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Brief Analysis of the Red Room Episode in Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"

Guniya is a final year undergraduate at the University of Delhi. She has a keen interest in writing and literature.

This article provides an analysis of the famous "red room episode" in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

This article provides an analysis of the famous "red room episode" in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.


The recurring imagery and symbolism of red and white throughout Jane Eyre are made concrete in the red room episode. The room is all red with only specs of white, exemplifying the tug of war between passion and restraint. Red and white are the two dominant colours in the book, where red represents anger, passion, lack of control, restlessness. And white represents restraint, patience and commitment.

Jane describes the room as ‘chill, silent and solemn.’ As if it casts a blanket of impending doom on her. Further, the red room not only depicts Jane’s imprisonment and exile, but it also foreshadows another similar and momentous event in the book: Bertha Mason’s imprisonment. Jane’s time in the red room serves as a paradigm for the larger plot of the book, as she continuously recollects it at crucial moments: when she is humiliated at Lowood, her encounter with Bertha Mason on the night before her wedding, and also when she decides to leave Rochester.

Critics often compare the physicality and architecture of the red room to the female anatomy. Elaine Showalter interprets the incident as the onset of Jane’s womanhood. According to her, Jane’s adolescence is marked by her first act of rebellion and its resultant punishment. ‘The famous scene of violence with which the novel begins, John Reed's assault on Jane and her passionate counterattack, associates the moment of rebellion and autonomy with bloodletting and incarceration in the densely symbolic red-room,’ writes Showalter in her book, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing. Hence the crime that the Reeds punish Jane for is not just for hitting John Reed but also the crime of growing up.

Showalter also associates the red room with the female body, ‘with its deadly and bloody connotations, its Freudian wealth of secret compartments, wardrobes, drawers, and jewel chest, the red-room has strong associations with the adult female body.’

Jane’s punishment in the red room is a lesson for feminine behaviour that she must adopt now that she is a ‘woman’ - perfect submission and stillness. The red room is a critical symbol that constructs the kind of woman Jane grows up to be and the suppression of her ‘animalistic’ traits. John Reed’s animalistic references to Jane, ‘mad cat,’ and ‘bad animal,’ make a comeback in the novel in the form of Bertha Mason whose chamber operates as just another red room. And thus, the fluctuations between red and white continue. Critics like Gilbert and Gubar interpret Jane’s experience in the red room as ‘probably the most metaphorically vibrant of all her early experiences…’

The gothic elements of the genre make an appearance as Jane struggles with the terror of seeing Mr. Reed’s ghost, the only father figure Jane ever had. Hence in the words of Gilbert and Gubar, the red room is also a ‘patriarchal death chamber.’ Jane’s time in the Red Room emphasises her isolation which is not just social but also financial, economic. The incident opens her position as an outcast orphan, her enclosure in stultifying roles and houses, and her escape from poverty and starvation.

Critics also note a subtextual, sexual connotation to the red room episode. Quoting Showalter, ‘A strain of intense female sexual fantasy and eroticism runs through the first four chapters of the novel and contributes to their extraordinary and thrilling immediacy. The scene in the red-room unmistakably echoes the flagellation ceremonies of Victorian pornography.’ Jane is threatened with bondage by the maid’s garters, which makes the whole ordeal titillating. She is also threatened with the chastisement of the flesh which is again a sexual fantasy.

Another important aspect of the red room is Jane’s reflection in the mirror. The fact that she looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognise herself is of psychological relevance to the reader. As Jane looks at her alien self in the mirror, it points towards a common literary idea of looking at the fractured self through a mirror. The mirror highlights the inverted self, the repressed self that Jane fails to identify. Later in the novel, the night before the wedding, Jane looks at Bertha Mason’s reflection in her bedroom mirror, a subtle indication that the reflected image is not only Bertha’s but also Jane’s: her broken, repressed, animalistic self’s reflection.

Towards the end of the Red Room episode, Jane encounters a frightful light because of which she screams. But of course, she is neglected by her aunt. Jane begs for forgiveness, to be set free from the confinements of the terrorising jail but is refused. As Mrs. Reed leaves Jane and locks her inside, Jane gives in to fear and exhaustion and finally faints. The next day Jane’s solitary confinement is over, but her punishment continues as she is treated like a social pariah in the house. The repercussions of the red room not only last inside Gateshead but also throughout the novel. Brontë successfully depicts the female identity through various narrative devices, one of which is the red room episode. It makes a psychological, supernatural and sexual impact on Jane that is hard to miss.

The red room incident fleshes out the character and book that is Jane Eyre. It is imperative to all the themes and motifs of the book principally madness, imprisonment and freedom.

References

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre (Bantam Classics). Bantam Classics, 1983

Gilbert, Sandra, et al. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Yale University Press, 2020

Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing. Princeton University Press, 1977

© 2021 Guniya Sharma

Comments

Guniya Sharma (author) from India on May 16, 2021:

Thank you so much, Lorna! I really appreciate your feedback.

Lorna Lamon on May 16, 2021:

An excellent analysis which I enjoyed reading.

Guniya Sharma (author) from India on May 16, 2021:

Thank you, Keira! I really appreciate your response.

Guniya Sharma (author) from India on May 16, 2021:

Thank you so much, Keira. I really appreciate it!

Keira Anand on May 16, 2021:

This was a very well written article, well dare I say anything remotely related to Jane Eyre is-

I read the book first when I was way too young to understand it, I guess I was just fishing for the classics, but now I've read this one and the original twice and well, I'm at a loss of words.

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