by Charlotte Brontë
The Red Room
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Otherwise known as the most terrifying room of all time, a.k.a. proof that Mrs. Reed gets the gold medal for Worst Aunt Ever.
Paging Dr. Freud
The red room, once the bedroom of Jane’s Uncle Reed, was also (dum dum dummm) the chamber in which he died. Locked in the red room, believing that her uncle’s ghost is rising from the grave, Jane experiences a moment of extreme trauma leading to hysteria:
Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room: at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern, carried by some one across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift-darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings: something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down—I uttered a wild, involuntary cry—I rushed to the door and shook the lock in a desperate effort. (1.2.32)
And you know, Shmoopers, any time that the idea of "hysteria" rears its ugly little head, some good ol' Freudian analysis ain't far behind.
Quick recap: Jane’s aunt, an older woman who is supposed to be like a foster mother to her (but is more like an evil stepmother), locks Jane into a room that’s entirely decorated in red. And Jane panics when she thinks that an older male relative’s ghost might be invading the room. Huh: mother-figure, father-figure, enclosed space. We’re not going to have to go too far to do some old-school psychoanalyzing here, are we?
We'll start with our most Freud-y bit of psychoanalysis. Check it out: that red enclosed space can be seen as pretty womb-like. Aunt Reed, our mama-figure, is essentially forcing Jane back into a "womb." And, to top it all off, that red womb—er, room—is then invaded with a father-like figure.
Does that sound twisted? It is. Jane isn't just getting reborn (which is what usually happens, symbolically, when someone is forced into an enclosed space in literature), she's getting re-conceived. This is conception in reverse: instead of the father-figure entering the enclosed space/womb (read: sperm inseminating egg) followed by the mother-figure releasing a child from the enclosed space, we have the mother-figure pushing a child back into the enclosed space, followed by the father-figure entering the enclosed space.
So what does this all mean? A bunch of things. This can be read as Aunt Reed trying to eradicate Jane entirely. It can symbolize the fact that Jane's mother and father really take a backseat in this narrative and that her aunts and uncles become parental figures. Or perhaps this re-conception underlines the fact that Jane is really super-duper alone in the world.
But we don't have to stop there. Some less Freudian interpretations: the red room is similar to that other notoriously red place—hell. Jane certainly is pretty wary of sin after this incident, isn't she?
Alternatively, you can think about the red-room experience as part of the indescribable trauma of suffering; remember, Jane loses consciousness because she can hardly deal with it, and she can never quite verbalize what the problem is (besides the possibility of a ghost). Whenever Jane suffers in the future, it will take her, emotionally, back to the red room.