Jane Eyre Paper
March 4, 1998
Narration and Conversation in Jane Eyre
Throughout her life, Jane Eyre, the heroine of the novel by CharlotteBronte, relies heavily on language and story-telling to communicateher thoughts and emotions. Not only are good story-telling skillsimportant to Jane Eyre as a the narrator, but they are also importantto Jane Eyre as a character in her own novel. From the beginningof the novel, we learn of Jane’s love of books — “each picturetold a story” (40) — and of her talent for telling her ownstories. As the narrator, she makes sure the reader is fullyaware of her thoughts, emotions, and the constraints put uponher as her life unfolds before us.
In the opening scene of Jane Eyre, we immediately see how Janeis suppressed by the Reed family. She is often forbidden to showexpression in any form. Upon questioning her guardian as to thereasoning behind her being excluded from the rest of the family,she is told, “Be seated somewhere, and until you can speakpleasantly, remain silent” (39). She retires to solitudein another room of the house with a book to keep her occupiedand is never allowed to explain herself. When John Reed findsher and hurls a book at her head, she is forced to go to the “red-room.” Jane is immediately blamed without having a chance to give heraccount of the incident.
Jane’s straightforwardness and honesty when relating with othersis fundamental to her character; but it is not until Mrs. Reedaccuses Jane of having “a tendency to deceit” (65),in the presence of Mr. Brocklehurst, that we see this attributeof her character surface. Before this time, Jane has been ableto suppress her anger and emotions regarding the Reed family quitesuccessfully. In this scene, however, we seen Jane’s hatred towardMrs. Reed begin to fester and build up inside her until she eruptswith emotion and all her pent-up feelings are released — “SpeakI must” (68). “I am not deceitful: If I were, I shouldsay I loved you; but I declare I do not love you . . . . Peoplethink you are a good woman, but you are bad, hard-hearted. Youare deceitful” (68-69).
Throughout her life, Jane measures her relationships with othersby their narrative abilities. The relationships she values themost are with those in which she can engage in story-telling. At Gateshead, Bessie is loved for her “remarkable knackof narrative” (61) and Jane delights in hearing “hermost enchanting stories” (72). After becoming ill from thered-room experience, Jane awakes to Mr. Lloyd who listens to herstory despite Bessie’s annoying interjections. Although he doesnot offer much sympathy, Mr. Lloyd is instrumental in gettingJane out of Gateshead and into Lowood school. Jane respects Mr.Lloyd because, besides Bessie, he is the first person to ask tohear her account of what “things” (56) are causing herunhappiness while living at Gateshead.
During her residence at Lowood, Jane develops several close relationshipswith both the staff and students there. She speaks of her brieffriendship with Mary Ann Wilson: “She had a turn for narrative,I for analysis; she like to inform, I to question; so we got onswimmingly together, deriving much entertainment, if not muchimprovement, from our mutual intercourse” (109). In thispassage, the high import Jane places on communicative relationshipsis clearly evident.
Jane has a very special regard for her friend Helen Burns. Upontheir first encounter, Jane realizes that she and Helen sharea love for books. However, Jane has a very difficult time tryingto start a conversation. To Jane’s persistent questioning, Helenresponds with, “You ask rather too many questions. I havegiven you answers enough for the present. Now I want to read” (83). Being an expressive character herself, Jane admires Helen’sreserved and restrained behavior. Jane continues to questionHelen; she is fascinated by her life history and her philosophieson life. Her persistence pays off as Helen begins to reveal hereloquence and strength of character to which Jane is immediatelyattracted.
Immediately following Mr. Brocklehurst’s decision to banish Janefrom all social activities at Lowood and his warning to her classmatesto “avoid her company, exclude her from you sports, shuther out from you converse” (98), Miss Temple invites Janeto defend herself: “when a criminal is accused, he is alwaysallowed to speak in his own defense. You have been charged withfalsehood; defend yourself to me as well as you can” (102). Jane responds by telling “all the story of my sad childhood,”but being careful to heed “Helen’s warnings against the indulgenceof resentment” (103). Miss Temple not only listens to Jane’stale, but believes her and takes action to clear her of “everyimputation” (103). Jane’s admiration for both Helen andMiss Temple is escalated that same night as she observes themin conversation: “They conversed of things I had never heardof; of nations and times past; of countries far away. . . . Whatstores of knowledge they possessed” (105). Again, we seethe value Jane puts on eloquence in conversation.
Toward the end of the novel we meet Jane’s cousins, Diana andMary Rivers, who she also holds in high esteem because, amongother things, “they could always talk; and their discourse,witty, pithy, original, had such charms for me, that I preferredlistening to, and sharing in it, to doing anything else”(420).
At Thornfield, Jane feels isolated and lonely because she cannotfind companions who are “of a descriptive or narrative turn”(142). Upon her arrival, Mrs. Fairfax is her main source of companionship;but unfortunately she is not gifted in the art of conversation:”there are people who seem to have no notion of sketchinga character, of observing and describing salient points, eitherin persons or things: the good lady evidently belonged to thisclass: (136). Of Grace Poole, Jane relates, “I made someattempts to draw [her] into conversation, but she seemed a personof few words: a monosyllabic reply usually cut short every effortof that sort” (142). Regarding Sophie, she adds, “[Sophie]was not of a descriptive or narrative turn, and generally gavesuch rapid and confused answers as were calculated rather to checkthan encourage inquiry” (142).
Rochester is the character for whom Jane holds the highest regard. Their relationship is largely based upon their discourse as Rochesterproclaims toward the end of the novel when he says, “Allthe melody on earth is concentrated in my Jane’s tongue to myear” (464). It is Jane’s honesty that immediately attractsRochester to her. When Rochester asks Jane whether she thinkshim handsome, she replies, “No, Sir” (162). Jane describeshow the art of conversation is central to their relationship saying,”I knew the pleasure of vexing and soothing him by turns;it was one I chiefly delighted in . . . on the extreme brink Iliked will to try my skill” (187).
The eloquence which attracts Jane to Rochester is apparent inmany scenes depicting their dialogue as it often becomes difficultto discern who is narrating the story — Jane or Rochester. Regardingthis point, Jane comments, “I, indeed, talked comparativelylittle, but I heard him talk with relish” (177). Once theyare married, Jane describes the importance of discourse in theirrelationship when she says, “we talk, I believe, all daylong: to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audiblethinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidenceis devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character — perfectconcord is the result” (476). This statement summarizesthe significance of “talk” in most, if not all of Jane’srelationships.
The importance Jane puts on communication arises throughout thenovel. Not only is it important to her character as a form ofexpression, but she consistently uses communication skills andnarrative ability as a measure of character. Jane assesses theability of every character to communicate effectively and thenproceeds to make judgments about that character based on theseassessments. Her favor, as is repeatedly shown, rests with thosewho are proficient in their narrative abilities. Jane is thedominant narrator, but she delights in letting other charactersshare in the task. Our focus is continually shifted from onecharacter’s narrative to another’s. By allowing her story tobe told through various characters, Jane not only emphasizes thehigh regard she has for these particular characters, but she emphasizesthe veneration she has for eloquence in narration as well.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. NY: Penguin, 1966.