Detail the importance of onomatopoeia in Chapter 12 of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, with specific examples.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Chapter Twelve, the narrator (Jane) begins by describing her inner ear, and the stories her imagination hears in the absence of action—in the constant presence of a continual calm: of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended—a tale my imagination created and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence. It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action...

Jane finds life at her post as governess much too quiet. Nothing happens and while she feels some might criticize her for feeling unsatisfied, her nature looks for stimulation—anything that defies the silence and the staid environment in which she lives. One day she takes a walk to mail a letter for Mrs. Fairfax—a two-mile trip on foot that allows her to study the countryside. Here onomatopoeia (use of a word that imitates a sound) at first comes gently to her, seeming almost to echo her "near-silent" existence. She comments:

...but in the absolute hush I could hear plainly its thin murmurs of life. My ear too felt the flow of currents; in what dales and depths I could not tell...That evening calm betrayed alike the tinkle of the nearest streams, the sough of the most remote.

With words like "murmurs" and "tinkle," the sounds of life even in the frozen countryside hint at a change. While Jane refers to these gentle sounds with more onomatopoeia—describing them as "whisperings"—they actually are the prelude to much more meaningful sounds which foreshadow not only the coming of the action Jane so wishes for in general, but also specifically of dramatic change in her quiet existence at Thornfield Hall.

A rude noise broke on these fine ripplings and whisperings, at once so far away and so clear: a positive tramp, tramp, a metallic clatter, which effaced the soft wave-wanderings...

Onomatopoeia is used with "tramp" and "clatter," which represent louder and stronger sounds. More are introduced: addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge...

The word "rush" indicates something approaching or moving quickly: in this case, a sound, but it supports the sense of something coming towards Jane at a high speed. Literally it could be an animal, a person, or a carriage; figuratively, it could symbolize change. Next:

...a clattering tumble, arrested my attention.

"Clattering" is defined as a "rattling sound:" it is not soft or gentle; and "tumbling" is a muted sound of something large falling, rolling. A man passes on a horse, and they slip on ice. Here is the source of the approaching entity, coming at such a high speed, disturbing the "hush" of the countryside.

The dog came bounding back, and seeing his master in a predicament, and hearing the horse groan, barked till the evening hills echoed the sound, which was deep in proportion to his magnitude.

The sounds made, "groan" and "bark," in this case, announce the presence of trouble. They may also foreshadow a disturbance in Jane's life. They certainly herald, at least for the moment, the change to the monotonous routine that has defined her recent life up until now.


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