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Near the end of Chapter II of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre, young Jane is locked in a room and, while there, imagines that she may see the ghost of Mr. Reed:
I thought Mr. Reed’s spirit, harassed by the wrongs of his sister’s child, might quit its abode—whether in the church vault or in the unknown world of the departed—and rise before me in this chamber. . . . Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room; at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head.
When Jane is older, she assumes that the light she saw must have come from a lantern being carried outside, but in the present moment she is terrified and begins to cry out.
This moment is significant to the rest of the book in a number of ways, including the following:
- It helps contribute to the dark, gloomy, “Gothic” atmosphere of the work.
- It helps emphasize the desperation of Jane’s situation: she is so desperate that she would even appreciate the assistance of a ghost!
- It foreshadows later imagery involving ghosts and hauntings in the novel.
- It helps set up the irony of the fact that although this ghost is merely a figment of Jane’s imagination, she will later encounter a “ghostly” figure who will actually be real: Mr. Rochester’s mad (and hidden) first wife.
- It contributes to a major theme of the book: the idea that our perceptions may deceive us and that what appears to be the case may not actually be “real.”
- It helps show Jane in a position she often occupies in this book – the position of one who is powerless, frightened, and at the mercy of others. By the end of the novel, Jane will have achieved a great deal of power, confidence, and autonomy.
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