Why is Jane off reading alone in the beginning of Jane Eyre?Is it because her Aunt Reed simply prohibited her from playing with her cousins...not as though she would want to?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As a symbolic gesture of her isolation from the other children and her sense of alienation from the Reeds who express little but antipathy for Jane, the young orphan moves away to the small breakfast room which adjoins the drawing room where Mrs. Reed reclines with her beloved children clustered around her.  Little Jane chooses a book and, sitting cross-legged, she pulls the red moreen curtain before her as a sort of protection from the coldness of the Reeds toward her.  She reads there with a window that looks out upon a solitary churchyard.

Jane has been isolated from the Reed children because she does not have "a sociable and childlike disposition" or an "attractive and sprightly manner."  Ironically, Mrs. Reed expects the lonely orphan whom she treats coldly, to display a cheerful, "lighter and more natural" disposition and speak pleasantly in an environment that is far from cheerful and natural.

In this exposition to her novel, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte introduces the theme of isolation and the lonely struggle for survival as Jane seeks comfort in the small breakfast room.  Furthermore, Bronte employs pathetic fallacy, a literary device in which nature reflects the moods of characters, as Jane reads History of British Birds, describing seafowls who inhabit "solitary rocks and promontories" on uninhabited and melancholy isles. 

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