Jane can be seen as a Cinderella--the orphan child abused by her
foster family. After she is banished to the nursery, she is used by Bessie
to do housework and sits by the dying fire, just like Cinderella. Does
Mrs. Reed resemble the wicked step-mother? As you read the novel, watch
to see whether anyone fills the role of fairy godmother or the role of prince.
Chapter 1 (Pages 6-11)
How does the opening establish Jane's position as outsider in the Reed
household and her unhappiness? How is she treated by John Reed and the servants?
It is November and the shrubbery has no leaves. Why are these details
appropriate to Jane's emotional state and situation?
The first of the fire images appears. The Reed family is gathered
together around the fire; Jane is excluded. Is fire being used to symbolize
feeling/emotional warmth ? (This is a common symbolic use of fire.) Or does
it have some other meaning here?
Jane is sitting in the curtained-off window seat reading. What
does this situation reveal about her relationship to the Reeds? Her pleasure
in reading introduces her delight in the imagination. She describes the
pictures which impress her in the books she reads. What do these pictures
suggest about her feelings and situation--e.g., happiness, warmth, integration
into the family, unhappiness, coldness, isolation, fear? Does her description
of the windows ("protecting but not separating me," p. 7) apply to her situation?
After John knocks her down with the book, she rebels at his abuse
for the first time and attacks him. Why? She hears the words, "the picture
of passion" applied to her. Bronte uses the word "passion" in its broader
sense of intense emotions, not in its narrower meaning of sexual feelings.
The unrestrained expression of passion, here anger and pain, has serious
consequences. This is one of the lessons Jane has to learn. The immediate
consequence of her rebellious outburst is that Jane is locked in the Red
Room. There will also be long term consequences.
Chapter 2 (Pages 11-17)
Jane sees a distorted reflection of the room ("colder and darker")
and herself ("strange little figure") in the mirror (p. 13). Psychologically
why do the room and her own reflection look different after her outburst?
A reflection is often used to symbolize either the inner self or the unconscious;
is Bronte using it in such a way here?
Jane's passions are riotous ("my brain was in tumult, and all my
heart in resurrection!") so that her "reason," which should be controlling
passion, is swept away by it and says, "Unjust!--unjust!" (p. 14). The dangers
of unrestrained passion are shown in the plans she makes; if she can't run
away, she will commit suicide by not drinking and eating.
Look at the last paragraph on p. 14 and the first paragraph on p.
15. Is Jane speaking as a child, feeling and thinking only what she did
then, or is she speaking as an adult looking back, filtering the child's
rage and anguish through the calm reason and understanding of an adult?
She says, "I was a discord in Gateshead Hall; I was like nobody
there." What qualities make her the outsider, the Other?
What is her attitude as an adult toward the way she was treated as a child
in the Reed household?
She uses a metaphor--"embers of my decaying ire"--to describe the
cooling of her rage. In the next chapter, Jane's first sight as she regains
consciousness is the glare of the nursery fire. References to literal and
figurative fire like these run through the novel.
In the Red Room, her imagination, uncontrolled by reason and driven
by fear, turns to superstition and terror. She imagines a light is the ghost
of her uncle and, terrified at the thought, loses consciousness.
Chapter 3 (Pages 17-25)
What other consequences, short-term and long-term, does she experience
as a result of the Red Room experience?
Has Jane the adult forgiven Mrs. Reed for the sufferings of Jane
the child? She says, "But I ought to forgive you, for you knew not
what you did; while rending my heartstrings, you thought you were only uprooting
my bad propensities" (p. 19).
In the conversation with Mr. Lloyd, what attitude toward poverty
and what class biases does Jane reveal (p. 24)? "Caste," as Jane calls social
position here, will be a concern to the adult Jane.
What is Abbot's attitude toward Jane? Does Bessie's differ?
Chapter 4 (Pages 26-40)
Having once rebelled, Jane continues to respond physically to John's abuse.
What is the attitude of the narrator toward this response, "...I instantly
turned against him, roused by the same sentiment of deep ire and desperate
revolt which had stirred my corruption before" (p. 26). Why "corruption"?
What are the consequences of her outburst that the Reed children
are not fit to associate with her (p. 27)? How does Jane feel after this
What kind of person is Mr. Brockelhurst? Is he kind, priggish,
hypocritical, spiritual, charitable, cruel, inconsiderate, rigid, self-satisfied,
Jane looks forward to school as a place to acquire desirable accomplishments
and to begin a better life. Mrs. Reed's crushes those hopes by charging
her with deceitfulness; this causes Jane to be consumed by passion ("Shaking
from head to foot, thrilled with ungovernable excitement," p. 36). She denounces
Mrs. Reed and drives her from the room. What are her immediate feelings
and what does she feel next (pp. 37-8)? Is she right that a child can't
challenge adults as she has? Is her victory an ambiguous one, or is it a
Why is she more outgoing and open with Bessie after her victory
over Mrs. Reed? How does Bessie respond? What do Bessie's advice and conversation
tell us about Jane? Why doesn't she tell Bessie about her encounter with
How are Eliza, Georgiana, and John characterized as children? Like
Jane, they develop into the kinds of adults that could be predicted from
their childhood behavior.
Chapters 5-7 (Pages 40-68)
Why is bad weather appropriate for Jane's leaving? Why is January with
its winter blight appropriate for Lowood? Does Jane immediately find acceptance
and friends at Lowood or does she remain isolated? Why? Is she unhappy?
Miss Temple and Helen Burns serve as mentors for Jane. Helen has
the more profound and lasting effect. What does the name "temple" suggest?
Helen's reading is serious, i.e., appeals to reason rather than
to the imagination, like Jane's reading. Is this appropriate to her role
as Jane's mentor? Helen is repeatedly punished for inattentiveness and sloppiness;
how does Jane respond to her punishment? Ironically, of course, Jane will
have to bear the even more humiliating punishment imposed by Mr. Brockelhurst.
What qualities does Helen recommend and represent (pp. 55-6, p. 58)?
Helen has a profound faith in God and is a model Christian. She
lives the virtues of humility and obedience; as a result, she is passive
and submissive to authority. When Jane asserts she could not bear to be
punished and humiliated, Helen replies, "Yet it would be your duty to bear
it, if you could not avoid it" (p. 56). Helen's doctrine of endurance amazes
Jane; though she doesn't understand it, she is affected by it, "I felt that
Helen Burns considered things by a light invisible to my eyes. I suspected
she might be right and I wrong" (p. 56). From the beginning of their friendship,
Helen exercises an influence over Jane.