Monday, September 29, 2014

The 2014 Jane Eyre Read-Along, Week 2: Chapters 1 - 5

Welcome to the second week of 
the 2014 Jane Eyre Read-Along,
brought to you by
A Night's Dream of Books

Jane Eyre
Trade Paperback, 688 pages
Harper Teen
February 1, 2011
Classics, Gothic Fiction, Historical Fiction,
Literary Fiction, Mystery, Romance

Week 2  Discussion Questions:
Chapters 1 - 5
(Questions provided by
A Night's Dream of Books)

Participants need not answer
all six questions, but are free to
select three of them.


1.) The novel opens on a very dreary, rainy November afternoon. How do you think this contributes to the general mood of the first chapter?

The rainy weather  means that Jane will have to stay indoors, which serves to heighten the feeling of entrapment. She has no way of escaping the cruelty of her aunt, Mrs. Reed, or her cousin, John Reed. On the other hand, she's glad she doesn't have to be outside, as it's very cold. It's like she's between a rock and a hard place.

2.) What literary function do curtains and draperies have in the opening chapters?

They are metaphors for several things. When Jane sits in the window-seat, reading a book about birds (birds, incidentally, being a symbol of freedom, the fact that Jane is reading this book is also a metaphor) the draperies conceal her from view, and thus, offer a safe sanctuary to which she can escape -- until found by John Reed. In this instance, the draperies offer a sort of protection. There's also the symbolism of the womb, which ensconces and protects the growing child.

In contrast, the curtains and draperies of the Red Room, in which Jane is cruelly locked by Mrs. Reed's orders, have a far more sinister metaphoric meaning. Here, they convey a feeling of oppression, and even allude to grave clothes. This reinforces the feeling of entrapment in the first chapter, but here it goes beyond entrapment, I think. Jane has been symbolically entombed. The fact that she has been shut away into the room that Mr. Reed died in  points to the idea that, subconsciously, Mrs. Reed  actually wants Jane to die.  

3.) Mrs. Reed's cruelty would have been noticed and reported, had it taken place in our contemporary society. What factors do you think might have contributed to its tacit acceptance at the time?

Although there were some reforms in regards to children in the UK  during the 19th century, these were not related to domestic life, but dealt with workhouses and reform schools. The Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act was passed in 1889, long after the publication of Jane Eyre. This piece of legislation "...enabled the state to intervene, for the first time, in relations between parents and  children. Police could arrest anyone found ill-treating a child, and enter a home if a child was thought to be in danger." (from the Wikipedia article) Had this novel been published after 1889, Mrs. Reed might very well have been arrested. At the time the novel was written, however, there was little to no interest or concern regarding the rights of children.

Another factor making it possible for Mrs. Reed's cruelty to continue unrestrained was the class system of the time. In fact, class conflict is one of the themes of this novel. Bessie, being a servant, would certainly have lost her position had she done anything to help protect Jane from abuse. The members of the upper classes were basically able to behave in cruel and immoral ways with total impunity. 

4.) Bessie's attitude toward Jane is inconsistent; at times, she's kind toward the child, while at others, she scolds her unfairly. Why do you think she acts this way?

Part of the answer is to be found in the answer to the previous question. I believe that Bessie was actually afraid of being more protective of Jane, but it's very obvious that she was aware that Jane was being mistreated. Also, there was the other servant, Miss Abbott, who was also cruel to Jane. Bessie was probably afraid that Abbott would let Mrs. Reed know that she (Bessie) was being kind to Jane.  It's very significant that she was only kind to Jane when Abbott wasn't around. 

5.) Jane speaks more like an adult than a child, especially in the scene with Mrs. Reed, after Brocklehurst leaves. Do you think this is because she's a very intelligent, precocious child, or is this simply an unrealistic part of the novel?

I'm not quite sure what to think here. I know I've read somewhere that, in previous centuries, and I think the 19th was one of them, children were considered "little adults". So this might be perfectly realistic for the time period in this novel. On the other hand, Jane was ten years old at the time of this incident. Her vocabulary, as well as the maturity with which she speaks, are those of a much older person. It could be that Jane herself, narrating this event as an adult, put adult words in a child's mouth. It could be that this was really a wish-fulfillment fantasy on her part, although she narrates this incident as a real event.

There's yet another possibility -- that the author, in advocating passionately for children's rights. decided to let her main character, while still a child, give free rein to her feelings of outrage and pain at being as cruelly treated as she was, in language that an adult would have used.

6.) How did Bronte show hypocritical vs. true Christian behaviors in the characters of Mr. Brocklehurst and Miss Temple?

Brocklehurst is a pompous, overbearing, self-righteous jerk. I totally despise the man!! It's very obvious that he likes to curry favor with the rich, since the members of his own family, in  contrast to the orphans at Lowood, have the best and costliest clothes. How could a mere clergyman afford such luxuries? By doing whatever it took to get the rich to give money generously to his church. 

The way he spoke to Jane, in Mrs. Reed's presence, was utterly disgusting. He has no compassion, and worse, no  idea how to treat children. Also, he loves to quote Scripture completely out of context. There are some verses from the Bible that he has very conveniently forgotten, such as Matthew 19:14, which states, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the  kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Miss Temple, in contrast, is a true Christian lady. When, one morning, the breakfast porridge was burned, so that it was totally inedible, she ordered the cook to prepare a mid-day lunch for the children, and said that she would accept the responsibility for the order, knowing that Brocklehurst would object. She is also very compassionate to Jane and her friend, Helen Burns, who is very sick. 

Of all the minor characters in this novel, Miss Temple is my favorite.  

Discussion Questions for 
Next Week: Chapters 6 - 10
(Questions Provided by
Babbling Books)

1.) What are your impressions of the way Helen Burns endures punishment and abuse?

2.) What are your impressions of the way that Jane sees punishment and abuse in comparison to Helen?

3.) Would Mr. Brocklehurts have been a more realistic and interesting character had he been less overtly fanatical, cruel and hypocritical, and just deeply flawed, instead?

4.) Helen Burns exudes confidence and is sure of her personal beliefs. Do you find it realistic that a young person exhibits such traits?

5.) Miss Temple seems to influence Jane's personality and outlook on life during her stay at Lowood. Would Jane have developed differently without her influence?

6.) Jane's time at Lowood is marked in the narrative by the seasons and the description of weather. Does this have any significance?     

Post & Reading Schedule

Announcement/Signup Post
Sept. 9th
A Night's Dream of Books
Babbling Books

Week 1: Sept. 22nd

Reading: Chapters 1 - 5
Thoughts on Reading Jane Eyre 
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 2: Sept. 29th

Reading: Chapters 6 -10
Discussion Questions: Chapters 1 - 5
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 3: Oct. 6th

Reading: Chapters 11 - 14
Discussion Questions: Chapters 6 - 10
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 4: Oct. 13th

Reading: Chapters 15 - 19
Discussion Questions: Chapters 11 - 14
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 5: Oct. 20th

Reading: Chapters 20 - 23
Discussion Questions: Chapters 15 - 19
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 6: Oct. 27th

Reading: Chapters 24 - 28
Discussion Questions: Chapters 20 - 23
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 7: Nov. 3rd

Reading: Chapters 29 - 33
Discussion Questions: Chapters 24 - 28
Discussion Question for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 8: Nov. 10th

Reading: Chapters 34 - 38
Discussion Questions: Chapters 29 - 33
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 9: Nov. 17th

Discussion Questions, Chapters 34 - 38

Week 9: Nov. 21st

Book Reviews Posted

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post is HERE.
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today's post in the
Linky Widget below!


  1. Outstanding commentary Maria.

    I did not pick up on the fact that Bessie was only kind to Jane when Abbott was not around. You are absolutely correct.

    The question about the curtains and the drapes really did get me thinking. There really is a lot going on and I think we both saw some different angles to them.

    This read along is turning into a super experience already as I am reading different takes on the same question from different people. I find this so intellectually enriching.

    1. Hey, Brian!

      Thanks for the compliment!!

      You know, it's interesting how a literary masterpiece has layers and layers of meaning. I didn't pick up on Bessie's inconsistent attitude toward Jane during my first reading. Well, I was only around 17 at the time. Lol. I sure noticed it now! Yes, she's mostly kind to Jane when Abbott is not around.

      Again, the drapes and curtains didn't strike me as especially significant the first time around. And in subsequent re-readings, I concentrated mostly on the romantic passages. Lol. But this time, I guess I was on the hunt for symbolism and metaphors!

      Oh, I totally agree!! Read-alongs are very interesting precisely because each participant has a different perspective on the novel being read and analyzed. It's not only an intellectually enriching experience, but a great way to see how each participant interacts with the story!

      Thanks for the great comment!! : )

  2. I especially appreciate your thoughtful answers to questions 3 and 6. They are insightful comments on the action of the book. I am finding rereading the novel a more emotional experience than I remember from my last reading. My reading experience is enhanced by your comments and those of other readers.

    1. Hi, James!

      Thank you for the compliment!

      I, too, am finding this novel to be a very emotional experience. It brought back memories of the first time I read it, and how sad I felt about Jane's predicament. It really gets to me whenever I see a child mistreated. I especially dislike it when adults insist on respect from their children, when they themselves do not give such respect to their children. To me, using sarcasm and saying demeaning comments to a child is ABUSE, and so many parents do this!! Hitting a child is also abhorrent to me. It is the height of disrespect, for a child's body is sacred. Rather than be attacked, it needs to be protected. Besides, these things do NOT teach anything; instead, they breed resentment in children.

      In Jane's case, however, she never did anything that would even remotely justify the treatment she received at the hands of her aunt. It was very clear that her aunt hated her, and also resented having made the promise to her dying husband to take care of Jane. No matter what Jane did or didn't do,she was always at fault. Although Mrs. Reed never hit Jane, her abuse was of the kind I mentioned above -- emotional and verbal.

      As for the sixth question, I couldn't help but express my disgust for Brocklehurst, because people like him give Christianity a VERY bad name. This man was highly judgmental of others, but never thought to look at how HE acted toward people. To him, the rich were good and worthy people, ALWAYS, and their opinion was to be respected. The poor and disadvantaged, in contrast, were to be humiliated and even despised. He fits the description of a Pharisee given in the New Testament!!

      What a contrast with Miss Temple!! She's the kind of teacher that elicits the very BEST from a student, because she is kind, compassionate, and full of praise, instead of condemnation and criticism. I wish I could have had a teacher like her!

      Thank you so much for your participation, as well as for your great comment!! : : )


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