A classic victorian novel

Explore the presentation of childhood in 'Jane Eyre' and its effects on the protagonist

Jane Eyre is a novel written by Charlotte Bront? and published in 1847 in the 19th century. It is a classic Victorian novel considered to be one of the finest pieces in English literature. Incorporated into the novel Bront? adds elements of her own personal life and with it the emotions she led. Charlotte wrote under a man's name Currer Bell, to assure that her book would get published as men were regarded superior to women. Jane Eyre is about a girl who endures many experiences and adventures along her way to happiness as she is willing to accept change in her life knowing that it may not lead to the best outcome.

Jane Eyre's childhood is a reflection of the Victorian era, children were to come across as innocent, upright and ignorant of intellectual opinion. However Jane's early years lacked normal experiences, primarily love essential when growing up, resulting in a solitary and suffering child. Charlotte Bront? focuses on the feelings of hurt during Jane's childhood as she is an object of hatred from her cousins and aunt at Gateshead and later finds herself battling for justice in a regimental and rigorous boarding school named Lowood. In the first 10 chapters Jane's self-assured character progresses and matures as she fights for a better future.

From the beginning the audience has an insight to the emotions of the protagonist in the weather 'the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds sombre and a rain so penetrating that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question'. This use of pathetic fallacy expresses her emotions indirectly and reflects her thoughts creating a sense of relief from the outcome of escaping the burden of her cousins. Her gratitude of the bad weather illustrates revulsion towards her cousins and the relationship they have. Nature imitates Jane's life as a soulless black hole empty and miserable, 'ceaseless rain', similar to the cold and unwelcoming Reed family she must live with.

In conjunction Mrs. Reed and Jane quarrel, pathetic fallacy impacts on the situation 'wind howling in the grove' shows her fear of the Red Room and the prospects to come. This effect is a subtle hint for the future providing the reader with a vague forecast of the emotions unknown to Jane and the rest of the characters in the novel. During her time at Gateshead her position as a prisoner becomes more pronounced 'silver-white foliage veiling the panes as left room to look out' enclosed and trapped in her suffering instead of being a respected and loved member of the family.

From an early age Jane has acknowledged her 'physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed' encouraged by Mrs. Reed who resents her presence. The different classes are apparent by the different qualities they hold such as power, authority and wealth classing Jane at the bottom of the system. Along with this the Reed family exclude her from their daily lives, 'clustered round their mama' illustrates their close and loving relationship as a family. In addition they are gathered around the fireside symbolising warmth and love among them although looks can be deceptive, 'looked perfectly happy' is how the Reeds want to be perceived from afar. But in reality Mrs. Reed is a rich, pretentious and condescending woman, and her children are spoiled, cruel and rude. Bront? emphasizes Jane's loneliness and lack of familial affection as a child helping the reader to understand how Jane progresses through her early years bounding on from strength to strength.

Jane seeks happiness in books that are beyond her understanding yet the pictures capture her in a fairytale far from reality. This is a form of escapism for Jane 'protecting, but not separating me' from the misery that is her life. Although she is engaged in another world it doesn't make her oblivious to what is going on in reality proving she has an inquisitive and independent nature later supported by other situations. Her willingness to find a book to read establishes her independence and her initiative thinking unlike many children of her age. The only form of happiness she has encountered is with books, and she 'feared nothing but interruption' showing the simplicity of her happiness. She is dependent on the heartless Reed family but never on an equal level with her relatives. Jane detests being in the company of her cousins, 'I trembled at the idea of being dragged forth' but John soon reminds her that 'you have no business to take our books, you are a dependent' and a second class citizen again reinforcing the status superiority he has. John takes advantage of his position in the hierarchy system to mentally reinforce to Jane, that she is indebted to them and so has no right to intervene with their property. Throughout Charlotte Bronte emphasizes Jane's sensitive nature and inner strength but she also displays courage and a sense of justice in her defense against John, 'Wicked and cruel boy!', 'You are like a murderer- you are like a slave- driver- you are like the Roman emperors!'. She rebels against him for the first time and attacks him, giving the reader more insight to her thinking and her knowledge of the Roman emperors excels what a typical 10 year old would know. Her defiant nature and apparent strong-willed determination expresses her true opinions and emotions but by the end there is no one to support her and so John blames Jane for the fight, reflecting the isolation and loneliness of Jane's life.

Mrs. Reed becomes oblivious to John's violent nature, to the contrary she encourages her children to treat Jane as an outsider and takes every opportunity to neglect and punish her 'What a fury to fly at Master John!'

Jane is forced to go to the Red Room after being wrongly accused of starting the fight with John as his word was taken above hers due to the evident male domination in Victorian society. The two servants, Bessie and Miss Abbot, haul Jane up the stairs due to her violent outbreak when her feisty nature takes over. Her uncertain status in the family is brought up 'Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them' reiterating Mrs. Reeds 'generosity' as she is constantly reminded. Jane's reaction to the lecture may be reserved but her thoughts give the reader acknowledgement that this is 'not new' to her, instead a 'vague sing-song' in her ear. This suggests that she understands her position in society enforced upon her, often, this time by the servants belittling her even further 'you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep'. Prisoner of Mrs. Reeds 'generosity' she is at the bottom of the hierarchy as she earns no money, although not one of the working class servants, she is neither one of the spoiled Reed children. Later she moves to Lowood where her low status remains but equality between pupils means a fairer yet unforgiving lifestyle.

Once Jane is in the Red Room direct imprisonment becomes clear, she is trapped and conforms 'no jail was ever more secure' as the room was locked so that Jane wouldn't escape. The Red Room can also be associated with death or a form of hell for Jane. Alone in the 'chill' and 'silent' room Jane reflects on her thoughts and begins to realise the unjust treatment she receives 'why was I always suffering, always browbeaten, always accused, forever condemned?' She knows she deserves better and her thoughtful and intellectual way of thinking apparently conveys this. Suddenly Jane senses her uncles presence in the room, agitated and traumatic she 'wiped my tears and hushed my sobs', with the ominous aspect of the room she believes he has returned as a ghost to take revenge on his wife for breaking the promise she made. Taking the matter 'boldly' she assessed the situation and thought of other possibilities of what she was seeing. Her determined and courageous outlook on life as well as her intellectual and mature thinking allows her to progress in later life moving from nothing to everything she's wanted. Once Jane screams in anguish the servants come to help Jane although Mrs Reed takes a less empathetic approach 'I believe I gave orders that Jane Eyre should be left in the red-room'. Jane knows her aunt perceives her as a 'mean spirit' and a 'dangerous duplicity' capable of any actions although acting ignorant of her own sons behaviour which opposes their 'looked perfectly happy' outlook they desire. Although John is the cause of Jane's imprisonment due to his superior status and his gender it is ironic how the three contributors were all women and it is in fact Mr. Reed who liberates Jane from her torture.

To Jane's surprise she is woken in the care of Mr. Lloyd, an apothecary, and Bessie who both express a caring attitude towards her 'very careful that I was not disturbed during the night' alongside a disapproval of Mrs. Reed's earlier punishment 'Missis was rather too hard'. Jane's gratitude toward the presence of an individual 'not belonging to Gateshead' and 'not related to Mrs. Reed' shows her 'inexpressible relief' of the absence of the Reeds who are nothing but a burden in her life she must live with. This highlights her loneliness and isolation from human companionship, how it is almost worse to be knowingly ignored than to be lonely purely from the absence of human company. This experience distresses Jane as the following day Bessie brings her a fruit tart and her favorite book, 'Gulliver's Travels'. Yet, Jane still feels so tormented from her experience in the red room that she is unable to eat the tart or even enjoy her favourite book 'Gulliver's Travels' as she normally does. In addition Bessie sings a well-meant song, however this only emphasizes Jane's low status in society as a 'poor orphan child' and her isolation within the Reed family. Mr. Lloyd returns with an intriguing suggestion which Jane freely and enthusiastically agrees with, as she would rather be treated kindly among poor people than mistreated in a wealthy home 'if I had anywhere else to go, I should be glad to leave it'. The prospect of an education was the one thing that could help a woman strive for financial independence in the Victorian era motivating Jane further. Jane understands how much money influences her life and how she would rather go to school and work for an education with an almost guaranteed future than live with some of her father's unprosperous relations 'no; I should not like to belong to poor people' even if they were more affectionate and caring people 'not even if they were kind to you' 'I shook my head'. Although Jane is secluded from most company, she expresses less of a desperation and need of being with people than once presumed, it's as if change and escaping the Reed's is more of a necessity for her. Jane concludes that school would be an improvement over Gateshead, and she begins to be excited about the possibility.

Mr. Brockelhurst, the master of Lowood Institute, is introduced to Jane 'I looked up he seemed to me a tall gentleman, but then I was very little, his features were large, and they and all the lines of his frame were equally harsh and prim'. This physical description through Jane's eyes also similarly matches his personality and character taking a very negative impression of Mr. Brocklehurst. Even before talking to Jane he creates fearsome yet formal qualities, for example acknowledging Jane is in the room yet not addressing her directly 'what is her age?', this type of behavior was common in the Victorian era as children were to be seen but not heard. Mr. Brocklehurst appears a stern and inhumane man treating Jane with little respect and going along with Mrs. Reeds accusation of her 'come her' and 'naughty child'. He interrogates Jane about religion hypocritically, using it as a justification for cruelty and neglect especially at his school Lowood. He uses religion as a tool to control others, feeling abhorrence for Jane's manner of thinking 'psalms are not interesting', 'that proves you have a wicked heart' this extent of his hypocrisy in his beliefs about Christianity becomes more apparent in later chapters of the novel. Bronte adds the word 'twinkled' to describe his eyes which seems the complete opposite to Mr. Brocklehurst's character although shows his satisfaction and joy he gains from interrogating new pupils and letting them endure his inhumane ordeal.

Jane Eyre is recalling her youth as an adult remembering only the lasting impressions left on her concerning Mr. Brocklehurst's character emphasizing the severity of the unknown hypocrisy she was unaware of at the time 'hastily wiped away some tears'. Once Mr. Brocklehurst leaves, Jane's passionate nature arises and by asserting herself towards Mrs. Reed about her false accusations she stops others from misrepresenting her and taking advantage of her 'You told Mr. Brocklehurst I had a bad character, a deceitful disposition'. By declaring the truth Jane feels the 'strangest sense of freedom' a relief and victory for expressing her true feelings she's had to cope with but at the same time she understands that due to her social position and the high expectations of children in the Victorian era 'a child cannot quarrel with its elders'. Later, once the sense of vengeance has diminished Jane realizes the 'madness of my conduct' and how she must learn to control her passions even if they release her from being known as a 'liar'.

Jane looks forward to school as a place to gain her most desirable accomplishments and to begin a better life revolved around her most prised ability that is, her intelligence. As she is about to leave for Lowood the weather and nature resembles the barren and bitter life she is about to experience in her new life. Although Jane is completely oblivious 'already up and nearly dressed' showing her enthusiasm, eagerness and optimism for her future unaware of the 'raw and chill' prospects that await her. Expressing no feelings of regret Jane leaves content as this change represents an escape from the family home where she has suffered bad memories at Gateshead and painful and delicate experiences 'Good-bye to Gateshead!' Jane is comforted into her new life by the superintendent of the school Mrs. Temple, who treats her with love and affection an unknown experience for Jane who plays an important role in the development of Jane's character. Soon she finds out how the conditions of Lowood don't reach her expectations, there is shortage of food 'a thin oaten cake shared into fragments' or the inedible porridge 'a nauseous mess; burnt porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes'. The conditions are unforgiving, there are regimented routines and students must share beds in long dormitories and some of the teachers are extremely cruel. Despite the difficult conditions at Lowood, Jane slowly adapts to the school and prefers it to life with the Reeds. Lowood is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, who holds the opinion that pupils are worthless as they are lower-class orphans that aren't worthy of generous or honourable treatment, 'it was bitter cold, and I dressed as well as I could for shivering, and washed when there was a basin at liberty, which did not occur soon, as there was but one basin to six girls, on the stands down the middle of the room' showing how difficult it was for Jane as soon as she commenced Lowood.

In the Reed household Jane would eat breakfast every morning, after spending one and a half hours of prayers and Bible-reading. However, the breakfast was plain and minimal, and usually burnt, 'this morning the porridge was not burnt; the quality was eatable, the quantity small'. Jane always seemed to be hungry but by contrast nowadays, we have so much variety in what we can eat for breakfast and we tend to take that for-granted. Reading through the novel has made me realise the starkness and cruelty of Victorian life. Further on there is mention of a meal during the play-hour, 'the play-hour in the evening I thought the pleasantest fraction of the day at Lowood: the bit of bread, the draught of coffee swallowed at five o'clock had revived vitality, if it had not satisfied hunger'. Again this makes you realise the sparseness of conditions at the school and in life generally for Jane. Also mentioned is the lack of food, 'the scanty supply of food was distressing; with the keen appetites of growing children, we had scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate invalid'.

Another situation that Jane describes in various chapters is the cold and how it affects the children at the school as they don't have sufficient clothing to be protected from it, neither inside nor outside, 'Our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold; we had no boots', and 'our ungloved hands became numbed and covered in chilblains, as were our feet'. Even when she was in bed at night she complains about how cold she was, 'a keen north-west wind, whistling through the crevices of our bedroom windows all night long, had made us shiver in our beds'. In those days they didn't have central heating or double glazing, things which are normal these days. And we have clothes for winter and summer, and our beds have blankets and duvets to keep us warm. We only really notice the cold weather when we have extreme conditions, in Jane's time a cold winter meant suffering and having to put up with it.

The school had fireplaces, and these were the only source of warmth during the winter months, and one day after a trip out to the church, the children returned in the evening, Jane was thinking about the getting near one of the fireplaces to warm up, 'How we longed for the light and heat of a blazing fire when got back!' but for the youngest, most vulnerable children this was not permitted because there was an basic rule about who could be close to it, 'But, to the little ones at least, this was denied: each hearth in the schoolroom was immediately surrounded by a double row of great girls, and behind them the younger children crouched in groups'. In other words the elder, bigger girls bullied or denied access for the smaller girls. It seems the younger the child the more she suffered in those days, unlike today where the opposite is practiced, we make sacrifices when young children are amongst us.

The vicious use of corporal punishment in Victorian schools is another example of how children were badly treated. On Jane's first day at Lowood she witnesses a child, initially referred to as just Burns, who she later befriends, being punished by Miss Scatcherd for having 'slatternly habits', meaning she was considered untidy and messy. On this occasion the punishment was given on the girl's neck, 'the teacher instantly and sharply inflicted on her neck a dozen strokes with the bunch of twigs'. This treatment had an instant and lasting affect on Jane, 'because my fingers quivered at this spectacle with a sentiment of unavailing and impotent anger'. An explanation could have given to Miss Scatcherd that the water used to wash that morning was frozen but Burns said nothing and this made Jane wonder at her silence, 'Why does she not explain that she could neither clean her nails nor wash her face, as the water was frozen". Children did not answer back knowing it was better to just take the punishment and accept things for what they were, adults always knew best and teachers were respected even feared of because they were adults. It didn't matter what the reason was behind anything a child did, if the teacher was displeased the child suffered. Again, this gives me an impression of how depressingly primitive life was for Victorian children who were not fortunate enough to have a decent family upbringing.

Later when Jane gets to talk with Burns, who's name is Helen, she discovers that the girl holds no bitterness towards Miss Scatcherd because she believes her to be right, something totally alien to Jane who would resist her, 'If she struck me with that rod, I should get it from her hand; I should break it under her nose'. Helen is a lot older than Jane and she has learnt it is best to accept whatever the teacher says. Again this reinforces how children were expected to behave with adults in this era, subservient and respectful. And Helen's response to this shows how she understands the consequences of her behaviour, 'Probably you would do nothing of the sort; but if you did, Mr Brocklehurst would expel you from the school; that would be a great grief to your relations'. And also how she understands that punishment is an unavoidable and should be taken bravely, 'It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you'.

Irony is a prominent feature during the start of spring at Lowood, whilst 'greenness grew' and 'sweeter flowers opening' Jane was beginning to see hope for her future, although reference to death 'skeletons' give the reader a clue of the near future. This subtle change of direction is an unexpected turning for the worst as Jane is beginning to feel freedom for the first time. 'Snows were melted' relate to her escape of imprisonment from being 'stiffened in frost' to the less regimental life she now leads. As a result Jane has begun to realise there is life outside Lowood that consists of 'pleasure' and 'enjoyment'. The strong emotional language she uses shows her happiness with such simplicity and enlivens her of 'prospects' to come.

The start of spring means new life and a glimmer of hope for Jane conveyed through the use of pathetic fallacy 'golden-eyed pansies' as 'greenness grew' presenting a positive and fresh outcome for her, a clear contrast with her previous years at Lowood where she was 'shrouded with snow' imprisoned by the strict rules and regulations enforced upon her. This effect can also account for her future, nature is at its epitome and Jane will soon escape from a terminating illness transmitted around Lowood. This devastation will end many of the student's lives but the long-term benefits will provide Jane with what she has always wanted as a result of overcoming this diversion.

Jane's friendship with Helen is strong due to their similar character despite their age and different views. Helen is resigned to who she is and where she is and consoles herself through her religious faith. Jane on the other hand wants to be someone different and to better herself and is prepared to fight for a better future. However both of them admire the role model of Miss Temple another of Jane's positive acquaintances at her time in Lowood.

The loss of Helen is significant in Jane's life because she is a key figure in her early life and their warm, unique friendship is Jane's only true experience of being cared for and loved by another person. For this reason Jane desperately didn't want Helen to die, 'I'll stay with you, dear Helen: no one shall take me away' expressing her true emotions of desperation and compassion. After Helen died Jane never forgot her and fifteen years later she went back to her grave, 'after her death it was only covered by a grassy mound; but now a grey marble tablet marks the spot, inscribed with her name'. This represents how strong the bond between the two girls was and how much Helen meant to Jane.

Although Jane Eyre had to struggle and endure many experiences throughout her childhood her ambition and drive guided her achieving the desired outcome she strived for. The traumatizing experiences during her youth are long lasting effects and memories in her adulthood yet have made her the person she is as an adult. Numerous characters in her childhood influenced Jane such as Miss Temple who Jane admires for her intellectual and independent minded qualities she wishes to acquire. As well as Helen who develops Jane's intellectual ambitions, nevertheless Jane never understands Helens resignation and conformity to unjust punishment.

The first 10 chapters of Jane Eyre illustrate the cruel reality of the Victorian era especially through Jane's eyes as she retells her experiences from her childhood as an adult showing how the memories she has are never forgotten and the lessons she learnt determined her character in adulthood.

Miss Temple's treatment of Helen also has an influence on Jane. Jane has a great deal of admiration for Miss Temple, and in many ways copies her behaviour. Miss Temple's treatment of Helen shows Jane how to treat other people, with kindness and respect. When Miss Temple invites Jane and Helen for tea, Jane listens enraptured to Helen's and Miss Temple's intellectual discussion, while observing a real warmth and affinity between them. It is clear to Jane that both Miss Temple and Helen are both very intelligent and well read, Jane admires these qualities and tries to seek them herself as they lead to an independence of mind, another quality that Jane wishes to acquire. The extent of Miss Temple's influence on Jane can be seen by the way she reacts to Miss Temple's departure, "from the day she left I was no longer the same: with her was gone every settled feeling that made Lowood in some degree a home to me" and without the presence of Miss Temple there to guide her she feels that "the reason to be tranquil was no more". Miss Temple acts as a strong role model to Jane, and holds the qualities which Jane aspires to have: kindness, sensitivity to the sufferings of others and resolute in her stance to injustice, "I had imbibed from her something of her nature and much of her habits". It is through Miss Temple's influence that Jane deals successfully with situations that occur later in her life, including leaving Gateshead and refusing to marry St John.

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