Books

Brontë’s Ariel: The Significance of Wind in Jane Eyre

Intro

This essay which I have adapted below was one I wrote for my Victorian Literature class at Grove City College. If you have read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, I would certainly recommend it. If not, I feel like you can get the general idea of the novel from reading the essay and may still enjoy the analysis. The basic thing to know is that this novel is a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story about Jane Eyre as she grows up in an abusive household, attends a boarding school, works as a governess, and meets a romantic interest.

Warning! Spoilers Below

Analysis

Some critics of Jane Eyre have considered the role that nature in general plays in the novel, and when they do so they certainly do not leave out the blatant imagery of the tree riven almost in two and the storm that caused it. This heavy-handed symbolism, however, is not all that Charlotte Brontë has to offer. The subtlety of the wind’s repeated interjections into the text is worth noting, though it seems few, if any, critics have considered its implications. The function of the wind in Jane Eyre is multifarious and complex—it is Brontë’s own Ariel, doing her bidding in various manners throughout the story of Jane. At some times the wind acts as an extension of Jane’s will and an indication of her mental state; at other times, it behaves like an instrument of God, ushers in change, or warns of future strife.

There are several instances in Jane’s youth that suggest that the wind is an element associated with her will and mental state. The suggestion begins when Jane is initially linked with nature. Near the beginning of the book, Jane is sitting on the window-seat next to the glass, and notes that it is “protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day” (Brontë 10). Even though it will not be until later that she acknowledges nature as her Mother, even from a young age there is a connection. She is not a creature separated from nature. Brontë is attempting to depict the “idea of human beings in concord with their environment” (Fincham 17). Jane is in fact pleased by the wind blowing outside, the “ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast” (Brontë 10), since it affords her the chance to stay indoors and read. It does seem like the wind is on her side, even when her relatives are not.

While in Lowood, Jane reflects that “the wind would have saddened my heart” if she had left a kind and loving family, but as it was, she “wanted the wind to howl more wildly” (Brontë 52). Not only does she acknowledge that the wind could have an influence on her mood, she also indicates that she desires influence over the wind. When Brocklehurst humiliates her later, she cries until she has calmed down and then notices that “some heavy clouds, swept from the sky by a rising wind, had left the moon bare” (Brontë 65-66). Jane’s tormented state has been replaced with a relieved calmness when she hears from her friend that her reputation will not likely be ruined permanently. The wind reflects this by wiping the heaviness of the clouds from the face of the moon.

When Jane became tired of Lowood, she “desired liberty” and thought that “for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing” (Brontë 79). Her will is figuratively scattered to the winds, and it is granted when Mrs. Fairfax answers her advertisement. Her prayer was answered; the wind accomplished its purpose—her will. Her will is once again shown after she rescues her employer Mr. Rochester from a fiery demise. She is in love with Mr. Rochester by this point, and reflecting on the night’s events. She harbors hopes of being in a closer relationship with Mr. Rochester but knows with her station in life and modest income, she is not a suitable woman for Mr. Rochester to court and wed. This is her reflection: “now and then a freshening gale wakened by hope, bore my spirit triumphantly towards the bourne; but I could not reach it, even in fancy,—a counteracting breeze blew off land, and continually drove me back.” Her uncertainties cause her to flip back and forth between opinions in her mind, and the metaphor of the wind once again carries her will—her spirit.

Then again, the wind reflected her mental state when she contemplated what it would be like to leave Mr. Rochester, to go all the way to Ireland and never see him again: “A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away—away—to an indefinite distance—it died” (Brontë 228). From this, it can be ascertained that she thinks her own life would end if she were to venture from Thornfield forever.

When Jane actually leaves Rochester and is assaulted by self-doubt, her relationship with the wind immediately becomes strained. Her will is no longer certain—the wind becomes a foe, something to be feared. She reflects that “if a gust of wind swept the waste I looked up, fearing it was the rush of a bull” (Brontë 289). This occurs even as she acknowledges nature to be “benign and good” like a mother (Brontë 289). What follows this strange contradiction is a desire for the wind to be absent. She is relieved at the “safe, still night” followed by a “a still, hot, perfect day.” Her obsession with stillness likely stems from her deep uncertainty, the loss of the willpower that drove her to leave Thornfield. She does not know how to fend for herself without money and resources in a strange place. In a way, the wind (her will) is what brought her into this situation in the first place, so it is not surprising that she needs the stillness.

At the end, it acts not as Jane’s will but like an instrument of God. As Searle suggests, “The role of nature within the text reflects the general tendency of Romanticism to view it as a book of revelation, gently instructing hearts sympathetically attuned” (51). When Mr. Rochester is recounting the strange time he called out to Jane and she responded over a long distance, he speaks of how her voice “went whispering on the wind” (Brontë 398). This supernatural experience is literally carried over the wind from Jane to Rochester. Then Rochester said that “the gale seemed to visit my brow” and it was as if “I and Jane were meeting. In spirit, I believe, we must have met” (Brontë 398). Any such miracle may fairly be attributed to God, especially in a text written by a Christian who otherwise keeps events in the novel natural. Brontë demonstrated that it is the will of God that these two be wed, then it is the wind that God utilized to bring about their union.

On occasion, the wind’s rambling nature cannot be pinpointed to the will of Jane or God, but rather seems to indicate that some change will be occurring soon. The winter before Adele Varens came to Thornfield for instance, “it rained and blew,” signifying the change that bringing a child to Thornfield would wrought (Brontë 89). “A child makes a house all alive at once” Mrs. Fairfax explains, affirming the change that occurred (Brontë 90). However, during the monotonous days when Adele and Mrs. Fairfax are alone with Jane, the stillness of the air is repeatedly emphasized. Jane notices “a very chill and vaultlike air” in the house at one time (Brontë 90). On another occasion she realizes, “If a breath of air stirred, it made no sound here.” (Brontë 102). After Mr. Rochester arrives and is helped by Jane, before she realizes he is master of the house and she will see him again, but after he has gone on to the house, she “heard only the faintest waft of wind roaming fitful among the trees round Thornfield” (Brontë 106).

Finally, it is worth noting that in addition to change, sometimes the wind warns of future strife. When Jane and Rochester are together in the garden, speaking of possible marriage, “the west wind whispered in the ivy round me; but no gentle Ariel borrowed its breath as a medium of speech” (Brontë 197). It is almost as if the wind is gossiping about them, or trying to give a warning of the disaster that was to come. When Jane is preparing for the wedding, she remarks “I am feverish: I hear the wind blowing: I will go out of doors and feel it” (Brontë 247). The wind then leads Jane to the riven tree that many critics regard as representing Jane and Rochester’s soon to be broken relationship—and their eventual reunion. First, she “sought the orchard: driven to its shelter by the wind, which all day had blown strong and full from the south” then “ran before the wind delivering my trouble of mind to the measureless air-torrent thundering through space” before arriving at the riven tree. The warning could not be made much clearer, but it goes unnoticed. The final warning comes in the form of an intense windstorm. Jane goes to meet Mr. Rochester in this windstorm, and they return to Thornfield together. As the wind falls, it leaves a message. “Half heaven was pure and stainless: the clouds, now trooping before the wind, were filing off eastward in long, silvered columns” (Brontë 256). Jane is the pure and stainless half of this potential union and Rochester is the one with the clouded past. Their impending (if temporary) doom was written by the wind in the sky for all to see.

Whatever the purpose of the wind at any given time, Brontë often used nature in general and the wind specifically as her own tool. Just like Prospero’s Ariel, it has done her bidding to the very end, drawing Jane and Rochester together for the last time.

Works Cited

  • Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre, edited by Deborah Lutz, 4th ed, W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.
  • Fincham, Gail. “The Mind’s Eye: Focalizing ‘Nature’ in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea.” English Academy Review, vol. 27, no. 1, May 2010, pp. 14–23. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10131751003755898. Accessed 18 February 2021.
  • Searle, Alison. “An Idolatrous Imagination? Biblical Theology and Romanticism in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.” Christianity and Literature, vol. 56, no. 1, 2006, pp. 35-61. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001615710&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 18 February 2021.

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