In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, what does “a picture of passion" mean (as found in Chapter One, when Jane and John Reed are fighting).
In Chapter One of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, John Reed, Mrs. Reed’s only son, is beating up Jane.
As we listen to Jane tell her tale, we realize that this shy and quiet child is greatly out of place in her "adoptive" home. Her aunt refuses to show her any gentleness or tolerance at all, isolating her from the family circle. Jane is also the brunt of John's whims and brutality. He lords over her as if he were the master of the house. And he is physically abusive on a regular basis:
He bullied and punished me, not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually; every nerve I had feared him and every morsel of flesh on my bones shrank when he come near.
Mrs. Reed and her family have no concern for Jane whatsoever, but have taken her in as Mr. Reed's dying wish; but to make things worse, the servants are unable to do anything to stand up for Jane:
...the servants did not like to offend their young master by taking my part against him...
And, as may be expected, nothing John does is wrong in his mother's sight, even when she witnesses John's cruelty:
Mrs. Reed was blind and deaf on the subject: she never saw him strike or heard him abuse me, though he did both now and then in her very presence...
On the day in question, Jane has been reading a book in the window seat, having been dismissed from her aunt's presence. John comes in to find her, and when she stands before him (as he demands), first he sticks his tongue out at her. Something on her face gives her unflattering thoughts of him away, and he strikes her. He takes hold of the book she was reading, sends her across the room, and then throws the book at her. She doesn't move quickly enough and is hit in the head, causing it to bleed. She loses her temper:
“Wicked and cruel boy!” I said. “You are like a murderer—you are like a slave-driver—you are like the Roman emperors!”
At this point, John goes after Jane:
He ran headlong at me; I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing. I really saw in him a tyrant: a murderer. I felt a drop or two of blood from my head trickle down my neck, and was sensible of somewhat pungent suffering: these sensations for the time predominated over fear, and I received him in frantic sort. I don't very well know what I did with my hands, but he called me “Rat! rat!” and bellowed out aloud.
John's sisters run up to get their mother who has gone to her room.
As John is attacking Jane, she is fighting back, but when the adults separate the children, it is inferred that Jane, in a fury, went after John. Then Jane hears:
Did ever anybody see such a picture of passion?
In reading this, my first reaction is the old joke: If you looked in the dictionary under "passion," you would see a picture of Jane at that moment. What I believe that one of the adults is saying is that Jane is the personification of someone in a "fit of passion" or an extreme emotional outburst—in this case, anger. She has the look, or is the epitome, of someone in a fit of anger.
As has been seen even this early in the novel, Jane is blamed for all, and John remains blameless.