Mystery and Suspense
What means does Charlotte Bronte employ to create mystery and suspense in Jane Eyre?
Mystery and suspense in Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre provides a crucial element to the reader’s interpretation of the novel, allowing Bronte to subtly aid the reader in foreboding coming events. Bronte successfully creates mystery and suspense in her novel through the use of both features of plot and narrative techniques. Bronte’s features of plot which allow her to create mystery and suspense are the esoteric nature of Grace Poole, the visit of the fortune teller at Thornfield, and the fire in Rochester’s bedroom and the subsequent mystery of what is in the attic. Bronte’s narrative techniques are the use of literary symbolism and dreams, both of which are used to convey a Gothic and supernatural setting. Through the use of these literary devices, Jane Eyre becomes both cabbalistic and prophetic.
Bronte’s character Grace Poole is surrounded by an obscure haze from the reader’s first introduction to her, an effective device used in order to create a mysterious atmosphere in the novel. Jane first learns of the occult Grace Poole upon hearing her laugh upon being shown the attic by Mrs Fairfax. Bronte first creates an ambience of mystery through the initial description of the setting. The attic is described by Jane as being “black as a vault” (chapter 11, page 122) and the leading passageway as “narrow, low, and dim” (chapter 11, page 122). Jane observes all the doors being shut, which allows the reader to interpret the third story of Thornfield as inaccessible and isolated, perhaps intentionally attempting to conceal something, much likened to “Bluebeard’s castle” (chapter 11, page 122) in which behind the locked doors was hidden the deadly secret of the castle. The laugh which Jane hears is described by Jane as being “a curious laugh; distinct, formal, mirthless” (chapter 11, page 122). The peculiarity of laugh, it not being cheerful nor delighted, perplexes Jane as well as the reader, this intimating that the origin of the laugh is not of the typical sort. Jane’s curiosity prompts her to ask of Mrs Fairfax the origin of the laugh. Mrs Fairfax’s vague answer does not satisfy Jane, even less so after hearing the laugh once more, it being “tragic, as preternatural a laugh as any I ever heard” (chapter 11, page 123). That another inquisitive remark made by Jane is again answered vaguely after which the subject of the conversation is soon changed only adds to the suspense of the incident. Following the fire in Rochester’s bedroom, Jane observes Grace Poole the next day in the room. The circumstances in which this occurs are largely ordinary. It is morning and Grace is dressed in her usual attire, her expression showing “nothing either of the paleness or desperation one would have expected to see marking the countenance of a woman who had attempted murder” (chapter 16, page 176). The extreme ordinarity of her provokes the reader into thinking past her exterior appearance whilst simultaneously adding to the suspense of the situation. Bronte again uses the outwardly evident normalcy of Grace Poole in contrast to the earlier mysterious descriptions of her to further develop the suspense surrounding her character as Jane recounts to Rochester her dream of the unknown figure in her closet who tears her wedding veil. Jane’s fear is momentarily subsided by Rochester’s “solving of the mystery” (chapter 25, page 319) in a way which does not nearly satisfy the reader’s curiosity due to Jane’s vivid description of the event and her horrifying fear. Bronte uses Grace Poole to create an atmosphere of mystery and suspense through vivid descriptions of the ghostly atmosphere which emanates whenever she is present as well as a contrasting ordinarity which further compels the reader to see Grace Poole in light of a an “enigmatic character” (chapter 16, page 178).
The use of a fortune teller at Thornfield by Bronte allows her to add mystery and suspense through the mystic and strange nature of fortune tellers of that time. Bronte initially establishes a suspenseful ambience through Jane’s remark; “and the Sybil – if Sybil she were” (chapter 19, page 221) which suggests to the reader that her character is perhaps doubtful and she may not be who she at first seems. The reader is made eager to hear the fortune of our heroine through Jane’s apathetic indifference as to whether it is read or not; “I don’t care about it, mother; but you may please yourself” (chapter 19, page 221). Possibly the most mysterious and suspenseful feature of plot is the fortune tellers precisely accurate account of Jane’s predicament; “You are cold, because you are alone: no contact strikes the fire from you that is in you. You are sick; because the best of feelings, the highest and the sweetest given to man, keeps far away from you. You are silly, because, suffer as you may, you will not beckon it to approach; nor will you stir one step to meet it where it awaits you.” (chapter 19, page 222). This description of Jane’s circumstance both compels the reader to trust the source, it being rather accurate, whilst also creates suspense as to what shall become of Jane and Rochester, which the reader is well aware that such is what the fortune teller is alluding to. Upon her mention of the enigmatic Grace Poole, both Jane and the reader are startled. The reader is again drawn into the abstruseness of the situation through the fortune teller’s astounding knowledge of Jane’s habits, and even more so by her subtle but discernible quest for some sort of information, neither the reader nor Jane knowing what exactly it is she wants to hear, however this adds to the suspense in our desire to know. As the subject of Mr Rochester is brought up it seems as if the fortune teller has struck her chord. However it is with her revelation of his forthcoming marriage which more interests the reader. A climax of suspense and mystery is reached as Rochester steps out of his disguise. Although it can be said that the divulgence of his identify somewhat solved the mystery, it is even more accurate to say that this revelation merely added to the mystery, his intended purpose still to be discovered. Rochester’s apparent disturbance at the knowledge of Mason’s residence at Thornfield provokes the reader’s attention, creating suspense as to his purpose and coming events. Bronte leaves the reader ill at ease with Jane’s closing comment; “the gay tones set my heart at ease” (chapter 19, page 230). The reader is well aware that this will be no peaceful nights sleep. Bronte has successfully created tension and suspense as to the almost certainly tragic impending events.
The fire in Rochester’s bedroom not only forms a sense of mystery regarding Thornfield, but also alerts the reader as to the enigma of what is in the attic. Prior to the the fire, Bronte establishes a supernatural and ghostly setting; “the night was drearily dark; my spirits were depressed” (chapter 15, page 167). The hushing of the “vague murmur, peculiar and lugubrious” (chapter 15, page 167) and Jane’s anxiously betting heart creates a tense and suspenseful atmosphere. Bronte creates a setting much alike some sort of horror story through Jane’s descriptions; “my chamber door was touched; as if fingers had swept the panels in a groping way along the dark gallery outside” (chapter 15, page 167). Very successful in adding to the tenseness of the situation is Jane’s frequent calming; “The idea [that the sound may be Pilot] calmed me somewhat: I lay down. Silence composes the nerves” (chapter 15, page 167) which is ultimately followed by another startling sound, even more frightful that the preceding one; a dream scarcely approached my ear, when it fled affrighted, scared by a marrow-freezing incident enough” (chapter 15, page 168). Jane’s response to the laughter which rings at her chamber door perturbs the reader; “my first impulse was to rise and fasten the bolt” (chapter 15, page 168). Jane’s continual reference to the origin of the laughter as “something” and not “someone” alerts the reader as to the nature of this origin. Bronte again establishes a suspenseful tension this time though Jane’s preoccupation with the fire and her momentary disregard of the laughter which the reader is eager to know more about. Upon the fire having been extinguished, Rochester resolves to “pay a visit to the third storey” (chapter 15, page 170). Rochester’s instructions to Jane not to move nor call anyone alert the reader to impending danger. As time passes the atmosphere in which Jane sits calms, no noises being heard and the night growing cold. Rochester returns, in an equally calm state, setting the reader ill at ease. Rochester’s failure to say more on the subject of the fire adds suspense, his vague answers bearing no satisfaction. As the suspense of impending danger fades, a new suspense mounts, the latter of Jane’s unresolved feelings for Rochester and their consequences.
Bronte’s use of literary symbolism is a highly effective means by which she is able to subtly warn and inform her readers of impending events in order to establish a degree of suspense in the novel. Upon Jane having accepted Rochester’s proposal of marriage, Jane tells her reader’s that the great horse chestnut tree at the bottom of the orchard had been struck by lighting in the middle of the night, half of it having been split away; “I faced the wreck of the chestnut tree; it stood up black and riven: the trunk, split down the centre, gaped ghastly” (chapter 25, page 309), a clear reference to Jane and Rochester’s separation. At Ferndean upon Jane and Rochester’s unity, Rochester refers to himself as; “no better than the old lighting struck chestnut tree in Thornfield orchard” (chapter 37, page 493) however Jane assures him that “plants will grow about your roots” (chapter 37, page 493), this being a clear providential warning of their future children. Another source of suspense for the reader is Bessie’s ballad at Gateshead in which “a poor orphan child” (chapter 3, page 29) is described wandering through the moors thinking of “hard-hearted” (chapter 3, page 29) men. This is a direct prophecy of Jane’s wanderings after leaving Rochester prior to her arrival at Moor House. The ballad describes the presence of God who is with the orphan child, much like Jane remembered God during her wanderings and struggle for survival. Just before his intended marriage to Jane, Rochester plays for Jane a love song in which may symbols and prophecies can be found. The song describes a man who’s lover’s “parting was my pain” (chapter 24, page 304), alluding to Jane’s forthcoming fleeing of Thornfield. The man pressed to her “As blind as eagerly”, a subtle yet later obvious reference to Rochester’s blindness. At the end of the song Rochester sings how “My love has placed her little hand with noble faith in mine, And vowed that wedlock’s sacred band our natures shall entwine” (chapter 24, page 305), alluding that he and Jane will eventually be wed. Through these hidden prophecies Bronte creates suspense for the reader through the subtle warning of forthcoming events.
Throughout the novel, Jane experiences many dreams, particularly in Thornfield. These dreams allow Bronte to create suspense through foreboding warnings of impending events and also to establish a mysterious and supernatural atmosphere. Just before Bessie is called to the deathbed of her dying sister, Jane dreams of a child. Jane remembers her childhood and Bessie saying that “to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either to one’s self or one’s kin” (chapter 21, page 248). Soon after, Jane herself dreams of a child for “seven successive nights” (chapter 21, page 248). Due to Bessie’s tragic experience following Jane’s first dream, the reader is drawn into a tense atmosphere where there is surely to be some impending event. The next night, Jane is visited by Robert from Gateshead who informs her of John Reed’s death a week before and Mrs Reeds imminent death. These drams of infants not only warn the reader of events to come but also allow Bronte to establish a Gothic and supernatural ambience of mystery. Just prior to Jane and Rochester’s wedding day, the night before when Rochester kept Jane to her promise of staying up with him, Jane tells him of two of her dreams. In the first, Jane remembers a Gothic and mysterious setting; “a dark and gusty night” (chapter 25, page 315) whereby Jane “experienced a strange, regretful consciousness of some barrier dividing us” (chapter 25, page 35). This allusion to Bertha and all she represents is possibly one of Bronte’s most explicit providential warnings to her readers. Jane goes on to describe herself “following the windings of an unknown road; total obscurity environed me; rain pelted me” (chapter 25, page 315), this also candidly referring to Jane’s wanderings after her leaving Rochester and Thornfield. In her second dream, Jane sees “Thornfield Hall was a dreary ruin” (chapter 24, page 316). This reference to the impending fire at Thornfield allows Bronte to reach the climax of her prophetic warnings. Jane remembers “the wall crumbled” (chapter 24, page 316) much like it did following Bertha’s jumping from the battlements. Like Bertha did in reality, Jane in her dream “lost my balance, fell, and woke” (chapter 34, page 316). These dreams create a mysterious sense of foreboding as well as add to the Gothic and supernatural setting of the novel.
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