How do the use of bird images in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre impact the plot?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During the Romantic period, authors sought inspiration in nature. Bronte uses many descriptions of nature to demonstrate the connection Jane has with it and that she watches it for omens. Many times throughout the novel Jane will stop to listen and to observe what is going on in nature. She binds herself to god and religion when it comes to making moral choices, but she also sees omens in nature that help her to understand what is going on in her own life. If the storms are raging, so is her life. If she is happy, then nature will be also. Jane's perception is as follows:

"Nature must be gladsome when I was so happy" (261).

The birds sing and bring a quality of happiness and peace to life. Jane recognizes them singing when she is in a state of peace. Jane is happiest when she is with Mr. Rochester, so the birds are generally singing when they are together, as in the following passage:

". . . the birds sang in the tree-tops; but their son, however sweet, was inarticulate. . . the birds went on carolling, the leaves lightly rustling. I almost wondered they did not check their songs and whispers to catch the suspended revelation. . ." (222).

This passage is at a time when Jane is uncertain about Mr. Rochester's feelings for her and he was sending mixed messages. The birds' songs were also indecipherable to Jane which shows the connection between what Jane's is experiencing and the birds. This drives the plot because in this case there is suspense and wonder to what will happen between them.

Jane's relationship with birds starts very young as she finds a book about them at Mrs. Reed's house. While reading the book about birds, she imagines them flying all around the world and visiting different places. This symbolizes her desire to be independent and to be able to go and do what she would like, without having mean adults dictate to her what to do. Birds later show up in her paintings and signal to the reader when something happy is going on or how Jane is feeling at the time of the painting. The only other time Jane describes birds outside of nature or her paintings is when she compares the women guests at Thornfield to them, as follows:

"They dispersed about the room; reminding me, by the lightness and buoyancy of their movements, of a flock of white plumy birds. Some of them threw themselves in half-reclining positions on the sofas and the ottomans: some bent over the tables and examined the flowers and books: the rest gathered in a group round the fire. . ." (173).

There are many other descriptions of birds throughout the book, but they move the plot forward because of how Jane observes, listens and responds to their songs. When birds are not around, and there is a storm brewing, Jane usually takes that as an omen of something bad will happen soon; or as otherwise stated, it is a mirror of what is actually happening in her life.