What are some examples of irony in Jane Eyre?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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 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." 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.
Piyumi | Student

The name Mrs. Harden is ironical too! (the housekeeper at Lowood)