Response to Jane Eyre – Vol 1 – The red-room

“For shame, for shame!” cried the lady’s-maid. “What shocking conduct, Miss Eyre, to strike a young gentleman, your benefactress’s son! Your young master.”
“Master! How is he my master? Am I a servant?”
“No; you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep. There, sit down, and think over your wickedness.”

“And you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money and you will have none: it is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them.”
“What we tell you is for your own good,” added Bessie, in no harsh voice: “you should try to be useful and pleasant, then, perhaps, you would have a home here; but if you become passionate and rude, missis will send you away, I am sure.”

They went, shutting the door, and locking it behind them (15-16).

And so begins chapter two and Jane’s literal and metaphorical imprisonment in the red-room. This prison reflects the effect of the power play in the Reed household: Jane’s dissociation of her identity. Jane is a penniless orphan forced to live off of the charity of Mrs. Reed, and although she lives in an aristocratic home, she is certainly not of it. Mrs. Reed and John Reed’s torments constantly remind her that she is “an interloper, not of [their] race, and unconnected with [them]…an uncongenial alien” (20). Even the maid Abbot disrespects her, as she is always suspicious of her motives and credits her “for being a sort of infantine Guy Fawkes” (31). Jane’s banishment into the red-room further illustrates her low status in the Reed household. Despite her semi-aristocratic lifestyle, she is in some ways beneath servants for they are not obligated to treat her with respect, and, as Abbot pointed out on page 15, “[she does] nothing for [her] keep.” Jane’s ambiguous social status is just one aspect of her sense of displacement. The very color of the red-room signifies passion, and Jane’s contrasting description of the deep red curtains, red carpet, crimson tablecloth, the glaringly white piled-up mattresses and pillows of the bed and white chair connotes dissonance of status and of the self. Her passionate ways are looked upon by Mrs. Reed as precocious, virulent and in need of training, which contributes, in part, to her exile to Lowood: “I may then depend upon this child being received as a pupil at Lowood, and there being trained in conformity to her position and prospects?” (42). Mrs. Reed, John Reed, Abbot and even Bessie attempt to shape Jane’s identity within the rigid social hierarchies of Victorian society. It is in this atmosphere of conformity that Jane struggles to define her identity.

The red-room is symbolic of Jane’s double isolation: the social isolation that is imposed upon her by the Reed family and the internal isolation that arises during tumultuous times of youth. “Why was I always suffering, always browbeaten, always accused, for ever condemned? Why could I never please? Why was it useless to try to win anyone’s favour?” Jane asks, revealing her feelings of inadequacy in her comparison to Eliza and Georgiana (18). Within the red-room her predicament seems utterly inescapable and in her despair, she mistakes a disembodied gleam of light for a spirit. The “great looking-glass” in the red-room further exemplifies Jane’s dissociation towards her self-image and  the duality of her isolation (17).

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