Throughout Jane Eyre, foreshadowing enhances the secrets kept from Jane. Brontë uses foreshadowing to demonstrate that the people who are either meant to care for Jane or, in the case of Rochester, claim to love Jane, have not been honest with her, highlighting that Jane’s place in the world is unstable. Only after the truths come to light does Jane find safety and stability.
Throughout the novel, several characters mention Jane’s uncle, John Eyre, in ways that foreshadow him leaving Jane a substantial inheritance. Although Jane believes her relations are poor, Bessie notes in Chapter 10 that John Eyre came to visit the Reeds once, but Mrs. Reed lied about Jane’s whereabouts. Bessie insists that John Eyre “looked quite a gentleman,” which contrasts with Jane’s belief that her relatives are poor. Mrs. Reed’s lie also arouses suspicions that she may be keeping Jane from relatives who care for her. Mrs. Reed later confirms these suspicions when she makes her deathbed confession in Chapter 21, when she reveals that John Eyre had wished to adopt Jane following his successful business enterprise in Portugal. These incidents characterize Mrs. Reed as spiteful and cruel. However, these moments also create an undercurrent of hope by implying that Jane is not truly alone in the world. Beyond Gateshead, the letter informing the Rivers siblings of their uncle John’s death also foreshadows Jane’s inheritance. The details of their uncle’s life match very closely with what the reader knows of Jane’s uncle, too much so to be mere coincidence.
Many of the eerie events at Thornfield Hall foreshadow the revelation of Rochester’s previous marriage to Bertha Mason. Rochester attempts to exonerate himself of guilt in Chapter 20, when he refers to his first marriage vaguely as “a capital error.” This strange conversation, in conjunction with Mr. Mason’s visit, alerts the reader that Mr. Rochester is hiding something. Bertha’s existence is evidenced by the eerie laugh wrongly attributed to Grace Poole, and the anonymous attempt to burn Rochester. Jane remarks on how odd it is that Rochester doesn’t fire Grace Poole despite her clearly being a threat to everyone’s safety. These doubts hint that Grace Poole, while a convenient scapegoat, may not be the true culprit. Bertha later wears and then destroys the wedding veil, adding a sense of dread to Jane and Rochester’s impending marriage. In retrospect, Bertha wearing the wedding veil symbolizes that she is currently Rochester’s bride. Finally, the storm that destroys the chestnut tree portends that all is not right with Rochester’s proposal to Jane. The storm worsens after Rochester vows that God is on his side. Because of this timing, the lightning strike takes on an air of divine judgement, hinting that God doesn’t sanction Rochester’s actions.
The Burning of Thornfield Hall
Two events in particular foreshadow the burning of Thornfield Hall. The first is when Bertha sets Rochester’s bed on fire. At this point in the novel, the fire highlights the sense that all is not well within Thornfield. In retrospect, this attack establishes Bertha’s penchant for setting things on fire, and her anger at Rochester. Secondly, in the days before her wedding to Rochester, Jane dreams of Thornfield Hall in ruins while she wanders with a child in her arms. Because this dream is one of two nightmares Jane has leading up to the wedding, it contributes to the sense of unease surrounding the upcoming marriage. In retrospect, this dream seems to prophesy the end of Thornfield. Significantly, Jane says that throughout the dream, she attempts to find a place for the child but cannot find anywhere safe amongst the wreckage. The child in the dream is symbolic of how Jane does not have a future at Thornfield, emphasized by Jane and Rochester eventually having a son together at Ferndean.