Jane Eyre, Commentary chapter IV from p 28 to 31
After the event of the red-room causing Jane’s illness, Mr. Lloyd tells Mrs.
Reed it would be better for Jane to send her to a school. Jane is longing for this
day to come but, still traumatised, she apprehends the meeting with Mr.
Brocklehurst, who is to decide of her entering the school of Lowood. This extract
occurs just after the meeting, during which Mrs. Reed criticized Jane. This is a
relevant passage because it’s the first time Jane rebels herself against her aunt
and it depicts the end of an age. This extract also presents Jane as a child living in
a world, where values are reversed. We will also focus on the strategy of the
This extract of Jane Eyre depicts a world where values and roles are
reversed. It opens on the description of Mrs. Reed, the first and only one in the
novel. Here, Mrs. Reed is the one embodying authority. The narrator gives her
masculine physical traits such as her “robust frame, squareshouldered and
strong-limbed”; also, her under-jaw is much more developed and her chin is
large and prominent. All these physical characteristics reinforce the notion of
authority embodied by Mrs. Reed. Since there is no father figure, Mrs. Reed
needs to replace it. Mrs. Reed’s description is very negative: Jane saw in her her
torturer. “ Her household and tenantry were thoroughly under her control; her
children, only at times defies her authority”, from this quotation the narrator
demonstrates that Mrs. Reed’s authority was respected and thus it will be even
more impressive to see Jane rebelling herself against Mrs Reed. The values of the
Victorian era are not respected: a child needs to obey to the parents, otherwise
he/she will be punished, but here the contrary happens.
“It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst”, this is the observation made
by Jane. We realize, as she does, that roles are inversed between Jane and Mrs.
Reed in this specific moment of her childhood. In fact, in the second part of the
extract, Jane rebels and attacks verbally Mrs. Reed. Mrs. Reed imposes her
authority by ordering Jane to return to the nursery but Jane refuses and comes
closer to her in order to talk to her: “speak I must; I had been trodden on
severely, and must turn”. Thus, Jane has a violent discourse against Mrs. Reed
accusing her of being deceitful and cruel. Jane even threatens her aunt to tell the
truth to everybody in Lowood, which would inevitably threaten her future as a
respected woman in the society. This inversion is amplified at the end of the
extract, which can be illustrated by the enumeration of the frightened questions
of Mrs Reed “Jane, you are under a mistake: what is the matter with you? Why
do you tremble so violently? Would you like to drink some water?” answered by a
calm and strict “No, Mrs. Reed.” Jane has become the authoritative figure and
she dominates Mrs Reed, who completely looses her composure at Jane’s
rebellion. Jane acknowledges that she shouldn’t be acting that way when she
says to the reader “ she asked, in the tone in which a person might address an
opponent of adult age than such as is ordinarily used to a child» but this is exactly
what she wants. The code of values is not respected by both characters since
Mrs. Reed addresses to Jane calling her by her full name “ How dare you affirm
that, Jane Eyre?» Now Mrs. Reed seemed to be full of politeness and kindness
towards Jane because she is afraid of her.
The second element introduced by this extract is Jane as a child. This
description of Jane will help the reader understanding Jane’s personality and
actions as an adult. Jane acknowledges that she was a wild child, especially when
she lived at Mrs. Reed’s house. Jane refers to it several times during the
narration of the fight with Mrs. Reed when she says “ a passion of resentment
fomented now within me” or “Shaking from head to foot, thrilled with
ungovernable excitement”. Jane was a passionate and ungovernable child and
this is why Mrs. Reed has so much difficulty with her. Jane was always trying to
challenge her authority, which was unacceptable at that time. Mrs. Reed had
always been respected by her own children and she feels she did her best with
Jane and that there’s nothing more she can do for that child, illustrated by Mrs.
Reed rhetorical question “What is the matter with you?» Moreover, the fight
with Mrs. Reed is even more impressive because of the violence of Jane’s
discourse and her behaviour. One could think that Jane suffers mentally.
But Jane gives reasons for her behaviour. Firstly, she is mad and
aggressive because of what had just happened. Mrs. Reed told Mr. Brocklehurst
that Jane was a deceitful child and that she had a bad character. Mr.
Brocklehurst is the symbol of Jane’s only way out from this prison and now that
Mrs. Reed talked badly about her, she feels that she will be locked up here
forever. To Jane, her rebellion is completely justified because of her aunt’s
behaviour. Another reason of Jane’s temper is the absence of love. She exclaims
to her aunt “ You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of
love or kindness; but I cannot live so”. Jane suffers from the absence of her
family and above all, from the absence of love and tenderness. Jane mentions
the event of the red room as a third explanation for her current wilderness. In
fact, Jane will never forget her aunt for having locked her up without any mercy
in the room where her uncle died. This room traumatised her “ into the red-
room, and locked me up there, to my dying day; though I was in agony; though I
cried out, while suffocating with distress, “Have mercy! Have mercy, aunt
When we read this extract, we can note an ambiguity in the focalisation.
Is it Jane as child or as an adult talking? There are two points of view: the child
perspective and the adult watching and observing the scene from a distant eye.
It becomes difficult for the reader to distinguish who is narrating. It comes from
the fact that Jane pretends to be a child when she narrates the event but she
uses a researched vocabulary that wouldn’t be used by a child. If we take the
example of the description of Mrs. Reed, we see that the narrator wants to
convey us the feelings of the child but it’s the adult Jane, who finds the right
words to describe Mrs. Reed and the feelings she experienced. It is clear that
some remarks about the situation come from the adult Jane such as “Mrs. Reed
might be at that time some six or seven and thirty”. Others from the child when
Jane thinks “Speak I must”. The ambiguity concerning the focalisation comes
from the fact that child memories are told and observed by the adult Jane.
The goal of the narrator is to force the readers to side with her. Her
strategy is to pretend to be a child. In fact, she tells the story from the child
perspective because she knows we will pity her after all the things she suffered
in her childhood. In order to do so, she gives a very negative description of Mrs.
Reed presenting her as her torturer, who has no compassion for Jane, neither
kindness nor love. Jane’s behaviour thus becomes all the most justified. This
extract is part of the general strategy of the narrator: she’s building up the
background, her childhood, which can justify her character and behaviour as an
This extract depicts the end of an era in Jane’s life. Soon after the fight
with Mrs. Reed, Jane will leave the house and she will never talk to her again.
Jane managed to go beyond her limits by challenging her aunt’s authority and
reversing the roles. In the next chapters, Jane will behave differently in Lowood.
It’s the starting of a new life. This extract gives us an example of the strategy of
the narrator. Jane is manipulating us so that we might side with her. She is not
an objective and thus not a reliable narrator.