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Free Barron's Booknotes-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER 2

Kicking and screaming, Jane is hauled upstairs by Bessie and Miss Abbot. They're both shocked by her behavior, but their reactions aren't quite the same. Miss Abbot reminds Jane coldly that she's "less than a servant," since she does nothing to earn her keep in the house. And she even threatens that if Jane doesn't behave "something bad might come down the chimney and fetch you away." Bessie is more sympathetic. She urges Jane to behave better in the future, but for her own good, so that Mrs. Reed won't send Jane away to the poorhouse.

As punishment, Jane is locked up in the red-room-an unused bedroom furnished with dark red drapes, a red carpet, and heavy mahogany furniture. The history of the room is even gloomier than its furniture. It was here, nine years earlier, that Mr. Reed died and his body was laid out until the day of the funeral.

NOTE:

Funeral homes weren't used in Victorian times. The dead were kept at home, sometimes for several days.

At first, thinking about Mr. Reed makes Jane feel better. Mr. Reed was her uncle, her dead mother's brother, and Jane feels sure that if he were still alive he'd treat her better than his widow does. She's heard that Mr. Reed, on his deathbed, made his wife promise to treat Jane as one of the family, and she imagines how angry his spirit would be if it came back to earth and saw that Mrs. Reed is disobeying his dying wish.

By now it is twilight, the rain is beating on the window, the wind is howling. The room is dark and cold. Little by little, the thought of Mr. Reed's ghost no longer seems so comforting. What if it really did come back?


Suddenly, a beam of light shines through the room. Jane's heart beats faster. She hears a strange sound, like the "rushing of wings." She screams in terror.

Jane gets no sympathy from Mrs. Reed. She and Miss Abbot agree that Jane is only pretending to be frightened so they'll let her out of the room. Her story about seeing a ghost is just another lie-even worse than the lie she told about John Reed hitting her first. Mrs. Reed locks Jane up inside the room again and Jane immediately faints dead away.

NOTE:

Was Mr. Reed's ghost really in the room? In narrating this episode, the adult Jane Eyre looks back on this frightening moment in her own childhood and decides that there must have been a rational explanation for everything. For example, the beam of light was probably caused by someone carrying a lantern across the lawn outside the window. But, like so many readers, you may still feel that young Jane's fear was real-and a lot more convincing than any attempt to explain it.

As you read on, you'll find that Jane Eyre often reads like a horror story. Weird and uncanny things are always happening to Jane. Charlotte Bronte doesn't ask us to believe literally in ghosts. But she does manage to keep us guessing. How much of what happens to Jane is real, and how much is the product of her overactive imagination?

Haunted house stories, called Gothics, were very popular at the time Jane Eyre was written. The most famous of these, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, is still read today. Like the authors of these books, Charlotte Bronte uses the supernatural to generate suspense and keep us turning the pages to find out what will happen next. But Jane Eyre goes a step beyond the horror story. By mixing real life and the supernatural, it keeps asking questions: Where do you find the line between the "real" and the "unreal"? Is there such a thing as a ghost? What about omens? What about telepathy? Or dreams that foretell the future? During the course of her story, Jane herself makes up her mind about some of these things. You don't necessarily have to agree with her answers, but see if you think they make sense for her.

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