The Function of Surroundings in Jane Eyre

The word “surroundings” is a quite the umbrella term as it could refer to a plethora of different definitions. You could be referencing your immediate landscape, or an intangible, spiritual environment. So, here’s the question, to what purpose does Bronte use her description of environment in Jane Eyre? According to Delia Da Sousa Correa, we are made aware of the “intense relationship between the description of external descriptions and the portrayal of individual thoughts and feelings.” Which helps each external description convey Jane’s feelings, which in turn, is how they foreshadow later events and settings.

Bronte’s use of imagery and symbolism in her descriptions of the environment is integral to the novel. She brilliantly use the setting to further the reader’s appreciation for Jane’s inner feelings; complimenting and intensifying her emotions and the reader’s empathy. The autobiographical, first person narrative Bronte’s protagonist speaks in, helps the reader directly connect with the many layers of this stories surroundings. This is because the perspective is from Jane Eyre, so you interact with her mental state of mind, and physical state of body. From this you can understand the influence of language and choices she employs from her philosophy and landscape.

The chronological attribute of ‘Bildungsroman’ novelistic style employed by Bronte, allows Jane’s personal and emotional development to be regarded in conjunction with her surroundings at five key stages in the novel: Gateshead Hall, Lowood School, Thornfield, Moor House and Ferndean. These five key settings represent different stages in Jane’s development: as a child, girlhood, adolescence, maturity and fulfilment. Each environment places Jane as an ‘outsider’. They all show a commonality and a progression: she is trapped all the way throughout this era-defining novel.

Each setting is dominated by a different tone. At Gateshead, for example, the tone is passionate, superstitious and wild. It helps reflect the narrative focus on Jane as a child – who is irrational and rebellious. The opening scene is one of isolation in the midst of a busy familial setting, and the Gothic writing style, that defines this book, is especially prominent in Bronte’s description of the ‘Red Room.’ The house is oppressive; it is not her home.

Then there is the tone at Lowood – it is cold, hard and restrained. At this point in the novel, Jane is introduced to the reality of the world; the constraints placed upon her and women, by men and society. She is also introduced to death and religion by Hannah, her first friend. With all it’s rules, Lowood is oppressive on a larger scale than Gateshead, but in the long run it is still a release from Mrs Reed and a chance for Jane to develop in the story. Places like Miss Temple’s room, and Jane’s rock in the stream alone provided safe haven from this hellscape.

Thornfield is closely associated with Rochester and the Romantic and Gothic genres; a genre Bronte used brillianty throughout the novel, and some believed is what set this book apart from others of its time. The tone is personal and symbolic, and the narrative veers between being rapid and restrained as Jane is torn between her passion and self-control. The tone is seemingly a different approach than the others as the surroundings Jane interacts with are much different than what she is accustomed to. Thornfield represents Rochester in terms of its hidden secret and eventual destruction. There were happy times for Jane there as well, for example, Rochester’s proposal in the orchard.

Then at Moor House Jane finds sanctuary, but the tone, once again becomes stifling and oppressive. She is finally ‘free’ and among equals, but not yet as a whole. She owes her saviours and is controlled by St. John. In one scene at Moor House we see Bronte’s clever combining of Realism and Gothic styles; in St. John’s psychological manipulation of Jane and Rochester’s disembodied voice. The difference between Moor House and Thornfield is also representative of the differences between St. John and Rochester: self-denial vs. extravagant indulgence.

Ferndean Manor House, in its natural setting, is desolate – hidden and overgrown, with nothing to distinguish the house from the trees. A thoroughly sad, but real setting. Everywhere is gloomy and in twilight, as Rochester is unable to see the light. But Jane takes him out from the gloom, into the fresh air of a new day. These scenes are reminiscent of the orchard at Thornfield. They sit on a tree stump (the shattered Chestnut) and Rochester finally proposes to Jane for a second time. Ferndean is a setting where Jane genuinely feels at home and completely free, in large part due to the presence of a reformed Rochester. She now owes Rochester nothing; in fact he depends on her. She has all she wants, independence and equality, Rochester’s respect as well has his love and her moral sense is satisfied. As a result of this we can see a pattern, from Gateshead and Thornfield to Lowood and Moor House, the novel swings from the irrational to the rational. This reflects the internal divisions in Jane’s character, until she finally finds fulfilment at Ferndean.

Bronte does not allow Jane Eyre’s Romantic and Gothic style to color her descriptions; she is concerned with social issues and does not allow the genres of Romance and the Gothic impinge overly, and that is what truly sets this book apart from any other, and will keep it young for eras to come. It is important to acknowledge the way in which Bronte uses descriptions of setting not only to create atmosphere, but also to advance the novelistic genres of realism and the Gothic style.

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