How does Charlotte Brontë present ideas about gender and position in reference to Mrs. Reed in Jane Eyre?

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hmartin17 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From the very first page of Jane Eyre, it is clear Mrs. Reed is in a unique position. As a widow, she is the sole owner of Gateshead estate, and is therefore quite wealthy. During this time period, women were usually unable to own property or make their own living unless their husband left his land and/ or wealth to them after his death. Her position as head of the house is therefore unusual for this time period, and it's clear from her dictatorial measures that she enjoys her status of power.

Mrs. Reed has "her darlings" (her three children), and she spoils them rotten while excluding her niece Jane from the family dynamic (9). She is a mother figure only to her own children. Jane says "Mrs. Reed was blind and deaf on the subject" of how her children tormented her, showing she plays favorites and is less than generous towards others (12). Mrs. Reed orders extreme measures of discipline for Jane (such as being locked in the red room), while allowing her own children to continue being spoiled. Her unique position in the novel as a woman with wealth and power is wasted—rather than using her position for good, she uses it selfishly and would die alone if not for Jane's kindness. 

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Jane Eyre

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