What is the function of the setting in Jane Eyre?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Setting in Jane Eyre acts as pathetic fallacy. That is, the weather and surroundings reflect Jane's and sometimes other characters' emotional states. In Bronte's dark Romantic novel, the environment is ripe for brooding, conflicts, isolation, and self-examination.

  • Gateshead Hall

Jane is extremely restricted in the home of her dead uncle. His wife detests her, derogating the child constantly and restricting her. Consequently, Jane hides herself behind "scarlet drapery" in the recess of a window seat. Nevertheless, her cousin John harasses her and Jane yells when he draws blood from pulling her hair so severely. She is then thrown into the Red Room, the room in which her Uncle John has died. Terrified, Jane looks into a mirror in the room where 

all looked colder and darker in that visionary hollow than in reality;and the strange little figure there gazing at me ...had the effect of a real spirit...like one of the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp.

I was a discord in Gateshead Hall; I was like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children.

  • Lowood Institution

This is certainly the lowest point of Jane's life, as she experiences much deprivation, loneliness, and isolation. The cruel, sanctimonious hypocrite Brocklehurst starves the girls and deprives them of the comforts of heat; the girls are flogged. One day Jane is made to stand upon a stool in the center of the room after dropping her slate and breaking it. Mr. Brocklehurst draws the others' attention to her, 

"Who would think that the Evil One had already found a servant and agent in her?"

When her friend Helen Burns dies, Jane suffers such loneliness that she wishes to die.

  • Thornfield ["the gray and battlemented hall"]

This setting is certainly one of mystery and restlessness. Agitated, Jane walks back and forth along the corridor of the third story where she allows her imagination to

...quicken...with all of incident, life, fire, feeling , that I desired and had not in my actual existence.

One day she walks a lonely road when her thoughts are interrupted by "a rude noise." A mysterious stranger charges up on a dark horse on a path called the Gytrash, where to Jane's "notions" goblins travel. He spills from his horse after it starts on the path, and Jane assists him, only to learn that he is Mr. Rochester, her employer as governess.

Certainly, elements of the Gothic are here in this dark, brooding setting with strange noises emanating from the top floor where Grace Poole works. Jane later learns that a madwoman is there and is Mrs. Rochester, but only after she has married Rochester. The marriage annulled by this exposure of his mad wife, Jane leaves in great agony.

  • Moor House

Rescued by what turns out to be her cousins, Jane heals with a family she did not know she has amid the "moorings" of some affection. But, she refuses to marry St. John and become a missionary, so she finds herself again without foundation.

  • Ferndean

This is the new home in which Rochester and Jane settle after the storm splits the tree and destroys the wild, uncontrollable landscape symbolic of the master of Thornfield. Now blinded, Mr. Rochester is free to marry Jane, and humbled by his accident, he is loving and grateful to Jane, who now also attains love and peace. 

mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The setting in Jane Eyre, is so important to the entire story. It is in itself almost another character in the book. Charlotte Bronte wanted to symbolize what Jane was going through, and used the setting as an example.

We see the stages of Jane's life in the places she is at. At Gateshead Manor, Jane is a child that is abused. She will do anything to get out of there, even if it means going away to school. At the school, Lowood, we see Jane struggle with her independent spirit and how the headmaster is trying to break her spirit. She finds her very first friend there and experiences real pain and grief when her friend dies. She grows to be a strong, but emotionally withheld woman. She takes a governess job at Thornfield Manor. This is the place where she finds love for the first time in her life. She meets Rochester and finds the true meaning of what love is. When she finally returns to Rochester at Ferndean, she finally discovers her maturity as a woman and unconditional love. 

Set in nineteenth century rural England, the setting is stark and cold. It represents Jane herself. We are never really told where the setting is. We just know that it is out in the country somewhere. Jane never goes to London and we know that London is south of where she is. When Jane leaves Thornfield Manor, she races away and has to spend the night in the open. This shows us how alone Jane really is. She is cold and exhausted and there is no one to help her or comfort her. We can feel a real sense of her isolation. When Rochester proposes to her, the weather changed and split the chestnut tree in half. This is a sense of the foreboding that was to come. On the eve of her wedding night the setting is "a cloudy windy night with a red moon" this is another foreshadowing of the things to come. Charlotte Bronte uses the setting to set up with internal struggles that Jane has to fight. Jane Eyre is one of the most beautiful love stories written. It teaches us that we can't help who we fall in love with, and the struggles we all have on the inside of us. The setting is the greatest technique used to show us all the emotions of human nature.

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Jane Eyre

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