With Jane Eyre as narrator of her novel, Charlotte Bronte gives voice to her concerns about the treatment of children as well as her perception--much like that of her contemporary, Charles Dickens--of the prison of society, as Dickens termed the inability of people to move upward in social class.
As the sensitive child, Jane is left with a "wretchedness of feeling" after her being thrown into the Red Room by her cruel aunt. Even though Bessie sent kind words her way, Jane's nerves are so "racked" that "no calm could soothe, and no pleasre excite them agreeably." When she is offered a tart upon a beautiful bird of paradise dish, Jane cannot eat. And, when she is allowed to read Gulliver's Travels, a novel she has delighted in and perused many times, Jane puts the book aside.
As she confides her woes of coldness and mistreatment to Mr. Lloyd, telling him that she has no house of her own, and has less right than a servant to live at Gateshead Hall, she is asked by the pharmacist if she would care to live with her Eyre relatives. "No, I should not like to belong to poor people," Jane replies.
I shook my head: I could not see how poor people had the means of being kind; and then to learn to speak like them, to adopt their manners, to be uneducated, to grow up like one of the poor women I saw sometimes nursing their children, washing their clothes at the cottage doors of the village in Gateshead: no, I was not heroic enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste.
A bright girl, Jane does not wish to lower herself by being poor. For, she has heard that her mother was disowned after having married a poor clergyman; later, they both died from their association with the poor congregation of her husband as they contracted typhus. Jane feels that she is in an inferior position to the Reed children because she is the child of this poor clergyman. This attitude is reinforced in Jane as others treat her as lower than they. When Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester later in the narrative, she will not live with him until she can be his wife; Jane will not compromise herself and demands to be recognized as an equal.