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Jane Eyre | Study Guide

Charlotte Brontë

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Chapter 4

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 4 of Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre | Chapter 4 | Summary



After the red-room incident, Mrs. Reed isolates Jane more than ever, particularly after Jane reproaches her: "What would Uncle Reed say to you, if he were alive?" Bessie continues to help her, however. In mid-January, Mr. Brocklehurst, headmaster of Lowood Institution (the school Mrs. Reed plans to send Jane to), arrives at Gateshead to meet Jane. The stern clergyman is not pleased that, although Jane readily lists the parts of the Bible she likes, she pronounces the Psalms "not interesting." Mrs. Reed warns Mr. Brocklehurst that Jane has a "tendency to deceit" and should be closely watched. Jane is stunned. She realizes that Mrs. Reed has poisoned the headmaster's mind against her, dashing her hopes that, once she is away from Gateshead, people will see her as she really is and like her.

When Brocklehurst leaves (after giving Jane a pamphlet, the "Child's Guide"), Jane lashes out at her aunt. She denies being deceitful and declares how much she dislikes Mrs. Reed and her children. Mrs. Reed is taken aback by the outburst, and for a moment Jane savors her victory. However, she feels a curious letdown afterward and sees the folly of her behavior. In Jane's last few days at Gateshead, Bessie shows kindness and sympathy for her, and Jane is heartened by the attention.


Jane's comment that the Psalms are uninteresting reveals that she forms her own opinions about things without regard to popular opinion. This very combination of intelligence and independence might contribute to Mrs. Reed's dislike of the girl. In Mrs. Reed's world, a penniless orphan belongs in the lower class, illiterate and begging on the streets; only wealthy upper-class women should display intelligence and accomplishments. To keep Jane in her place, Mrs. Reed asks Mr. Brocklehurst to prepare her "in a manner suiting her prospects" so that she is "made useful" and "kept humble." This directive refers to Jane's unfortunate position in society as a woman without fortune, which makes her unsuitable for a husband of high social rank, unlike her female Reed cousins. Jane is relegated to working for a living.

Jane's impending departure from Gateshead gives her the courage to confront Mrs. Reed about how she has been treated. Initially Jane sees her passionate outburst as a victory; yet in the end it leaves her feeling somehow disappointed with herself. The "ridge of lighted heath" to which Jane compares her act of retaliation invokes the symbol of fire that recurs throughout the novel and often signifies uncontrolled passion, one of the book's themes. The blackened heath to which she compares her state of mind after that retaliatory remark represents the ruin that can result when passions are allowed to run out of control. While Jane still acts impulsively, she is beginning to learn that such behavior is not desirable.

The chapter ends on a hopeful note, as Bessie tells Jane some of her "most enchanting" stories and sings "some of her sweetest songs." Bessie—who is herself a young woman—provides Jane with something of a surrogate mother, and the maid serves as a foil, or counterpoint, to Jane's stern aunt.

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