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Free Study Guide-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte-Free Booknotes Summary
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Chapter 21

Summary

For a few days, Jane has a recurring dream of a child. This seems to her a premonition of some distressing event, and the next day, the coachman arrives from Gateshead with the news of John Reed's death and Mrs. Reed's terminal illness. Jane is eager to answer Mrs. Reed's summons.

Jane goes to Mr. Rochester to ask for a few days' leave. At first Mr. Rochester is surprised to learn that Jane even has relatives. Jane replies that she had never thought it necessary to talk about the people who had abandoned her. Mr. Rochester is hesitant to let her go. However, as Jane is determined, he asks her to return within a week. Before leaving, Jane suggests to him that when he marries Miss Ingram, Adèle should be sent to school. They agree that she will have to find a post elsewhere.

At Gateshead, Jane is received by Bessie, now the coachman's wife. She meets her cousins, Eliza and Georgiana, and finds them changed. Eliza has become rigid. Georgiana is plump and pretty but weak. They do not seem happy to see Jane, but Jane insists on staying and visiting with Mrs. Reed.


Initially, Mrs. Reed does not seem to recognize Jane. However, before she dies, she does speak coherently. She hands over to Jane a letter received three years ago from her uncle, John Eyre of Madeira. He had wished to adopt Jane and bequeath his property to her, but Mrs. Reed had deliberately misinformed him that Jane died in the typhus epidemic at Lowood School.

Notes

In this chapter, Jane once again confronts the self-indulgent world of the Reeds. It has degenerated into emotional withering in Eliza, witless frivolity in Georgiana and premature death for their harassed mother. Jane's return to Gateshead Hall demonstrates how independent and self-assured she has become. She no longer needs the attention of the Reeds now. She counters the deliberate silence of the Reed sisters by busying herself with her sketching.

Jane had left Gateshead with an "embittered heart" but now returns to it with "the flame of resentment extinguished." She earnestly desires to be reconciled with her aunt, but the dying woman shows no concern for her. In striking contrast to this rejection is John Eyre's apparent love for his niece. Hope lives eternal in the human heart, and in Jane's heart hope has begun to appear. It seems that Jane may experience financial security and familial acceptance through her paternal uncle.

The description of Mrs. Reed on her deathbed is rendered by the novelist through the use of the metaphor of fire: "the fire was dying in the grate." In this passage the domestic fire is associated with human vitality and life. At the moment of Mrs. Reed's death, the rain beats strongly against the window panes and the wind blows tempestuously. Jane is made to think: "One lies there who will soon be beyond the war of earthly elements." This is a key statement, since Charlotte Brontë is concerned throughout the novel with "the war of earthly elements."

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