif in Jane Eyre?

The moon often serves as a guiding light for Jane. If she's outdoors, she looks for the moon in the sky; indoors, it may shine through the windows. Its light helps her find her way to Helen Burns as the latter lays dying in Miss Temple's room. The night Jane first meets Rochester on the road, she watches the moon rise. The moon shining through her bedroom window awakens her the night Mr. Mason is attacked by Bertha, and she watches it set as she sits with him while waiting for Rochester to return with the surgeon. The moon is shining on the garden the night that Rochester proposes, and Rochester later makes up a fantasy story for Adèle about taking Jane to the moon, linking it to a hopeful future. When Jane looks at the split chestnut tree the day before her wedding to Rochester, a blood-red moon seems to fill the fissure. The most dramatic appearance of the moon is in the dream she has just before she flees Thornfield. The moon takes on a female "human form" and tells her to flee temptation, reinforcing her resolve. The night Rochester calls out Jane's name to finally bring her to him, he is aware of the moon shining on him. The moon motif seems to convey the feeling that Jane's way is lighted and indicated by a benevolent guardian spirit.

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