Commentary Chapter 4 by Sixtine de Sousa
« Mrs Reed and I were left alone(…) to she abruptly quitted the apartment »
This extract is taken form chapter four in which Jane meets Brocklehurst for the first time at
Gateshead. Jane who has been ill treated and presented as a “deceitful child” by her family is
now gathering all her courage to rebel against Mrs Reed. Jane can no longer put up with her
family abuses and explodes when facing wrong accusations.
I n a world of adults, Jane is seized by an uncontrollable will to restore the truth even if to do
so, she needs to rebel against the established order.
How does this episode unfold? How does Jane deal with her feelings? Does she manage to
make the truth succeed?
We will first see how Jane and Mrs Reed prepare for the row. Then, we will analyse how
they fight, what weapons they use. Finally, we will study the conclusion of this episode: who
wins, who loses.
I / Preparing for the battle
a/ Mrs Reed description
Straight from the beginning on, Jane Eyre endeavours to describe her opponent: Mrs
Reed very precisely. She seems much focused on giving a true portrait. However, she does
not draw a very flattering one. She is described with having very masculine features: she’s
“robust frame” l.3, “square-shouldered and strong limbed”l.4, and an “under-jaw being much
developed and very solid”. She does not look at all attractive, she has too masculine features
to be feminine. So she’s extremely solid and an added proof of that would be that “illness
never came near her”l.9. She is also very powerful as a woman: she controls the tenantry, the
domestics and her children. She is therefore more the man of the house than the woman of the
house. She is the one in charge. She, alone, must stand at the head of the family to represent
it: she embodies the Reeds like Mr Reed would have embodied his family.
Jane Eyre gave us previously an account on her character. She is, according to Jane, very
unjust and cruel in her decision and punishments: the most obvious example is the Red Room
episode). This description fits therefore really well with the ill-tempered woman Jane
described earlier in the book.
One knows that Jane examines Mrs Reed, and this is why the description is so precise.
Mrs Reed seems to resemble a man, thus we can draw a parallel with the episode at
Thornfield Hall when Rochester asks Jane: “Do you examine me Miss Eyre? Do you think me
handsome?” “No”. In a way, one could say that she examines both “male” characters and
concludes to their ugliness.
One can also notice a strange detail in this scene: she describes Mrs Reed from a “low
stool”, the very same object that will be used at Lowood by Brocklehurst to expose her and
claim wrongly that Jane is a liar. Here, Broklehurst has just given a book about The Liar to
Jane therefore the stool is directly linked to this idea of lying and could be called the pedestal
of infamy. And it is not by pure chance that Jane’s description is made from this stool: the
meaning being that she was called wrongly “deceitful” and by describing Mrs Reed at that
very moment, she wants to make us understand that Mrs Reed is the real “deceitful” person in
the room. This lie versus truth theme is recurrent in the book. Because she was wrongly
accused as a child, her life will be devoted to the very desire to find and restore truth. In this
episode, Jane exposes her true nature: her wishes to see the truth restored and therefore
decides to fight for it. She indeed launches a battle against Mrs Reed with “Speak I must”.
However, her first offensive is not with words but rather with very reproachful and angered
eye contacts between the two opponents.
b/ A visual battle first
One can notice straight away that in this episode, it is Jane who is watching Mrs Reed
and d not the contrary as we could expect “I was watching her”l.2. The roles are therefore
reversed: the “watcher” who should be Mrs Reed is the object of the focus. Here, it is Mrs
Reed who is under Jane’s binocular and she is well aware that the child is looking at her. Jane
“watch(es)”, then “examine(s)” and finally “peruse(s)”. The words used are more detailed as
Jane goes on telling the story.
An exchange of glances begins between the two antagonists, launching a visual battle.
Mrs Reed notices Jane l.22 “Mrs Reed looked up from her work, her eye settled on mine”.
Then it is Jane’s turn to look back l.24-25 “My look or something else must have struck her as
offensive”. Mrs Reed senses that Jane hides something and tries to make her leave. Making
her leave is a way for her to prevent anymore examination. But Jane continues to stare at her
and goes as far as making a “close-up”l.27-28: she comes near Mrs Reed therefore she sees
her better; it is also a way to intimidate her opponent by taking advantage of her standing
position. Jane, at that moment, feels ready to attack and start the fight.
Of course, this visual battle does not stop as Jane pronounces her first reproaches but it
accompanies the whole battle. One can read l.41 “That eye of hers” or l.36 “her eye of ice
continued to dwell freezingly on mine”. Both women stare at each other throughout the whole
extract as if they were on a competition: there is indeed a competition and it is to whom will
resist whom. It is noticeable that Mrs Reed has only one “eye” according to Jane. It is as she
wanted to stress that both were so piercing that one would have been enough to scare people.
By using “her eye”, she dehumanizes Mrs Reed: not only was she described as masculine and
now, she looks more like a creepy creature than a human being. Mrs Reed being
dehumanized, Jane wins territory over her opponent: she becomes the fighter of monsters.
But this battle of looks is only the first stage of a battle of words that Jane launches in order to
make truth succeed.
II/ Leading the battle
a/ A battle of words
Jane in this extract ceased to the sweet little girl constantly oppressed by the Reeds,
she is seized by a real will to correct Mrs Reed’s words so as to make truth succeed. It is Jane
who leads the first offensive against her aunt: l.30-31 “I gathered my energies and launched
them in this blunt sentence”. Here, one can notice that the verb “launch” is used as in the
expression to launch a war, and one can remark that Jane mentions a “blunt sentence” which
could be in another context a blunt knife so as to strike Mrs Reed.
Even if those words foreshadow a real war, nothing will be used except “sentence(s)”
but in order to sentence Mrs Reed’s lie. The polysemy of the word sentence can fit in the
context: sentence implying words, and sentence as Mrs Reed’s judgment. Thus, one could say
that Jane plays the public prosecutor and Mrs Reed plays the victim and lawyer at the same
time. The reader is left to be the only witness of the whole trial scene as Broklehurst has
already departed the house. Jane acts as her role, she accuses. She uses several times the
accusative “you” which is even in italics l.33 “I should say I loved you”. But one can quote
several other occurrences l.34 “I dislike you”, l.43 “you are no relation of mine”, l.46 “the
very thought of you makes me sick” or l.55-56 “you made me suffer”. She addresses her aunt
directly and without choosing her words. It seems at this moment that she is unable to control
herself. Moreover, the expressions used are sensibly similar to the ones used in a court: l.32 “I
declare”, l.42 “I continued”, l.49 “how dare I, Mrs Reed? How dare I? Because it is the truth.”
Jane plays fully her role as a prosecutor, she is here to restore the truth.
Mrs Reed also plays her role well. She, as the victim and her own lawyer, tries to defend
herslf against Jane’s allegations l.38 “What more do you have to say? She asked, rather in the
tone in which a person might address an opponent of adult age (…)” or l.48 “How dare you
affirm that, Jane Eyre?”. Mrs Reed tries, in vain to fight Jane, but as the prosecutor, she is
stronger. Jane Eyre is overwhelmed by her role, she cannot stop, she displays long
“sentences” l.42 “I continued”, nothing can stop her from blaming her aunt. She carries on as
if driven by an inward feeling, too powerful to be turned down. Jane expresses her true nature
for the second time, one notice how passionate she is.
b/ “You are passionate, Jane, that you must allow”
Jane displays for the second time her passionate character. The first time that we had a
hint of such a character was when she was locked up in the red room. One can draw a parallel
between the two episodes: in both Jane experiences a gradual feeling that ends up governing
her whole body and mind.
Jane begins the battle by literally brooding over what Mrs Reed has just said to
Broklehurst: she is sitting on her stool, thinking of their conversation that is described as “raw
and stinging in (Jane’s) mind”. She feels the words with her whole body “I had felt every
word acutely as I had heard it plainly (…)”. At this stage, she begins to be consumed by her
anger, her anger to see the truth restored. This idea of consumption goes together with the
idea of the fire, the fire being an emblem of passion. She writes l.20-21 “ (…)a passion of
resentment fomented now within me”. Jane begins by brooding over the words but then, the
desire to fight is too strong and therefore chooses to break the rules of the Victorian society:
she decides to obey Mrs Reed’s command at first , then goes back, l.26-27 “I got up, I went to
the door; I came back again(…)”. Jane cannot conceive to pass the threshold without rebelling
l.39-40 “Speak I must; I had been trodden on severely, and must turn (…)”. To correct the lie
seems an obsession to her, like a second nature. Jane cannot stop until she has said every thing
she needs to say to Mrs Reed. She seems possessed, driven by a fury l.41 “Shaking from head
to foot, she exposes the ill treatment she had to suffer. One can say that she reaches the apex
of her anger l.60 to 64: “Ere I had finished this reply my soul began to expand, to exult, with
the strangest sense of freedom, I had struggled out into unhoped for liberty”. Jane feels lighter
and proud to have dared to face Mrs Reed but her anger is not decreasing. One can notice l.72
“I cried out in a savage high voice». Jane seems completely other, she’s no longer herself, she
is dehumanized. One could easily see here, an episode that could parallel an episode with
Bertha at Thornfield. Jane acts like a mad woman like Bertha. Bertha is described as a
“beast”, her Jane is the beast. A lot of critics have said that Bertha was only the hidden double
of Jane, and here we can see how the two women relate: they are both passionate.
This double image is also reinforced by Mrs Reed asking Jane if she wants some water, the
water being a way to purify Jane or extinguish her internal fire, passion. Bertha is also
attracted to fire as she will try to burn the castle.
Passionate Jane is able to fight her aunt thanks to her passion otherwise, she would not have
even tried to confront Mrs Reed. But what is the conclusion of this argument?
III/ The surrendering of the enemy
a/ Mrs Reed’s defeat
Mrs Reed remarks that Jane is up to something and she seems to get ready to oppose
her since the beginning l.23-24 “Mrs Reed looked up from her work; her eye settle on mine,
her fingers at the same time suspended their nimble movements”. Then, after Jane’s first lines,
she seems to loose control over herself: l.36-37 “Mrs Reed’s hands still lay on her work
inactive (…)”. Not only does Mrs Reed seems troubled but she also seems to loose her
solidity and strength when Jane accuses her. She is even scared of Jane l.63-64 “Mrs Reed
looked frightened; her work had slipped from her knee, she was lifting up her hands, rocking
herself to and fro, and even twisting her face as if she would cry”. Mrs Reed is no longer the
woman Jane described, she seems hurt by Jane’s words and scared of her passionate mind, she
seems to be thinking that Jane is possessed, possessed by her passion.
Mrs Reed tries to face Jane to offer her help or to give further explanation for her
behaviour. From l.65-77, Mrs Reed’s words are rejected by Jane. One can notice the
impression of running lines, fluidity between the two opponents. Mrs Reed asks questions and
Jane replies by using the very same formulation: l.65-66 “I desire to be your friend” “Not
you”, l.70-71 “children must be corrected for their faults” “Deceit is not my fault!” or l.74
“(…) there’s a dear- and lie down a little” “ I am not your dear ; I cannot lie down”. Jane
refuses any discussion, or any words coming from her aunt so as to reject the person itself.
She rejects as she was rejected in the first place by this aunt who refuse to let her participate
in the family life, excluding all every occasion she had.
The final blow is about school. Here, on the contrary, it is Mrs Reed who repeats Jane’s words
in order to put and end to the quarrel and in a way abdicate: l.75-77 “ (…) send me to school
soon, Mrs Reed, for I hate to live her” “I will indeed send her to school” murmured Mrs
Reed.” Mrs Reed plays her role when repeating Jane’s words, she admits her defeat. And
now, she even “murmur(es)” while facing Jane’s “cry”. She seems to abdicate, frightened by
the little girl “half imp half fairy”. She surrenders because she no longer can face Jane, she
even uses a pronoun to refer to Jane instead of using the “you”. She no longer speaks directly
to Jane and considers her “other” therefore by using her, she negates Jane’s humanity.
Negating her humanity means she accepts the fact that Jane is scaring her, therefore she has
no other choice than surrender to escape rapidly.
It is finally the triumph of passion over reason that takes place in this extract.
b/ An only beginning quest for truth
As we said it earlier in this paper, this battler is only to restore the truth and makes
Mrs Reed confess she lied to Broklehurst. Even if Jane is finally the winner of this war, there
is however nobody in the story to witness her rebellion. The only witness could be the reader
himself. The fact that she launches a battler against her aunt proves her determination to make
truth succeed in her life. This episode is only her first rebellion but she will be driven by this
feeling of repairing injustice in the whole story. For example, she will talk back to Rochester
when he will imply that she did not make the drawings herself.
Jane is deeply touched by the false accusations she faces as a child and therefore makes truth
the aim of her crusade.
She is in quest for true love, love that she never had as a child l.49-51 “You think I have no
feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you
have no pity”. Jane expresses her want for love very early in the book. She aspires to more
than that Mrs Reed has to offer her. Her again, one van draw a parallel with Jane’s refusal to
be Rochester’s mistress after the aborted wedding: she wants true love, true passion.
One can notice that in this extract, to make truth succeed she breaks all the rules
especially, the rules governing the Victorian Society. Jane, a child of ten, rebels against her
“mistress”. She defies her in a duel, she stands out of her role of “domestic” as one of the
maid would say “You’re less than a domestic as you do nothing for your care”. She dares to
talk back and make her point, and one could say that it is this aspect and the passion which are
scaring Mrs Reed. She considers Jane as full of faults and she even is rebellious and
passionate. Jane rejects therefore all conventions of the Victorian Society to make truth the
core meaning of her life. This, of course makes her even more an outsider than she already
was, but in a same time makes a special person. Rochester will like her sincerity and
rebellious character as he never gave in to conventionalities either(mistresses, alcohol,
Jane’s constant quest for truth is not always in adequacy with the rules of the society but her
inner feelings get the upper hand in most of the cases, especially before her life at Lowood
school where she learns to control herself by watching and learning from Helen Burn’s
At the end of this study, it appears that Mrs Reed’s strength in weakened by Jane’s behaviour.
Mrs Reed who embodied “control” is driven away from it by a “passionate Jane” who does
not step back in front of authority and adversity. Jane reveals for the second time her
passionate character and how this character allows her to stand up for the truth. This episode
is a landmark one as it puts forward Jane’s first victory against her oppressor, but also against
the whole Victorian society, choosing therefore not to confirm and remain true to her inner
If passion is considered as a fault in the Victorian society, here, it is passion that allows her to
gather strength to defend herself against the false allegations of Mrs Reed and attack her
opponent. Indeed, Helen Burn will be the one to teach Jane how to act according to her reason
and to the Victorian society. However, passion will remain deeply hidden in her and will
sometimes manifest itself later one in the story. This extract reveals to the reader the
complicated character of the heroine, always swinging between reason and passion.