What are some examples of irony in Jane Eyre?

Some examples of irony in Jane Eyre are the despised child Jane becoming happier and more successful than her pampered Reed cousins, Jane ending up as a wealthier and higher class person than Mr. Brocklehurst, who tried to humiliate her, and Jane rejecting going to the Eyre cousins, who would have treated her kindly.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Irony occurs when situations turn out the opposite way than one might expect or when words mean the opposite of what was intended. There are small and large examples of irony throughout Jane Eyre.

It is ironic in a larger sense that Jane ends up the happiest and most successful of the children in the Reed household when she was the one abused and constantly told she was worthless. It is ironic that although Jane is sent to the Lowood School to be humbled and abased, she ends up married to a wealthy man and rises up in society to be above the people who humiliated her, like Mr. Brocklehurst.

Smaller ironies show up at the beginning of the novel. As we will later find out, it is ironic that when the kind doctor questions her, young Jane rejects the idea of going to live with her Eyre relatives. Mrs. Reed has told her they are very poor and lower class, and Jane has believed this lie. Ironically, if she had been reunited with them, she would have found out they were kind, educated, middle-class people and saved herself a world of misery at Lowood. It is ironic that, too, that when Bessie gives the child Jane the pheasant plate she had long begged to hold, she no longer wants it.

The novel shows that life can turn out in unexpected ways. It shows the truths that the last can become first and that adversity can be the making of us.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Irony exists in everyday life in many of the things people do or say. There is always an implied meaning different and often opposite from the literal meaning. It is a literary device used widely in literature, and it adds drama, depth and often humor to a situation. It requires the reader or audience to analyze a scene, chapter or event for meanings that lie beneath the surface or beyond the immediate surroundings.

In verbal irony, characters often say something that they know contradicts their words or actions. In Jane Eyre, a young Jane sneaks in to Helen Burns' room as Helen is dying towards the end of chapter 9. Jane wonders why Helen suggests that she has come to say goodbye (which Jane interprets to mean that Helen must be going home). Helen explains to Jane that she is going "home—my last home." Helen has taken Jane's reference to home and altered it to mean heaven. 

Examples of verbal irony can be found in chapter 13 when Jane has her exchanges with Mr. Rochester over her "cadeau" (a present). The talk of the "furniture" in reference to Jane's abilities with water colors also indicates the kind of relationship that will develop between Jane and Mr. Rochester. In both these instances, neither Rochester nor Jane is actually speaking about the thing that is being referred to.  

Dramatic irony exists when characters are unaware of or confused by something whereas the reader is already making assumptions as...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

to the potential for implied meaning or is already aware of a different meaning in what is going on. In chapter 13, Mr. Rochester jokes about Jane having been waiting in the lane for "the men in green" (the reader understands this humor and that he is referring to elves or leprechauns), suggesting that Jane has the capacity to have "bewitched" his horse. (Only later will the reader understand the significance of having been "bewitched.") He accuses Jane of "felling my horse," which the reader knows is untrue. The bewildered Mrs. Fairfax has no idea what he means and Jane and Mr. Rochester continue as if his talk is quite normal. Jane makes no attempt to deny the fact. The reader can sense that there is far more to the seemingly formal meeting than meets the eye. 

Situational irony exists when something happens that should not happen (for example, a life guard drowns) or when a situation is not what it seems. There are various occasions of situational irony when Jane and Mr. Rochester consistently deny their feelings or let their pride stand in their way, which creates misunderstandings and even life-changing events. In chapter 26, it is ironic that the "hyena" that Rochester has to restrain "is my wife." 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

With irony being a general name given to techniques that involve surprising, interesting, or amusing contradictions in a literary work, there are several instances of this literary method in Bronte's Jane Eyre.

  • The character of Mr. Brocklehurst is ironic as he professes to be a Christian who runs Lockwood as a charitable institution, but he really makes a profit as he says the girls' bodies should be starved in order to help save their souls.
  • Jane's belief that Grace Poole is ironic.
  • In Volume III, Chapter 1 (27), Jane misunderstands Mr. Rochester's reasons for hating the mad woman.
  • In an example of dramatic irony, Jane does not understand Mr. Rochester's marriage proposal to her
  • "Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs," Jane tells the River sisters in the latter part of the novel, but she really does harbor some resentment.
  • St. John Rivers professes to be a Christian, but he has found no peace in his religion.
  • It is ironic that in the end Jane does reunite with Mr. Rochester
  • It is ironic that in the end Jane inherits money.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team