Jane Eyre, p 205
“Mrs. Dent here bent over to the pious lady, and whispered something in her ear; I suppose, from the answer elicited, it was a reminder that one of the anathematized race was present.
‘Tant pis!’ said her ladyship, ‘I hope it may do her good!’ Then, in a lower tone, but still loud enough for me to hear, ‘I noticed her; I am a judge of physiognomy, and in her I see all the faults of her class.’”
In this passage, Mr. Rochester’s genteel guests are gathered in the drawing room at Thornhill, and Blanche Ingram is complaining of the “incompetency and caprice” of governesses (205). All the while, Jane Eyre, in the position of governess, listens on in the window seat of the room, suffering the embarrassment in front of the group. Though she does not give verbal response, Jane mentally and emotionally is stirred by Blanche’s words (and the rest of the group’s seeming consensus via their inaction to assert an opposing view). While Jane has already been flustered by the mere presence of Blanche and the implications of her interactions with Rochester, this condescending sequence of statements indirectly spewed at Jane further cement her feelings of inferior status to Blanche–in terms of beauty, wealth, intelligence, and desirability. This incidence of Jane being belittled in front of and outcast from a larger group is not a novel one, as we well know. Throughout the novel there are a few key instances in which Jane is the focus of a group’s attention for negative reasons, and these repeated incidences mark Jane’s continued struggle to find her place in the world and overcome adversity.
The two instances that are most distinct (other than the aforementioned passage) both occur in Volume I. First, at the very opening of the novel, Jane is not allowed the attention, compassion, privileges, and niceties that her menacing cousins receive. Instead of caring for Jane as her own as Mr. Reed wished, Mrs. Reed openly treats Jane as an outcast, justifying her actions by telling Jane that she does not behave as a normal, good child should (9-10). The other children are present to hear the belittling words, and they even more-so see Mrs. Reed’s efforts to create a delineation between the status of Jane and that of themselves.
The other instance occurs in Lowood, when Jane is scolded and spurned by Mr. Brocklehurst and is required to sit in the front of the schoolroom all day as punishment. The allegations made against Jane are misinformed, and although Jane is fiery inside, she does not speak out the truth of her situation and plead her virtue. Instead, she accepts the harsh words and punishment, eventually breaking down when the day is done.
Jane’s enduring nature, though not always in clear view of the reader, is tested and developed time and time again. Her ability to rise from such incidences of blatant cruelty and embarrassment as are presented in Gateshead, at Lowood, and at Thornhill speak to Jane’s resilient character and her consistent situation of disjointedness with the rest of those in her environment.