Chapters 20–22 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1144
Later that night, Jane is startled by a loud, shrill cry and hears a commotion in the room above her, followed by a muffled shout for help. The guests, having all been awakened by the yell, pour into the hallway in a panic. Mr. Rochester soon appears and assures them that it was only a servant having a nightmare. Having heard the muffled sounds in the room above her, Jane knows this is not the case, and while the guests return to bed, she dresses and waits in her room. Soon, Mr. Rochester taps on the door and asks for her help. They go up to the third floor and Jane sees Mr. Mason bleeding profusely from a stab wound. Mr. Rochester leaves to get a surgeon and orders Jane to help staunch the bleeding in his absence. He commands that Jane and Mr. Mason not speak a single word to each other. About two hours later, Mr. Rochester returns with a surgeon who examines Mr. Mason’s injuries. They refer to the one who attacked Mr. Mason only as “she,” and Jane is extremely confused by Mr. Mason’s statement that he had sought “her” out, thinking his presence would be helpful, when “she” suddenly stabbed and bit him. At dawn, Mr. Mason is well enough to travel, and Mr. Rochester sends him away before the other guests awake.
After walking Mr. Mason to his carriage, Mr. Rochester and Jane remain in the garden. He tells her a hypothetical story about a young man in a “remote foreign land” who commits a grave, life-altering error and then tries to console himself through debauchery. This man stays on his hedonistic path until he meets a good and moral “stranger.” He asks Jane whether the young man is justified in disregarding a “mere conventional impediment” in order to attach himself to such a person. She responds that the young man should seek his redemption in God, not another person. Mr. Rochester then speaks of his attachment to Miss Ingram, asking Jane, “Don't you think if I married her she would regenerate me with a vengeance?”
In the week that follows, Jane dreams of infants every night, prompting her to remember Bessie’s belief that dreams about children signal coming trouble. Soon after, Robert, Bessie’s husband and the coachman to Mrs. Reed, shows up at Thornfield. He informs Jane that her cousin John Reed is dead and that her aunt, Mrs. Reed, has fallen gravely ill. Mrs. Reed is now near death and has begun to ask repeatedly for Jane. Heeding her aunt’s request, Jane travels to Gateshead, where she meets Georgiana and Eliza. Georgiana is still beautiful and shallow, while Eliza is plain and plans to enter a nunnery. The two sisters now despise each other. Jane wishes to make peace with Mrs. Reed, but her aunt, who is often delirious, cannot relinquish her hatred. Mrs. Reed gives Jane an old letter from her father’s brother, John Eyre, that says he wishes to adopt Jane and bequeath his fortune upon her. Mrs. Reed admits that she despised the idea of Jane prospering, and so she lied and told him that Jane had died of typhus at Lowood. Jane offers her forgiveness, but her aunt shows no interest in repairing their relationship. Mrs. Reed dies later that night.
Jane stays at Gateshead for a few weeks after Mrs. Reed’s death, in large part because Georgiana and Eliza cannot bear to be left alone together. While at Gateshead, Jane receives a letter from Mrs. Fairfax that mentions Mr. Rochester’s intention to buy a new carriage—a sure sign of his intention to marry soon. Jane eventually leaves her cousins, revealing that Eliza went on to become the Mother Superior of her convent and Georgiana ultimately married a very wealthy man. Jane is eager to return to Thornfield and acknowledges that she has never felt excited about returning home before. As she walks toward Thornfield, she comes across Mr. Rochester, who tells her she has been gone too long. He mentions his new carriage and says he is sure it will suit the new Mrs. Rochester. In an uncharacteristically unguarded moment, Jane tells him how happy she is to once again be in his presence, rushing away before he can reply. For the next couple of weeks, Jane dreads Mr. Rochester’s impending marriage but takes heart in the fact that no preparation for a wedding has begun yet.
Mr. Rochester is now speaking more openly of marriage than ever, though he deliberately leads Jane to believe he intends to marry Blanche Ingram. Mr. Rochester may appear to be serious about Blanche, but there are several indicators that his forthcoming marriage is not what Jane suspects. Though Mr. Rochester’s “hypothetical” story of a young man who returns home to find salvation obviously refers to his own situation, his description of a stranger with “good” and “bright” qualities does not match up with what has been revealed about Miss Ingram’s character. When Mr. Rochester brings up Miss Ingram’s good qualities and proposes that she might be the person to “regenerate” him, his shift in tone from grave softness to harsh sarcasm suggests that he does not actually believe this. Though Mr. Rochester continues to speak of his impending marriage, Jane notices that he never goes to visit Miss Ingram and no actual preparations for their wedding appear to be taking place.
Jane’s trip to Gateshead reveals how much she has changed from the beginning of the novel. She tends to Mrs. Reed's needs more than her aunt's own daughters do and goes out of her way to help her unlikeable cousins. Jane even offers Mrs. Reed her forgiveness after learning that she spitefully lied to keep Jane from what she yearned for most: a family member who truly wanted her. In doing so, Jane exhibits true Christian forgiveness, mirroring the kindness of her childhood friend Helen Burns. While young Jane once bitterly rejected Helen’s belief in meeting hate with love, Jane now treats her former tormentors with compassion, regardless of how little they deserve it.
Jane’s personal growth finds a contrast in the stubborn Mrs. Reed, who is unable to change her ways and dies, hateful and alone, instead of reconciling with Jane. As a child, Jane always felt excluded by the Reed family, yet she now understands that even they themselves do not share the familial love she always desired. John Reed became a degenerate, destroying the family fortune and the health of his mother, and Georgiana and Eliza grew up to hate each other. Confident that there are people who care about her at Thornfield, Jane realizes that she enjoys a level of affection and companionship that the Reeds have never experienced.