Jane's first-person narrative

Advantages of first person narrative

There are many advantages to using a first-person narrative:

  • It gives the action a sense of directness and immediacy, in that the reader shares the narrator's experience
  • A first-person narrative may be a means of assuring readers that what they are reading is truthful and authentic; this is perhaps particularly important in the case of a book like Jane Eyre which is described on its title page as an ‘Autobiography'.

Disadvantages of first person narrative

There are, however, some disadvantages:

  • The action is seen only from a single point of view
  • The narrator may wish to present the events of the novel in such a way as to justify his or her own behaviour
  • Readers may feel enclosed in the world created by the narrator and wish for some other point of view.

Jane as narrator

Jane is a quite self-conscious narrator of her own story:

  • She is looking back on her own life at a distance of ten years after the events of the novel: this is different from a novel told in the form of a diary or letters, where the writer/s has/have no knowledge of how events will unfold
  • She therefore has some sense of the shape of her story and can clearly mark the important stages in her life
  • She also reminds readers that they are reading a written narrative
  • To emphasise this, from time to time there is a direct address to the reader: the most celebrated of these occasions occurs at the beginning of the final chapter, when Jane writes, ‘Reader, I married him.'
  • Why do you think the final chapter opens with a direct address to the reader?
  • Look for the other occasions in the novel when Jane addresses the reader directly
    • When do they occur
    • Do they have anything in common in terms of their placing in the narrative?

Narrative irony

In some cases, first-person narratives contain an element of narrative irony:

  • This occurs when the author of the novel wishes to indicate that the narrative is to some extent unreliable because the narrator is incapable of observing his or her own actions with any detachment
  • In these cases, there develops a distance between the character as narrator and the reader
  • It may also be the case that the narrator is aware of his or her shortcomings at particular points in the story
  • There may then develop a built-in commentary on the action as the narrator recollects and narrates events.
  • Do you think that Jane Eyre contains any narrative irony?
  • Find some examples of narrative irony and think of what they tell us about the character of Jane.
  • Are there scenes or episodes where the reader might wish to take a critical view of Jane's actions?
    • Create a chart with some examples where the reader might wish to take a critical view of Jane's actions and your comments on each.
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