Volume I of Jane Eyre

(Note: As I bought a copy of the book different from the one in the book store, the pages do not match.)

The first volume of Jane Eyre seems to be a study of interactions between adults and the adolescents they have control over. These interactions are usually presented as being both unreasonable and unfair. Lacking her parents, Eyre is exposed to a wide range of adults in power, each of which attempt to control of her in their own individual way.

Mr. Brocklehurst is an ideal representative of one of these interactions. He knows he has power over the school and the students at the school and in turn mistreats the staff and students. This mistreatment occurs under the guise of saving the students souls: “Oh, madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children’s mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!” (48)  His claims are more or less completely destroyed as he is stating them upon the entrance of his relatives:

“Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs. The two younger of the trio (fine girls of sixteen and seventeen) had grey beaver hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plumes, and from the brim of this head-dress fell a profusion of light tresses, elaborately curled; the elder lady was enveloped in a costly velvet shawl, trimmed with ermine, and she wore a false front of French curls.” (49)

The treatment of the students and staff was entirely due to a feeling of superiority; if he had actually believed any of his previous statements his relatives would not have such resplendent attire.

Miss Temple by comparison represents the exact opposite treatment. When not restricted by her duties she treats the students as equals, in particular Helen. “They conversed of things I had never heard of; of nations and times past; of countries far away; of secrets of nature discovered or guessed at: they spoke of books: how many they had read! What stores of knowledge they possessed!” (55) This interaction showed that Miss Temple did not find herself superior simply because she was an adult, and instead was willing to treat people as they are.

These interactions start at the beginning, and more or less alternate between people who treat her differently simply because they feel she is below them and people who treat her with respect. Miss Reeds family and servants all treat her with disrespect, until Bessie employs her as a helper and Mr. Lloyd treats as a person with actual opinions. At school there is Brocklehurst and Miss Temple.

I expect this focus on interactions between individuals of different social strata to continue throughout the novel and to be a primary focus of the piece as a whole.

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