Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë Summary and Analysis Chapter 21

Summary

Jane remembers Bessie Leaven saying that dreams of children are a sign of trouble, either to oneself or one's kin. Jane is worried because she has been dreaming of infants for the past seven successive nights, including the night she was roused by Mason's cry. It also happens on the day Jane learns of her cousin John's death. The news of her son's death has caused Mrs. Reed to have a stroke, and she is now asking for Jane.

Jane arrives at Gateshead at five o'clock on May 1, greeted by Bessie, who prepares tea for them both. As they sit discussing old times, Jane realizes that the flame of her old resentments against the Reeds has been extinguished. She walks into the main house and meets her two cousins again: Eliza is tall and ascetic looking, while Georgiana is buxom and beautiful. Bessie takes Jane to see Mrs. Reed, whose face is as stern and restless as ever. While Jane would like to be reconciled with her aunt, Mrs. Reed won't relinquish her animosity. Jane learns the source of Mrs. Reed's anger toward her: Mrs. Reed was jealous of the relationship that Jane's mother, Mr. Reed's favorite sister, had with her husband, and of the fact that he showed Jane more attention than he ever showed his own children.

To pass the time, Jane sketches. Both Eliza and Georgiana are surprised with her skill, and Jane volunteers to draw their portraits. This breaks the ice between Jane and her cousins, and Georgiana begins confiding in her. Eliza is busy all day, every day; she plans to enter a convent when her mother dies. One rainy day, Jane sneaks upstairs to her aunt's room. Awaking from her lethargy, Mrs. Reed gives Jane a letter from her uncle, John Eyre. Written three years earlier, the letter reveals that he wishes to adopt Jane and leave her his fortune. Mrs. Reed didn't send it to Jane because she hated her too much and wanted to get revenge. One final time, Jane tries to seek reconciliation with her aunt, but Mrs. Reed refuses to forgive her. Her aunt dies at midnight.

Analysis

This chapter develops the characters of the Reeds, who haven't changed much in the years since Jane last saw them. The three Reed women are models of three different types of unacceptable female behavior. Eliza's ascetic appearance and crucifix signal her religious rebirth. Extremely rigid, Eliza has every aspect of her day planned out, yet Jane cannot find any "result of her diligence." When her mother dies, she plans to join a convent. Despite her seeming devotion, Eliza knows as little about compassion or love as does Mr. Brocklehurst. An angry, bitter woman, Eliza offers another negative image of Christianity. All of her work is self-centered, and she has little interest in her mother's health, not even shedding a tear when she dies. Always cold, rigid, impassible, Eliza is an example of a character who is too icy, too lacking in generous, passionate feeling. Jane's belief is that "judgement untempered by feeling is too bitter and husky a morsel for human deglutition"; Jane seeks a balance between judgment and feeling that will allow her a full, but healthy share in human joy.

While Eliza has too much judgment, too little feeling, Georgiana has the opposite: feeling without judgment. Where Eliza has consecrated herself to excessive asceticism, Georgiana has devoted herself to an immoderate fashionableness. Where Eliza is tall and extremely thin, Georgiana is buxom and voluptuous. Vain and shallow, Georgiana shows no interest in her brother's death or in her mother's illness. In a fashion similar to Céline Varens, Georgiana's mind is fully devoted to recollections of past parties and "aspirations after dissipations to come." Neither Eliza's nun-like life nor Georgiana's fashionable fluff interests Jane.

Aunt Reed is also a negative model. Refusing forgiveness or compassion, her aunt cherishes only ill feelings for Jane. While Jane's fiery passions have been extinguished, her aunt maintains a heated hatred for Jane until the moment of her death. In fact, she wishes Jane had died in the typhus outbreak at Lowood. This animosity is based on jealousy: She couldn't accept her husband's love of his sister or her child. Despite her attempts to keep John Eyre away from Jane, his repeated appearance in the story foreshadows his role later in her life, a role that will center on money. Aunt Reed's revenge attempt will be unsuccessful.

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