Week one of the Jane Eyre Read-Along is well behind us. With week two underway, the hosts (A Night’s Dream of Books and Babbling Books) posted some questions regarding Chapters 1-5 that I have answered below. Please feel free to leave me your thoughts or link to your own responses for me to check out.
1. The novel opens on a very dreary, rainy November afternoon. How do you think this contributes to the general mood of the first chapter?
The opening scene foreshadows not only an overall melancholy feel to the first chapter, but to the novel itself. I won’t go into detail, but new readers of the novel will understand what I’m saying as they read on. In regard to the first chapter, Jane is subjected to the abuse and ridicule of every other character. She is also trapped indoors and therefore is in clear sight of those she deems her enemies. The rain washes away all hope for Jane to escape from the horrors of her upbringing, especially her cousin John.
2. What literary function do curtains and draperies have in the opening chapters?
A couple things are happening with the curtains. First, Jane manages to hide behind them from her cousin John. Not only is it a metaphor for safety and seclusion, but it’s also a false hope because Eliza knows where she is hiding. The curtains do not offer protection, only temporary seclusion. They are not a shield as one may think.
The curtains later act as a symbol of death and loneliness in the Red Room where Mr. Reed died. Red also represents anger and passion. Jane is clearly angry despite her fear, and she proves to be a passionate character throughout the novel. Many see her as dead inside as well as angry and viscous, but really she’s acting out of passion. The red may represent death for Mr. Reed, but for Jane it’s all about fueling the fire inside of herself to fight on and continue being true to herself.
In short, there is nothing good going on with those curtains. There is never anything good going on with curtains in literature. It’s best to just stay away from curtains, am I right?
3. Mrs. Reed’s cruelty would have been noticed and reported had it taken place in our contemporary society. What factors do you think might have contributed to its tacit acceptance at the time?
Many horrendous yet realistic examples of unjust child abuse exist in novels by Charles Dickens, but also in Jane Eyre we see this with Mrs. Reed. She is the highest ranking person in the Reed household, and because of this everyone must abide by her rules. (Let’s not talk about the little twit John Reed. He doesn’t count.) The servants cannot interfere even if they wanted to on account of needing to maintain their positions. The other children have been mentally poisoned to feel a lack of empathy toward Jane.
Society turned a blind eye to matters within the home. The government left it up to the parents (usually the man, but in this case the woman) to dole out punishments and treat children as they saw fit. Justice in child abuse cases came about much later, and so situations like Jane’s wouldn’t even be mentioned let alone handled during the time of the novel.
4. Bessie’s attitude toward Jane is inconsistent; at times, she’s kind toward the child, while at others, she scolds her unfairly. Why do you think she acts this way?
This goes back to the previous question about Mrs. Reed’s behavior. Bessie cannot risk losing employment, and so she must behave in a manner declared by her superiors. While she may pity Jane she cannot openly confess to such opinion. She also attempts to make Jane understand the realities of the world, but to no avail. Jane is far too passionate to listen, and so Bessie must continue being hard on her when necessary. In many ways she is just as trapped and alone as Jane.
5. Jane speaks more like an adult than a child, especially in the scene with Mrs. Reed, after Brocklehurst leaves. Do you think this is because she’s a very intelligent, precocious child, or is this simply an unrealistic aspect of the novel?
It’s clear that Jane is a rather passionate child, and she understands that her aunt’s treatment of her is wrong. That being said, I’m torn on an answer to this question. I do think we underestimate children. We forget what it’s like to be ten years old and simply label all children with the same characteristics. To reverse, I wonder how educated Jane truly was compared to children today. It’s different, of course, but little is known of her education at this point. She was raised with the other children, sure, but how much was she educated? It’s easy for me to believe she could behave this way, and yet it could be a slip in narration. Adult Jane could be recounting her own history, and it’s difficult to remember every specific word used in a memory. She may have instead spoken in the memory how she spoke in her adult years. And I that’s the answer I’m going with for now.
6. How did Bronte show hypocritical vs. true Christian behavior in the characters of Mr. Brocklehurst and Miss Temple?
Some people use their faith to justify their own behaviors and actions, and others are simply pure of heart and hope to do well in the world. I don’t have much to say about Miss Temple yet, but Mr. Brocklehurst is clearly the hypocritical one. He speaks of wickedness and being a liar, but he is the liar, the wicked one. He wants to instill fear in Jane’s mind so that he can have the control, and he sees cruelty as a way to act on behalf of god. There is nothing just or right in this man as far as I’m concerned. I’m rather anti-Brocklehurst if you can’t tell.