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Allusion in Jane Eyre

Biblical, Greek and Roman Allusions: One of the core literary devices utilized in Jane Eyre is allusion, specifically allusions to the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, and the works of other writers. Allusions to other literature enable Bronte to demonstrate Jane’s education. Allusions to the Bible function similarly but also reflect the cultural conditions at the time; to be considered highly in society, people needed to appear well-acquainted with the Bible, and throughout the text Jane makes an effort to better her own social status. These allusions were fairly typical for Victorian literature of the nineteenth century.

Allusion Examples in Jane Eyre:

Chapter III

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"Guy Fawkes..."   (Chapter III)

Guy Fawkes was executed for attempting to blow up the British Parliament and assassinate King James I. This allusion emphasizes Jane’s inclination to rebel against any oppressors—in this case, Mrs. Reed.

"what large prominent teeth!..."   (Chapter IV)

This succession of exclamations about Mr. Brocklehurst’s appearance alludes to the Big Bad Wolf from the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood." This claim is also supported by repeated associations between the color red and Jane’s character. This subtle allusion foreshadows the preying, antagonistic way Brocklehurst treats others later in the novel.

"here is a book entitled the ‘Child's Guide’; ..."   (Chapter IV)

Brontë alludes to the inspiration behind the character of Mr. Brocklehurst, Rev. William Carus Wilson, the founder of a school she attended. Wilson published a magazine called “The Children’s Friend,” which contained extremely religious, grim material.

"Babel clamor of tongues..."   (Chapter V)

According to the Bible, God punished the people of Babel for trying to build a tower to heaven by confusing their language abilities and scattering them across the Earth. This is one of the many biblical allusions in Jane Eyre, contributing to the theme of religion and Jane’s changing relationship with faith.

"Felix..."   (Chapter VI)

In the Bible, Felix was the Roman governor of Judea who delayed the Apostle Paul’s trial for two years. Although Jane is knowledgeable enough about the Bible’s teachings to refer to them, she is hesitant to completely accept its teachings. She is still wary of religion, and much of the novel is about her search for what it truly means to be a good Christian.

"outside of the cup..."   (Chapter VII)

This phrase is a biblical allusion to the book of Matthew 23:25, which comments on Brocklehurst’s hypocrisy. He may appear to be a good Christian on the “outside” and preach about piety, but he only uses religion as it benefits him. The tone of the phrase that follows—“further beyond his interference”—is one of pity, as if Brocklehurst will never be able to understand what living religiously is like, that he’ll never reach the “inside” of the cup.

"nectar and ambrosia..."   (Chapter VIII)

This is an allusion to Greek mythology. The goddess Hebe served nectar as wine for the gods and ambrosia was their food. Jane’s comparison of their small morsel of cake to food for the gods shows both how hungry the children are, but it also shows how appreciative Jane is of a simple act of kindness; Jane isn’t greedy or demanding.

"Barmecide supper..."   (Chapter VIII)

In Arabian Nights, a wealthy Barmecide invites a beggar to an imaginary feast, and this phrase has come to mean anything that represents an illusion of abundance. Jane uses her imagination to satisfy her “inward cravings” for escape from the terrible conditions at Lowood.

"Resurgam..."   (Chapter IX)

Resurgam is Latin for “I shall rise again.” Helen’s death, as well as this inscription, further contributes to her characterization as a Christ-like figure, as Christ died but came back to life again before ascending to heaven.

"Bluebeard's castle..."   (Chapter XI)

This phrase alludes to the story of Bluebeard, a murderous duke, who tests all of his new wives by leaving the castle and telling them not to look behind a specific door. The wives become victims to their temptations when Bluebeard discovers they broke their promises. This allusion has an element of foreshadowing for Jane’s story, as it relates to the mystery of the attic later on.

"Thornfield..."   (Chapter XI)

Jane’s new home of Thornfield, just like her previous residences, is a play on words. It may reference the book of Genesis 3:18, which details the fall of man, foreshadowing another rough patch ahead for Jane.

"“Like heath that in the wilderness, The wild wind whirls away.”..."   (Chapter XII)

This is a quote from Thomas Moore’s poem, “Fallen is Thy Throne." It suggests Jane’s encounter with this stranger has stirred up her monotonous life, but that excitement, the “wind,” leaves with the stranger. Also note the alliteration of the wispy “w” sound that reinforces the imagery and sound of wind.

"fairy tales..."   (Chapter XIII)

There are many allusions to fables and fairy tales throughout the novel, and this is the second direct reference to fairy tales. All of the Brontë children were very interested in fairy tales as children, and critics believe that Brontë modeled much of this narrative on stories like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella."

"Beulah..."   (Chapter XV)

This is an allusion to the land of Israel, as described in the Bible, that was promised to the Jews after their return from exile in Egypt, representing relief after hardship. After her rough childhood, this dream foreshadows a change for the better in Jane’s life. Note that Rochester is an important element of this change.

"molded like a Dian..."   (Chapter XVII)

This expression alludes to the Roman goddess of the hunt, moon, and childbirth, Diana. Jane acknowledges Blanche’s statuesque beauty but does not necessarily compliment her. She compares Blanche to a cold and inanimate object, only resembling a living being.

"Mesrour..."   (Chapter XVII)

Mesrour is a character from Arabian Nights. This is the novel's second allusion to Arabian Nights, with the first being Jane’s dreams of a “Barmecide supper.” Both Jane and Rochester are well read and have similar tastes in literature, connecting them on an intellectual level.

"“a very pleasant refuge in time of trouble.”..."   (Chapter XVII)

This is an allusion to Psalms 46:1, which says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” This heightens the already religious connotation of “sanctum,” and reinforces Jane’s Christian background. Jane also suggests that the party is troubling to her, that she must escape from it, which speaks to her more introverted nature.

"Eliezer and Rebecca..."   (Chapter XVIII)

In the Bible, Eliezer went to a well to find a wife for Isaac. Rebecca demonstrated great kindness and offered water to Eliezer and his camels. She was chosen to be Isaac’s wife and given many jewels. Rochester and Blanche’s charade lacks any reference to the camels and focuses more on the more materialistic aspects of the story. The irony in them missing the moral of the story emphasizes their shallowness.

"the play is played out..."   (Chapter XIX)

This is most likely a reference to Henry IV, in which Falstaff says, “Play out the play." It is somewhat unusual that a woman who tells fortunes would also be riffing on Shakespeare—perhaps this woman is not all that she claims to be.

"Ariel..."   (Chapter XX)

Ariel is a magical spirit from The Tempest who aids his master, Prospero, by whispering things to him and other characters. Jane’s allusion indicates her solitary state, her feelings of loneliness, that pervades the novel. Despite this, Jane has been able to persevere through hard times, independently managing her struggles.

"Fury..."   (Chapter XX)

A Fury is a Greek deity of the underworld that punishes wrongdoers. They were often depicted with large bat-like wings, black skin, and serpents for hair--very far from human. Note how Jane’s metaphor distances her from this “Fury” in physicality but not in spirit. Both Jane and a Fury try to uphold justice and are rebellious to varying degrees, and this similarity will be a point of internal conflict for Jane.

"Queen Boadicea..."   (Chapter XXII)

Queen Boadicea was the queen of a British Celtic tribe that led an uprising against the Roman Empire. Interest in her was revived in England’s Victorian Era as Queen Victoria was seen as her namesake (their names share the same meaning). This allusion sets up Rochester’s future wife as a strong-willed and rebellious character; traits which aren’t apparent in his supposed wife-to-be, Blanche Ingram.

"The Eastern allusion bit me again..."   (Chapter XXIV)

This chapter is full of allusions to the Middle East, and Jane’s distaste for them suggests a very imperial mindset. It was a common belief at the time that those in the British Empire were far superior to those who weren’t, and Jane is a product of her times. The British assumed a paternalistic stance in relation to their colonies and trade partners, believing themselves to be good moral and intellectual influences. Jane doesn’t like Rochester’s allusions because they compare their relationship to people she believes are beneath her.

"like a second Danae..."   (Chapter XXIV)

Jane alludes to Danae, a woman from Greek mythology who was locked away in a chamber to prevent her from having children. Zeus took the form of golden rain and impregnated Danae, resulting in the birth of Perseus. Jane’s simile emphasizes her desire for independence as she doesn’t want to be showered with riches for just sitting around as someone’s wife. Offering something of monetary value is the only way Jane can feel like Rochester’s equal.

"King Ahasuerus..."   (Chapter XXIV)

The Persian King Ahasuerus is a figure from the Hebrew Bible who is often identified as Xerxes I. He offered his Jewish wife, Esther, half of his kingdom, but she was only asked that her people be spared from Haman, a vizier plotting to kill all Persian Jews. By comparing Rochester to King Ahasuerus, Jane assumes the role of Esther. She is not interested in Rochester for his material wealth, but his good nature, his morality.

"Hercules and Samson with their charmers..."   (Chapter XXIV)

Both Hercules (from Greek mythology) and Samson (from the Bible) were men who were deceived and betrayed by women. The theme of illusory appearances is emphasized again as Jane jokes that her appearance may be just as deceiving as those of women like Blanche Ingram.

"mustard-seed..."   (Chapter XXIV)

This is another instance of a double meaning in Jane Eyre. This term may allude to the Parable of the Mustard Seed, in which Jesus told of the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven from very small beginnings (Matthew 31-32). This parallels Jane’s development, from lowly governess to the fiancée of an estate-owning gentleman. Mustardseed is also the name of a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Referring to Jane as such reinforces the mystical, fairy tale elements of her and Rochester’s relationship.

"fell on all the first-born in the land of Egypt..."   (Chapter XXVI)

This is an allusion to the Plagues of Egypt in Exodus where the God of Israel inflicted calamities upon Egypt to convince the pharaoh to release the enslaved Israelites. This story is told to support God’s absolute power, and Jane’s reference indicates that she feels all hope is lost, that there is no fighting the powers working against her happy marriage with Rochester.

"with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged..."   (Chapter XXVI)

This is a quote from Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount that Rochester uses to justify his illegal--and immoral--actions. Rochester has advocated against judging by one’s appearances, but his guiding principle now extends to one’s background. He believes one can overcome any poor choices made in the past, a belief that is applicable to Jane’s own rags-to-riches story.

"this tent of Achan..."   (Chapter XXVII)

The biblical book of Joshua tells the story of Achan, who stole valuable goods from the city of Jericho and hid them in his tent against God’s command. As punishment, God destroyed Achan, his family, and all of his possessions, and withheld his blessing from the Israelites during an important battle. Rochester compares his estate to Achan’s tent because his seemingly small, albeit selfish, action led to much larger consequences, negatively affecting his well being, as well as his loved ones’.

"“No; you shall tear yourself away; none shall help you: you shall, yourself, pluck out your right eye: yourself cut off your right hand: your heart shall be the victim; and you, the priest, to transfix it.”..."   (Chapter XXVII)

In true Gothic fashion, Jane hears this quote from Matthew 5:27-32 about adultery from some spectral voice in her head. Her worries about nearly committing adultery manifest as one of the several supernatural occurrences in the novel. She allows her mind to be deluded by her own fears and anxieties, and this is one of the few instances where Jane’s reliability as a narrator is questionable.

"Lot's wife..."   (Chapter XXXI)

This is an allusion to the biblical story of the city of Sodom, which was destroyed by God for its sinfulness. While Lot’s family was fleeing the city, the angel guiding them warned them not to look back. Lot’s wife disobeyed and turned into a pillar of salt. With this biblical story, St. John advises Jane to have faith in God despite her doubts. It’s also significant that Lot’s wife is unnamed. She is defined by her relationship to a man, dependent on him for an identity. This is exactly what Jane has been avoiding, so St. John’s comparison shows a disconnect between their understandings and expectations of a woman's role.

"“The air was mild, the dew was balm”..."   (Chapter XXXI)

This quote is drawn from two separate lines of Sir Walter Scott’s poem "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," which deals with Romantic themes, as well as the theme of loyalty to one’s homeland. Jane goes on to discuss Rochester and the problems her absence from him may cause, suggesting that being with Rochester is her homeland, where she belongs. Notice how Jane continues to understand her life experiences in terms of literature.

"Marmion..."   (Chapter XXXII)

“Marmion” is a poem by Sir Walter Scott about a love triangle between the eponymous Marmion, a nun who loves him, and the woman who he truly loves. Brontë includes this because the plot of the poem somewhat parallels Jane’s own story, as she is stuck in a pseudo love triangle with St. John and Rosamond.

"“Come over and help us!”..."   (Chapter XXXIV)

Jane alludes to a section from the New Testament that refers to the apostle Paul’s passage through Macedonia. He was one of the most prolific of the apostles, spreading Christianity as a missionary throughout the East and West. Jane suggests that St. John is a Paul-like figure whose stringent dedication to his faith Jane can’t match. It is not that Jane’s faith is wavering, but that she approaches Christianity with a more laissez-faire attitude.

"sightless Samson..."   (Chapter XXXVII)

Jane alludes to the Old Testament, where Delilah cut Samson’s hair and consequently causes him to lose his strength and go blind. Throughout the novel, Brontë has criticized those who rely too heavily on sight or appearances. In mythology and literature, the blind are often granted a metaphorical “sight,” one that allows them to see things beyond the physical world. By blinding Rochester, Brontë suggests that since he is now deprived of the constant consciousness of appearance that sight entails, he can now “see” his wrongdoings.

"bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh..."   (Chapter XXXVIII)

This comes from Genesis 2:23, which explains God’s creation of woman from the rib of Adam. Jane’s allusion suggests that her harmonious marriage with Rochester is heaven-sent and ordained by God. It is also a reference to how Rochester’s physical condition allows them to recognize each other as equals.

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