Jane Eyre


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Chapters 1-4

Bronte's presentation of Jane in Chapter 1 shows her as an exploited victim, a lonely Cinderella figure - evidence:

1) Jane is excluded from the drawing-room comforts for some unspecified failure to behave acceptably. She gladly seeks the enclosed refuge of the curtained window seat and escapes into her own world through a book.

2) She is pleased not to have had to go for a walk that day, for walks emphasise her weakness.

3) The reference to her aunt closeted with 'her darlings' suggests that Jane feels left out of the family circle.

4) Jane's peace is shattered with John Reed's verbal and physical attack which focuses on how she is regarded as a poor relation and (to him) a legitimate target for his unwarranted bullying. This incident draws attention to her small stature and her lack of status. With no parents and no inherited money Jane is treated as lower than the servants.

5) This introduces one of the key themes - Jane's search for a substitute love within a substitue family.

6) Another big theme here is her need to create an acceptable role in society, stemming from Mrs Reed's failure to act as the expected and needed surrogate mother Jane craves.

Substitute families Jane finds in the novel:

Miss Temple, Helen Burns, Adele, Mrs Fairfax, The Rivers Cousins (vs the trio of the Reeds), Rochester and her own  child.

Features of Jane's character:

1) Perceptive enough to see she is left out and why, but is strong enough to cope with her enforced solitariness.

2) Loves books and is imaginative (but fearful and morbid).

3) Has just found a voice to speak up for herself, dislikes the injustice which is done to her, but lacks the tact to know when to keep her counsel.

4) Shows physical courage in defending herself against John Reed and is articulate in her condemnation of him.

5) Her intelligence and spiritedness are clear, but her pride makes her too impulsive for her own good.

Victorian attitudes to children in Chapter 1:

1) The reader needs to differentiate between the way the Reed children are treated compared with Jane. John is indulged by a mother who seems blind to his despicable behaviour. The servants only tolerate him because their jobs depend on Mrs Reed's good opinion of them. The boy is greedy, violent, ill-educated and cowardly - but everyone plays up to him. He is a snob and callously reminds Jane of her parentless and penniless poor relation state.

2) One of the recurring themes in 19th Century fiction is MONEY. Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy all show the soul-destroying effects of pverty and the humiliating situation faced by poor relatives.

3) For Jane the struggle to gain a respectable position is a major aim in life. The sisters, Eliza and Georgiana, are simply followers of their brother, and are too 'universally indulged' (pg 46). Jane is perceptive enough to see that if she were 'a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child' (pg 47) her aunt would perhaps have accepted her more readily.

4) Only expection from the way the other servants treat Jane is Bessie, who 'when she chanced to be in a good humour' (pg 41) tells the children stories. Bessie also shows a concern to help Jane when she advices 'in no harsh tone' that the little girl 'should try to be useful and pleasant, then, perhaps, you would have a home here; but if you become passionate and rude, missis will send you away...' (pg 45)

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