Summary and Analysis
As she's being dragged to the red-room, Jane resists her jailors, Bessie and Miss Abbott. After the servants have locked her in, Jane begins observing the red-room. It is the biggest and best room of the mansion, yet is rarely used because Uncle Reed died there.
Looking into a mirror, Jane compares her image to that of a strange fairy. The oddness of being in a death-chamber seems to have stimulated Jane's imagination, and she feels superstitious about her surroundings. She's also contemplative. Why, she wonders, is she always the outcast? The reader learns that Jane's Uncle Reed — her mother's brother — brought her into the household. On his deathbed, he made his wife promise to raise Jane as one of her own children, but obviously, this promise has not been kept.
Suddenly, Jane feels a presence in the room and imagines it might be Mr. Reed, returning to earth to avenge his wife's violation of his last wish. She screams and the servants come running into the room. Jane begs to be removed from the red-room, but neither the servants nor Mrs. Reed have any sympathy for her. Believing that Jane is pretending to be afraid, Mrs. Reed vows that Jane will be freed only if she maintains "perfect stillness and submission." When everyone leaves, Jane faints.
Jane awakens in her own bedroom, surrounded by the sound of muffled voices. She is still frightened but also aware that someone is handling her more tenderly than she has ever been touched before. She feels secure when she recognizes Bessie and Mr. Lloyd, an apothecary, standing near the bed. Bessie is kind to Jane and even tells another servant that she thinks Mrs. Reed was too hard on Jane. Jane spends the next day reading, and Bessie sings her a song.
After a conversation with Jane, Mr. Lloyd recommends that Mrs. Reed send her away to school. Jane is excited about leaving Gateshead and beginning a new life. Overhearing a conversation between Miss Abbot and Bessie, Jane learns that her father was a poor clergyman who married her mother against her family's wishes. As a result, Jane's grandfather Reed disinherited his daughter. A year after their marriage, Jane's father caught typhus while visiting the poor, and both of her parents soon died within a month of each other and left Jane orphaned.
Stating that she is resisting her captors like a "rebel slave," Jane continues to use the imagery of oppression begun in the previous chapter. When Miss Abbot admonishes Jane for striking John Reed, Jane's "young master," Jane immediately questions her terminology. Is John really her master; is she his servant? Again, Jane's position within the household is questioned, particularly her class identity. When Mr. Lloyd asks about Jane's relatives on her father's side, Jane replies that she "might have some poor, low relations called Eyre." Mr. Lloyd wonders if Jane would prefer to live with them, and she immediately pictures a world of "ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners, and debasing vices." Fundamentally, Jane shares the Reed's belief that poor people are morally inferior to the wealthy, and she honestly admits that she isn't "heroic" enough to "purchase liberty at the price of caste." Jane is slowly shaping the parameters of her ideal lifestyle; poverty, she realizes, is not acceptable to her. When Mr. Lloyd suggests school as another option, Jane imagines it as inspiring place, where she could learn to paint, sing, and speak French. Unlike poverty, education offers Jane the possibility of improving her position in society; thus, school may allow her freedom with a potential increase in "caste." Learning about her family background reveals that Jane is not from a "beggarly set," as her aunt had suggested. As a clergyman, her father held an acceptable, even gentlemanly position within Victorian society. Thus, this chapter ends with a refinement in the understanding of Jane's class position.
Miss Abbot, who has the final word on Jane's position, however, calls Jane "a little toad," reminding readers that beauty, as well as class, defines a woman's position within a patriarchal culture. Both Bessie and Miss Abbot believe Jane's plight would be more "moving" if she were as beautiful as her cousin Georgiana who looks "as if she were painted." The novel specifically critiques this "wax-doll" prototype of female beauty, and one of Brontë's goals in this book was to create a poignant, yet plain, heroine. As a shy, impoverished, and plain child, Jane decides she is a "useless thing." Thus, she needs to discover her "use," one that is outside the realm of class and beauty.
Color is once again symbolic, revealing the mood of the scene and providing insight into character. While in Chapter 1, Jane was enshrouded by the red curtains, here she is locked within the red-room. Chapter 3 opens with Jane remembering a nightmare image of "a terrible red glare, crossed with thick black bars." For Jane, red has become the color of a hellish nightmare, in which she is jailed behind impenetrable black bars. But this negative connotation soon dissipates, because Jane realizes that the red is simply the glare from her nursery fire. From a sign of evil and hellish fires, red has been transformed into a nurturing, warmth-giving glow. Thus, the significance of symbols and colors in this novel is not static; instead, they change to reflect Jane's emotional and social situation. Skin color is also important. Here the reader learns that John reviles his mother for her "dark skin," a supposedly negative quality that he has inherited from her. The novel appears to support an ethnocentrism that links "darkness" with an unacceptable foreignness, while lightness is affiliated with English purity.
The characterization of Jane is also developed in this chapter. As she gazes at her image in the red-room's mirror, Jane describes herself as a "tiny phantom, half fairy, half imp" from one of Bessie's bedtime stories, a spirit-creature that comes out of "lone, ferny dells in moors" and appears in the eyes of "belated travellers." The association of Jane with a fairy will be repeated throughout the novel, and her notion of appearing, sprite-like, in the eyes of travelers foreshadows her first meeting with Rochester. As fairy, Jane identifies herself as a special, magical creature, and reminds the reader of the importance imagination plays her in her life. Not only is Jane an undefined, almost mythical creature, but the narrative she creates also crosses boundaries by mixing realism and fantasy. We see the first instance of a supernatural intrusion into the novel in this chapter. As Jane sits nervously in the red-room, she imagines a gleam of light shining on the wall and believes it is "a herald of some coming vision from another world." The novel suggests that Jane has psychic powers — she is haunted by other apparitions and by prophetic dreams. Generally, these ghostly visitations prefigure drastic changes in Jane's life, as this one does.
To improve Jane's spirits, Bessie sings a song that Jane has often delighted in. Now, though, the song suggests only sadness, so Bessie begins another ballad. Like Gulliver's Travels, this tune tells the tale of a desolate traveler. The narrator of this song is a "poor orphan child," who has wandered a long way, through wild mountains and dreary twilight. Just as in the previous chapter, Jane meditated upon the purpose of her suffering, the speaker in this song wonders why he or she has been sent "so far and so lonely." The only hope for this lost child is in heaven because God will provide mercy and protection. Implicitly, Bessie suggests that Jane should become a spiritual traveler, looking toward heaven for solace, rather than worrying about her troubles in this world. Jane feels meager comfort in the song's message because she longs to find happiness on earth. Jane's interactions with religious figures and their promise of spiritual salvation will be repeated throughout the text. Should we focus on heaven to the exclusion of earth? In general, Jane doesn't believe humans should be so focused on heaven that they forget the pleasures available for them here on earth.
The narration in this section reminds readers that the tale is being told by an older, wiser Jane remembering her childhood experiences. For example, there are frequent interjections by the older Jane, explaining or apologizing for her feelings. At one point, she says, "Yes, Mrs. Reed, to you I own some fearful pangs of mental suffering. But I ought to forgive you, for your knew not what you did." Jane says she "ought" to forgive Mrs. Reed, but she doesn't necessarily do it. Similarly, this older narrator explains that children are often unable to express their feelings in words; therefore, the reader shouldn't be surprised by the meagerness of Jane's response to Mr. Lloyd's question about the source of her unhappiness in the Reed household. The frequent intrusions of this older voice increase sympathy for Jane, providing more insights on Jane's motivations. Notice that the novel's full title is Jane Eyre: An Autobiography and that the title page claims that it was edited, rather than written, by Currer Bell.
hummocks small hills.
coney a rabbit.
portent a supernatural warning or hint of danger.