Saturday, 24 November 2012

In Which Bronte's Use of the Gothic is Discussed



Discuss Bronte's Use of the Gothic in Chapter 20 of Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre, although not a gothic novel in the traditional sense of the word, most definitely contains elements and symbols of a gothic nature. Chapter 20 is the culmination of all the gothic symbols reference throughout the book up until this chapter, and in it we see the use of the moon, blood, animalistic symbolism, religious themes, and the language used within the chapter.


 Firstly, the moon. The moon is a predominant feature of this chapter of Jane Eyre, but also features throughout the book. The moon wakes Jane in chapter 20: “her glorious gaze roused me”, and this prepares Jane for the night that she will face. Underneath the moon, the supernatural themes of the chapter take place, and indeed Jane says “dawn was approaching... hope [was] revived.” The moon has a great place in gothic literature due to pathetic fallacy. The moon has long been associated with insanity and also with werewolves and vampires, two ideas that feature heavily in this chapter; furthermore, the moon is frequently used in rituals and spells, therefore giving it ties with magic and the occult. Its presence at the beginning of this chapter foreshadows the events to come throughout. However, another angle must also be considered on this: in chapter 27, Jane sees the moon as a “white human form” that whispered in her heart “my daughter, flee temptation”. Jane answers “Mother, I will”. Here the moon appears to Jane as a symbol of the matriarchal spirit. Although this idea does not necessarily fit with previous usages of the moon, it can also be argued that the moon guides Jane along her spiritual journey which takes her away from Rochester, but also leads her back to him: “The room was full of moonlight” when Jane heard a voice cry “Jane! Jane! Jane!”, and indeed- Rochester has called Jane's name to the moon, aware of its presence by a “vague luminous haze”. Interpreted in this respect, the moon's symbolism is twofold. Firstly, the moon foreshadows the supernatural, as it has long been linked with both this, and also that of vampires, werewolves and magic- themes that feature heavily during this chapter. However, if we look further into the moon, it is the moon that wakes Jane and alerts her to the beast prowling above her, allowing her to be ready for when Rochester calls her. It gives her the strength to quit Gateshead and it eventually leads her back to Rochester- to her home. The moon guides Jane through her journey, admittedly leading her full-circle, however Jane has had time to grow and develop, whilst Rochester has been humbled by time and injury. He understands by the end of the novel that his intentions were wrong: “I would have sullied my innocent flower”, and this understanding allows Jane and Rochester's relationship to survive on equal terms. With the help of the moon, the couple achieve their happy ending.





Following on from the moon as a symbol of vampirism, lycanthropy and the occult, we also see the theme of blood come into play in this chapter. Bertha displays vampiric tendencies, threatening to “drain my [Mason's] heart”. Bertha however, does not stop at blood. According to Rochester, she would drain him of “my energy, my vitality, my manhood”. Rochester also refers to Bertha as a 'hideous demon” who “allured” him in typical succubus fashion. This chapter sees the expression not only of Bertha's vampiric tendencies, but also of her lycanthropic tendencies. Her transformation from woman to fiend is one so unexpected that her own brother could not anticipate it: “Oh it was frightful!... And I did not expect it: she looked so quiet at first.” Blood is spilled frequently within this chapter, and it is not only used as an expression of Bertha's more inhuman characteristics. It also serves to show how what is to Rochester a “mere scratch”, has Mason, in Jane's eyes “weak, wild and lost”. This difference in interpretations of the situation shows differences in the personalities of both Jane and Rochester. Rochester's dismissal and denial of the situation reflects his attitude to life. Frequently, he trivialises Jane's concerns, a characteristic possibly left over from his days as a young man tearing through Europe and trying to leave his past behind him. On the other hand, Jane over-thinks the situation, and has Mason at death's door. These opposing characteristics create conflict and heighten tension between the two characters.



Frequently within the book, contrasts are drawn between Bertha and Jane. Whilst Bertha is a “winged condor on the Andes”, a “snarling... dog quarrelling”, a “carrion-seeking bird of prey”, a “tigress”, Jane is a “pet lamb”, a “cat”. These phrases used to describe Bertha are linked back to colonialism, which, as we also see with Adele, is frowned upon within society: “a sound English education corrected in great measure [Adele's] French defects”. Bertha is foreign, which within Victorian society, would have been frowned upon. These colonialisms are used to warn and remind the reader of Bertha's origins, and stress that they are not English. Furthermore, Bertha is the antithesis of Jane. According to Gilbert and Gubar, “the character of Bertha Mason serves as an ominous representation of uncontrollable passion and madness”. This uncontrollable passion and madness echoes that of Jane's when locked in the red room. Bertha represents everything that Jane would be if not educated in a moral, upstanding society. On another level however, Bertha can also be seen as a manifestation of Jane's subconscious. Jane loves Rochester, however fears that her marriage to him may become an imprisonment; Bertha manifests this fear by tearing apart her wedding veil. Furthermore, when Thornfield comes to represent servitude and submission for Jane, Bertha burns it to the ground. Bertha represents the emotions and actions that Jane must keep in check. 


Also within this chapter, we encounter religious themes. In particular, these are seen in the depiction of the cabinet on which the twelve apostles can be seen. Judas, she imagines, is “gathering life and threatening a revelation of the arch-traitor- of Satan himself- in his subordinate's form.” This suggests a devilish and supernatural evil. When we add this to the fact that metres away prowls Bertha, referred to soon after as a “mocking demon”, a “wild beast” and a “fiend”, this description becomes even more chilling. Bertha is here being linked to the devil, his presence released by Judas. In a way, Mason could be described as Judas. Here, Rochester is forced to bring Jane into close proximity with Bertha in order to keep Mason alive. However, if it wasn't for Mason's stupidity, this action would not have been necessary: “it was mere folly to attempt the interview tonight, and alone.” Furthermore, Bertha's existence would not have been revealed to Jane were it not for Mason interrupting their wedding day. Mason's betrayal of Rochester can be linked with Judas' betrayal of Christ. 


Finally, language use within the chapter. Bronte uses language carefully, conjuring up vivid and horrifying images within our mind. The entire description of the events that occur on the mysterious third floor simply serve to heighten the tension, mystery, and add to the reader's sense of impending horror- whilst Jane may be na├»ve, the reader in general is not. Jane relates of “a pale and bloody spectacle”, of a mystery that breaks out “now in fire and now in blood”, creating a “web of horror” in which the reader is firmly ensnared. Gothic texts use gloomy settings, along with a sinister and eerie atmosphere to create both horror, and also mystery. Jane's continual references to secrets, mystery and the supernatural keep the reader in suspense throughout the chapter. However, Jane cannot see through the veneer that Thornfield, and also Rochester wear. 



“'That house is a mere dungeon: don't you feel it so?'

'It seems to me a splendid mansion, sir.'

'The glamour of inexperience is over your eyes'”.


Jane cannot see Thornfield in its true light, and neither can she see Rochester. His secrets stand between them, and they cannot be overcome. 


In conclusion, despite not fully qualifying as a gothic novel, Jane Eyre shares many characteristics with one, and makes use of many gothic techniques. In chapter 20 alone, themes such as the moon, blood, animalistic symbolism, religious themes, and language usage all contribute to a chapter that heightens the suspense and mystery of the book, and leaves the reader on tenterhooks, as they begin to peel back the layers that Jane can see, but cannot understand. © Izzy Garratt 2012

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