The principal object of Gothic novel is the evocation of terror by exploiting mystery and a variety of other horrors. Because of its powerful writing, and because of its concern with moral and social issues beyond the immediate plot, Jane Eyre is not generally considered a Gothic novel as such. However, it makes use of many of the elements found in the Gothic genre popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Charlotte Brontë invests gothic elements in Jane Eyre with a symbolic meaning to create a new, ‘female’ language. It is through this female Gothic language that Brontë creates a heroine whose autobiographical mode of writing is used to trace a story of female rebellion and search for identity.
Gothic paraphernalia is first shown in the novel in the form of the red room. Imagery is used to represent this room as secret, prison like, but particularly to give the room an overall feeling of horror. Jane describes the red room as having “curtains of deep red damask” and “crimson cloth”. Jane could be using these descriptions as a metaphor for blood, linking the red room to death. The reader is then made aware that the late Mr Reed, Jane’s uncle, died in there and Jane has images of him haunting the room. This supernatural event that Jane imagines adds to the gothic genre, which increases the feeling of horror that the room is already associated with. Jane's descriptions of the red room and her fear of it when inside, creates a feeling of empathy for her from the readers, especially considering her young age and circumstance.
In Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester represents the gothic hero with a secret past. The gothic hero is proud, moody, and cynical man, with defiance on his brow and misery in his heart, yet capable of deep and strong affection. At Jane's first meeting with Mr. Rochester, she notices his "dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow." He turns out to be a man with a past and his immoral life in Paris adds to both the sense of mystery and repulsion for many readers.
In Jane Eyre, as in many Gothic novels, the reader comes across a lunatic wife (Bertha Rochester) locked in the attic of the manor house. The peculiar sound produced by her mad ravings contributes to the atmosphere of mystery and suspense in the novel.
Another feature of the Gothic novel is the use of the supernatural. Although the novel carries no evidence of supernatural occurrences, allusions of apparently supernatural happenings are frequently mentioned such as in the red room scene when she senses the ghost of her uncle. There are no ghosts in Jane Eyre, but every phase of Jane's life is preceded by her imagining a supernatural visitation from another world. And Mr. Rochester's telepathic communication to Jane towards the end of the novel is in fact a supernatural phenomenon fully exploited for the purpose of fiction.
Jane Eyre has been called a new type of Gothic romance on account of Charlotte Brontë's use of poetic symbolism in the novel. The chestnut tree splitting into two serves as a symbol for the separation of Jane and Mr. Rochester. Bertha's tearing of the wedding veil symbolizes Mr. Rochester's betrayal of his real wife and Jane, his betrothed.
In this way Charlotte Brontë contributed a new dimension to the Gothic novel. She managed to make the patently Gothic more than just a stereotype. She cleverly constructs a female language by giving her heroine a ‘gothic’ imagination. Jane Eyre is a prime example of female Gothic, in which the author explores woman's roles within society and their home, which leads to the protagonists’ (in this case; Jane) dangerous attempts to challenge and undermine these roles. The female gothic genre, therefore, is a significant element within the narrative and Bronte applies the mysterious, the supernatural, the horrific and the romantic to accentuate this.