Analysing a passage

The question

Discuss the effects of Brontë's writing in the following passage, showing how far her concerns and methods are characteristic of the novel as a whole.

The passage

   I walked about the chamber most of the time. I imagined myself only to be regretting my loss, and thinking how to repair it; but when my reflections were concluded, and I looked up and found that the afternoon was gone, and evening far advanced, another discovery dawned on me: namely, that in the interval I had undergone a transforming process; that my mind had put off all it had borrowed of Miss Temple – or rather that she had taken with her the serene atmosphere I had been breathing in her vicinity – and that now I was left in my natural element; and beginning to feel the stirring of old emotions. It did not seem as if a prop were withdrawn, but rather as if a motive were gone: it was not the power to be tranquil which had failed me, but the reason for tranquility was no more. My world had for some years been in Lowood: my experience had been of its rules and systems; now I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had the courage to go forth into its expanse to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.
  I went to my window, opened it, and looked out. There were the two wings of the building; there was the garden; there were the skirts of Lowood; there was the hilly horizon. My eye passed all other objects to rest on those most remote, the blue peaks: it was those I longed to surmount; all within their boundary of rock and heath seemed prison-ground, exile limits. I traced the white road winding round the base of one mountain, and vanishing in a gorge between the two: how I longed to follow it further! I recalled the time when I had travelled that very road in a coach; I remembered descending that hill at twilight: an age seemed to have elapsed since the day which brought me first to Lowood: and I had never quitted it since. My vacations had all been spent at school: Mrs. Reed had never sent for me to Gateshead; neither she nor any of the family had ever been to visit me. I had no communication by letter or message with the outer world: school-rules, school-duties, school-habits and notions, and voices, and faces, and phrases, and costumes, and preferences, and antipathies: such was what I knew of existence. And now I felt that it was not enough: I tired of the routine of eight years in an afternoon. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space; ‘Then,' I cried, half desperate, ‘grant me at least a new servitude!'

The analysis

Before you begin writing you should read the passage at least twice:

  • In the first reading, you should try to gain a sense of what is happening in the passage and recall its context in the novel
  • On the second reading, you should begin to underline or otherwise mark significant words and phrases and begin to jot down some of the headings under which you will organize your answer, always referring back to the question
  • By this time you should be ready to plan your answer
  • You may now wish to read the passage once more to make sure that you have not missed anything important.

1. The passage occurs towards the end of the first volume of the novel (Chapter 10; Volume 1, Chapter 10) and the events described take place on the afternoon of Miss Temple's wedding, after she has left Lowood on her honeymoon. The action has moved on by eight years from the preceding chapter and Jane is now eighteen and a teacher at the school. By the beginning of the next chapter she will be on her way to Thornfield to begin the next phase of her life, as a governess.

2. In the course of the passage, Jane reflects on her present situation and begins to realise that she has reached a real crossroads in her life. Miss Temple has been a role model and a profound influence on Jane as she progressed from being a school-girl to a teacher. Jane knows that she will miss her superior's support, but, at the same time, she comes to believe that the serenity that Miss Temple created around her, and in which Jane has happily existed for eight years, is not altogether true to Jane's nature. Her thoughts, which are a kind of psychological self-analysis, have taken her through a ‘transforming process', and this process leaves her in her ‘natural element'. Jane has, therefore, been denying her natural inclinations and feels that she no longer needs to be tranquil but can allow herself to experience ‘the stirring of old emotions'.

3. The word 'natural' is always important in Jane Eyre: when Mrs. Reed wishes that Jane were more ‘natural' in her behaviour she actually means something highly artificial; and it is Mr. Brocklehurst's intention to suppress all signs of the ‘natural' in the girls at Lowood School. Jane wishes to be true to her own nature but feels that this is impossible as long as she remains at Lowood.

4. She realises that she has been cut off from the ‘real' world, which is ‘wide', ‘varied', and may be ‘full of perils' but offers ‘hopes and fears … sensations and excitements'. All these words suggest that what Jane now feels has been missing in life at Lowood, but perhaps the most important of them is ‘real'. Life at Lowood has been secure and peaceful, but it is a highly isolated environment in which Jane has felt protected and valued. It is at the opposite extreme from the ‘expanse' of real life, and Jane knows that there is another, unfulfilled part of her personality, which has ‘the courage to go forth'.

5. At the beginning of the second paragraph, Jane opens and looks out of the window. This small, everyday gesture leads to an expansion and development of her thoughts in the preceding paragraph. The reader's eye follows Jane's, from school, to garden, to Lowood and then to ‘the hilly horizon'. Jane is naturally drawn to what is ‘most remote', feeling that everything nearer represents a kind of imprisonment. Jane's longing to move on is symbolised by her tracing of ‘the white road' until is disappears from sight. In a novel whose structure represents a kind of pilgrimage, Jane's desire to follow the road out of sight is an important metaphor for her journey towards the realisation of her true self. At this stage in the novel, the pattern of that pilgrimage is not yet fully established, but in retrospect this passage marks an important stage on Jane's journey.

6. As she follows the road with her eyes, Jane recollects her arrival at Lowood and her long sojourn at the school, so that her life has been lived entirely within its values and routines. She also recalls that her break with such relations as she has, the Reeds, seems to be absolute and that they have shown no interest in her since her departure for Lowood. This is important to Jane, because it means that she has no connections in the world and no responsibilities to anyone but herself. She is in a position to act on her own behalf and to decide for herself what she should do next.

7. This brings her to the conclusion and climax of her thoughts: life at Lowood is too limited to satisfy her emotional and social needs. The abruptness of the sentence, ‘I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon' is a bold statement of the suddenness and conclusiveness of her feelings. It is notable that the word she uses to describe what she now desires is ‘liberty'. ‘Freedom' would have been an alternative, but ‘liberty' carries particular overtones, relating to the political aspirations of the French Revolution of 1789. The motto of the French republic after the revolution was ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité' (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood). Perhaps it was passages like this that so concerned conservative reviewers of the novel such as Lady Eastwood.

8. The language of the passage is sophisticated and the prose is carefully structured. Each paragraph begins with a short descriptive sentence before moving into a representation of Jane's thoughts, which are a kind of discussion with herself. These are expressed in lengthy sentences with many subordinate clauses. The internal punctuation of these sentences is quite distinctive, with dashes, colons and semi-colons. Each paragraph ends on a kind of climax, the first on the word ‘perils' and the second on Jane's cry, which we are to assume she actually utters. The clauses are very rhythmical, using repetition and emphasis to create their effects.

Comments on the analysis

1. This paragraph places the passage in its context in the novel. Without retelling ‘the story so far', it gives some idea of the events leading up to the passage. Also, given the nature of Jane's reflections, it states briefly what is about to happen in the novel.

2. By identifying the fact that Jane is at a crossroads in her life, this paragraph comments on how the passage relates to the structure of the novel. It is also characteristic of Jane's behaviour in the way she analyses her own feelings. The remarks on Miss Temple are important in relation to the various female role models encountered by Jane throughout the book.

3. This paragraph comments on the use of the word ‘natural' and therefore shows an awareness of the importance of language in Jane Eyre and especially the way in which certain terms are scrutinized and subjected to criticism.

4. Here, something similar is undertaken in respect of the word ‘real' (one of the terms used by the first reviewers of the novel). Again, there are comments on the language of the novel but there also remarks about Jane's sense of potential and the restrictions of her life up to this moment.

5. The comments on the metaphor of the road are relevant to the narrative, metaphorical and thematic structures of the novel. They emphasise the point that Jane's life may be seen as a kind of pilgrimage, in which this episode represents an important transition from one stage of her journey to another.

6. This paragraph shows how the passage offers a reminder of Jane's situation in life and this is relevant to the themes of family, self-realisation and independence.

7. Once again, this paragraph relates to the novel's thematic concerns and, in particular, shows how it may have political resonances.

8. Finally, there is a comment on the structure of the passage and how it uses various stylistic and linguistic devices to achieve its effects.

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.