Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1177
In the months following Mr. Lloyd’s conversation with Mrs. Reed, Jane eagerly awaits the news that she will be sent away to school. During this time, her aunt and cousins further ostracize her, keeping her confined to the nursery during the day and forcing her to eat and...
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In the months following Mr. Lloyd’s conversation with Mrs. Reed, Jane eagerly awaits the news that she will be sent away to school. During this time, her aunt and cousins further ostracize her, keeping her confined to the nursery during the day and forcing her to eat and sleep alone. During Christmas, Jane is shut out of the festivities, though she reflects that her isolation may be preferable to having to spend time in the company of her cruel relations. Jane takes solace in her doll, upon which she lavishes her affection, and in Bessie’s occasional kindness. One day, Jane is summoned to the breakfast-room, where Mrs. Reed and a strange man named Mr. Brocklehurst are waiting. Mr. Brocklehurst questions Jane about religion and is dismayed by her honest admission that she does not care for the Psalms. It is revealed that Mr. Brocklehurst runs Lowood, a school for girls. Mrs. Reed arranges for Jane to travel to Lowood and insists that she spend her holidays at the school as well. To Jane’s dismay, Mrs. Reed also tells Mr. Brocklehurst that Jane is deceitful, and he promises to warn Jane’s future teachers. After Mr. Brocklehurst leaves, Jane confronts her aunt, accusing her of being the deceitful one. Jane is surprised when Mrs. Reed backs down and appears to admit defeat. Before Jane leaves for Lowood, Bessie admits that she does pity and care for her.
Jane rises early for her journey to Lowood and is sent off alone, without saying goodbye to her aunt and cousins. By the time she arrives at the school, it is stormy and dark outside. She sees that there are about eighty girls of varying ages at the school. The building itself is sparse and grim, and the girls must share water pitchers, beds, and wash basins. The next morning, Jane is exposed to the school’s highly regimented routine. The girls rise before dawn and are subjected to hours of study and sermons interspersed with meager (and occasionally inedible) meals. During outdoor breaks, many of the girls huddle together in the biting cold. During one such break, Jane befriends a slightly older girl named Helen Burns. Helen tells Jane that the superintendent of the school, Miss Temple, is kind but warns her that Miss Scatcherd is easily offended. Jane later watches Miss Scatcherd single Helen out for punishment during a lesson. From Helen, Jane learns that Lowood is a charitable institution for orphans and that the students’ tuitions are subsidized by donations rather than paid for by the families of the girls. Mr. Brocklehurst lives in a fine house nearby and manages the school closely.
The next day is extremely cold—so much so that the wash basins in the dormitory freeze. Though the breakfast is edible, Jane only receives a tiny portion. During her sewing lesson, Jane watches Miss Scatcherd teach a nearby group of girls English history. Though Helen is the only girl who routinely answers Miss Scatcherd’s questions correctly, Miss Scatcherd continually criticizes trivial things, such as Helen’s posture and expression. When Miss Scatcherd berates Helen for not having cleaned her nails, Jane wonders why Helen does not tell her about the frozen wash basins. Instead, Helen meekly obeys Miss Scratcherd’s orders, fetching a bundle of sticks, which Miss Scratcherd then uses to hit her. Later, Jane asks Helen how she bears such unjust abuse. To Jane’s surprise, Helen feels no ill will toward Miss Scratcherd. Helen explains that she believes in Christ’s teaching that you should love your enemies rather than resent them. Jane strongly disagrees with Helen’s belief that they should quietly endure suffering and injustice, relating to Helen the mistreatment she suffered at Gateshead. Helen merely responds that Jane would be better off if she could learn to forget these injustices, arguing that life is too short to hold on to hatred and animosity.
These chapters further illustrate Jane’s fiery nature and strong sense of justice. She continues to stand up to her relatives, talking back to Mrs. Reed and even punching John in the face when he attempts to torment her. Jane finds these increasingly bold outbursts nearly impossible to control, which is indicative of her natural inner passion. She even dares to tell Mrs. Reed that Mr. Reed would not have approved of her treatment of Jane. When Mrs. Reed tells Mr. Brocklehurst that Jane is a liar, Jane is offended and responds with a passionate indictment of her aunt’s behavior, vowing that she will never forget Mrs. Reed’s abuse. Even at Lowood, Jane is still clearly furious over her aunt’s treatment, asking of Helen, “Is not Mrs. Reed a hard-hearted, bad woman?” Unlike Helen, Jane’s sensitivity to injustice makes it nearly impossible for her to wholly embrace Christian forgiveness and endurance.
Jane's time at Lowood, a school at which Jane will spend the next several years, is an important and formative period of her life. Though Jane eagerly anticipates leaving her miserable situation at Gateshead, it is soon clear that her life at Lowood will no easier. The conditions at Lowood are harsh: the girls are expected to sit through hours of lessons and sermons without proper clothing or nourishment, and they huddle together for warmth during the mandatory outdoor breaks. Jane soon learns that Lowood is not a normal school but rather a charitable institution for orphans. This discovery highlights Mrs. Reed's heartlessness; though she's a woman of great means, she has chosen to send her niece to Lowood rather than pay for conventional schooling.
Two competing religious philosophies emerge through the characters of Helen and Mr. Brocklehurst. Helen embodies Christian goodness, and she freely forgives her tormenters, despite her suffering. Christian forgiveness forms a major theme of the novel, and though such an act seems unthinkable to Jane, her views on forgiveness will evolve as she grows older. Juxtaposed against Helen's spiritual purity is Mr. Brocklehurst, who represents a hypocritical and superficial form of Christianity. Mr. Brocklehurst’s shallow understanding of Christianity is demonstrated in his very first meeting with Jane when he foolishly relates how his young son, when given the choice between a treat and learning a verse of a psalm, always chooses to learn the verse (for which he knows he will earn two treats for his “infant piety”). Though Mr. Brocklehurst claims to value truth and says that deceit “is a sad fault in a child,” he berates Jane for her honesty in admitting that she does not care for the Psalms. His great hypocrisy is also evident in the way he runs Lowood school: he insists that the students must embrace the "Christian grace" of humility, yet he and his family live in luxury and his own daughter scornfully remarks that the Lowood girls have the appearance of “poor people’s children.” Ultimately, Helen and Mr. Brocklehurst represent two totally different approaches to Christianity, yet young Jane’s hatred of injustice leads her to reject both.