The Significance of Dreams in “Jane Eyre” and “Wide Sargasso Sea”

*I don’t have exact page numbers, just chapters, for some quotes as I did not have a copy of Jane Eyre or Wide Sargasso Sea when writing this – I returned them without thinking of writing this blog.

In both Jane Eyre, as written by Charlotte Bronte, and its counterpart novel, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, the presence and significance of dreams are prevalent and crucial . Dreams function as  insight into the characters of Jane and Antoinette’s inner consciousness, as well as foreshadow events to come. Within these novels, dreams, while they preserve the same functions, serve to represent opposing, yet linking, perspectives of an ongoing story – perhaps in criticism of marriage to Rochester, Antoinette’s dreams  parallel those of Jane’s as she becomes increasingly anxious in regards to her union to Rochester and ultimately influence Jane’s reality.

Antoinette’s first dream occurs in her childhood after a friend, Tia, steals her dress:” I dreamed that I was walking in the forest. Not alone. Someone who hated me was with me, out of sight. I could hear heavy footsteps coming closer and though I struggled and screamed, I could not move. I woke crying.” (27) Through this, Antoinette’s sense of awareness, or lack thereof, is exemplified by the absence of clarity of her fears. The vagueness of the threat is also translated in how she uses the past tense to describe her dream – Antoinette distances herself from her dream in this sense, symbolic of her unexpressed feelings. Likewise, Jane has a similar first dream of Rochester,  in which Jane”was burdened with the charge of a little child: a very small creature, too young and feeble to walk…[and thought that Rochester was on] the road a long way before [her]. [She] strained every nerve to overtake [Rochester], … but [he] withdrew farther and farther every moment.”(Chapter 25) According to Bessie, “to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either to one’s self or one’s kin” (188), foreshadowing the internal and external turmoil that will ensue through Jane’s imposing marriage to Rochester. In this sense, Jane’s dreams reflect her reality while Antoinette’s dreams meld with her reality. It also is representative of the passion for Rochester that Jane suppressed until her engagement as well as her unconscious anxieties towards her marriage with Rochester – while Antoinette’s dream show her consciousness that she has difficulty expressing, Jane’s show her repressed passion, passion that Antoinette, alternatively, indulges in. Though Rochester is receding in Jane’s dream and Antoinette’s threat is approaching her, the parallels and differences in psychological development of the two characters establishes the foreground on which Jane and Antoinette’s characters converge.

After her stepfather visits her at her school, Antoinette’s dream recurs –  she is “walking towards the forest… wearing a long [white] dress and thin slippers… following [a] man… [Antoinette is] sick with fear… ” (59 -60) Later in the dream the setting shifts and Antoinette is “in an enclosed garden surrounded by a stone wall and the trees are different trees” than she has seen before. She climbs up the steps of the wall, a “strange voice” calling “here, in here,” as she climbs. (59 – 60) As evident through the telling of her dream in the present tense as well as the clarity and detail now present in her dream, Antoinette now has a greater sense of self – awareness, no longer is she distancing herself from her dreams. The white dress, symbolic of a wedding dress, supports the implication that Rochester is the man in which she follows in her dream. The man, as she describes as “black with hatred,” foreshadows the resentment Rochester develops when he learns of Antoinette’s family history. Moreover, the shift in setting represents  Antoinette’s residence in Thornfield – she does not recognize the trees as they are different than any she has seen in the Caribbean suggesting she is no longer in her homeland. In relation the Antoinette’s dream, Jane’s second dream of the child and Rochester parallel it. As Jane tells Rochester, “I dreamt another dream, sir: that Thornfield Hall was a dreary ruin[.] I thought that of all the stately front nothing remained but a shell-like wall, very high and very fragile-looking. I wandered, on a moonlight night, through the grass- grown enclosure within… I still carried the unknown little child… I climbed the thin wall with frantic perilous haste, eager to catch one glimpse of you from the top…I saw you like a speck on a white track, lessening every moment. The blast blew so strong I could not stand. I sat down on the narrow ledge; I hushed the scared infant in my lap: you turned an angle of the road: I bent forward to take a last look; the wall crumbled; I was shaken; the child rolled from my knee, I lost my balance, fell, and woke.” (Chapter 25) Jane’s second dream also involves a child, again foreshadowing her future with Rochester. The child could also suggest Jane’s realization of the impact her engagement will have on her identity as she will be expected to have children. Furthermore both Jane and Antoinette’s dreams  occur, at least partially, in Thornfield as Jane explicitly states and Antoinette implies. Consequently, the “grass- grown enclosure” parallels Antoinette’s description of an “enclosed garden,” though the fact that  grass has overtaken the garden is indicative of the time that has passed,  and, while Jane is in pursuit of Rochester and Antoinette follows Rochester, both climb the same stone wall. In additon, Jane foreshadows the destruction of Thornfield through her description of it as a “dreary ruin.”

In Antoinette’s third and final dream, she has become “Bertha Mason,” the mad -woman in the attic that is written of in Jane Eyre . In this transition, she has lost all ability to recognize the distinctions between her dreams and reality – while Jane is able to differentiate between the two –  her dreams reflect, not influence her reality, Antoinette’s dreams blur into and become her reality, as evident through her last dream. After Grace Poole, Antoinette’s care taker in Thornfield, tells her that she had attacked Richard Mason, Antoinette dreams that she frees herself from the attic and is floating around the house. Similar to her first dream, she feels that someone is following her. When she continues around the house, Antoinette, with her inability to differentiate dreams between her reality or memories, states “I remember that when I came” in reference to a lamp on the wall. As in the second dream, Antoinette shifts settings abruptly – “Suddenly I was in Aunt Cora’s room,”  (188)  showcasing her abnormal, hyperactive mental state. Next, Antoinette sets fire to curtains and a tablecloth. While still in her dream, she has flashbacks from her life,”I saw the grandfather clock and Aunt Cora’s patchwork, all colours, I saw the orchids and the stephanotis and the jasmine and the tree of life in flames. I saw the chandelier and the red carpet downstairs and the bamboos and the tree ferns, the gold ferns and the silver, and the soft green velvet of the moss on the garden wall. I saw my doll’s house and the books and the picture of the Miller’s Daughter. I heard the parrot call as he did when he saw a stranger, Qui est la? Qui est la? and the man who hated me was calling too, Bertha! Bertha! The wind caught my hair and it streamed out like wings. It might bear me up, I thought, if I jumped to those hard stones. But when I looked over the edge I saw the pool at Coulibri. Tia was there. She beckoned to me and when I hesitated, she laughed. I heard her say, You frightened? And I heard the man’s voice, Bertha! Bertha! All this I saw and heard in a fraction of a second. And the sky so red. Someone screamed and I thought Why did I scream? I called “Tia!” and jumped and woke.” (189-190) In its translation into Jane Eyre, this dream is literalized – Antoinette avenges Rochester through setting a devastating fire in Thornfield and, as per her dream, jumps to her death. While Jane does not have a parallel dream, Antoinette’s dream has influenced her reality as also foreshadowed by Jane in her last dream’s depiction of Thornfield. Therefore, although there are differences between the characters, dreams are utilized to perform the same functions in both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, the parallels between the two reflecting and providing separate perspectives on one story.

Through  character development and foreshadowing, dreams remain important aspects of both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. Like Jane, Antoinette frequently dreams, though Jane’s ability to, due to the fact that she had a “proper,” Victorian upbringing compared to Antoinette’s neglected upbringing,  separate her dreams from waking hours creates contrast in the two novels. In relation to this, dreams serve to further the characterizations of Jane and Antoinette – the former portrayed as pragmatic in spite of her passionate dreams, while the surreal, dreamlike atmosphere in Wide Sargasso Sea is enforced through Antoinette’s confusion between dreams and reality. Jane’s dreams represent her repressed passions, while Antoinette’s, as exemplified through her final dream, represent feelings that she has yet to take action on. Moreover, whereas Antoinette embraces her passions, Jane is more reserved – in spite of these contradictions, the the use of dreams in both novels and the parallels between the dreams of these characters remain and assist in creating a greater understanding of one story -that of loving Edward Rochester.


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2 thoughts on “The Significance of Dreams in “Jane Eyre” and “Wide Sargasso Sea”

  1. Dear Shyla-

    I am thoroughly impressed by this piece! You made some really significant connections regarding dreams in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea that have helped to deepen my understanding of both texts. You have literally left me with chills, and I so appreciate that I was able to read this piece, because it truly has changed my perspective, especially of Jane Eyre.
    One of the things that you did flawlessly was quotation integration. Everywhere you added a quote, I really felt that it enhanced the meaning of your piece and lead to a more clear understanding for your readers. Often, quotes are integrated in confusing ways, but you were able to paraphrase with ease and maintain a steady flow. Your quotes gave me, as a reader of Jane Eyre and as someone who only knows the plotline of Wide Sargasso Sea, a fuller understanding of everything you were talking about. This was done really brilliantly, and so I applaud you for that.
    Another thing done really wonderfully was your use of elevated diction. Your word choice seemed to be very deliberate but was still clear. There was never a point during your piece where I was confused about your word choice, and I felt that you really took your writing to a higher level with your diction.
    As well, you seem to have great control over the flow of your writing. You took your reader through the journeys of two separate texts and still maintained a cohesive balance. I felt that you carried this flow through the entire piece.
    Another thing I really appreciated is that your introduction and your conclusion worked very well together to create that full-circle effect.
    In terms of constructive criticism, I think that you could improve your paragraphing. I understand that you were going for three body paragraphs so as to fit an initially-then-finally format, but as this wasn’t a critical essay, there is no real need to do that. The result of keeping your paragraphs long was that your piece became less engaging, and there was more work required on behalf of the reader. By making your paragraphs less chunky, it will allow the reader to take metaphorical breaths between paragraphs and makes for a more interesting read because the structure will feel freer.
    Another thing for you to work on is the placement of your visuals. I think that with a piece as brilliant as this, it really needs to be complimented by thoughtful visuals. The book covers picture at the end was a nice touch, but it wasn’t something that enhanced my understanding of your piece. As well, I would offer that you should place your visuals throughout the piece because it will make the writing more engaging throughout.
    Altogether, I must say that I am humbled by this. Shyla, you honestly teach me how to be a better writer every time I read something of yours. Once again, this piece is truly amazing. Thank you!


  2. Dear Ziyana,

    Thank you so much for your comment. I have been told that I need to work on my paragraphing before, and I will continue to work to improve it. I should have been more creative with it – you are right, since it was not a critical, it did and should not have been strictly an initially, then, finally format. I will work to integrate more visuals within my next pieces as well.

    Thanks! Have a great break!

    – Shyla

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