Jane Eyre | Study Guide

Charlotte Brontë

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Chapters 2-3

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 2 and 3 of Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre | Chapters 2–3 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 2

While she and Abbot are locking Jane in the red-room, Bessie comments that Jane has never behaved like this before. She advises Jane that "if [she] become[s] passionate and rude, [Mrs. Reed] will send [her] away" and she will have nothing. Locked in the cold, seldom-used red-room, Jane is upset because she tries so hard to be good, yet she's always accused of being "naughty and tiresome, sullen and sneaking." As evening approaches the room grows dark and cold, rain beats on the windows, and the wind howls. Jane's anger fades and she thinks of her uncle, who took her in as an infant when her parents died. On his deathbed, in this very red-room, he had asked Mrs. Reed to promise to keep Jane as one of her own children. Jane knows "that if [her uncle] had been alive he would have treated [her] kindly." Soon she begins to fear that her uncle, troubled because his last wishes have been ignored, might appear in the room as a ghost. When she sees a gleam of light on the wall, she thinks a spirit is in the room. In a panic Jane screams, tries to open the door, and begs to be let out. Bessie and another servant arrive, and Bessie tries to defend Jane, but Mrs. Reed declares that the girl must stay in the room another hour. Forced back into the room, Jane faints.

Chapter 3

Jane awakens that night in her own bed, being tended by Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary, and talks briefly to Bessie. The next morning Jane is tearful and depressed. Bessie tries to cheer her up, bringing her a tart on a plate she long admired, but Jane won't eat it. Bessie asks if she would like a book, and Jane quickly asks for Gulliver's Travels, a favorite. It does not lift her mood either. Mr. Lloyd returns and gently coaxes Jane to tell him what has made her so unhappy. She tells him about being bullied by John Reed, about having no family, and about her desire to get away from Gateshead. Mr. Lloyd suggests that going away to school might be just the change she needs. After weighing the pros and cons of this idea, Jane agrees. Later she overhears the servants talking about her parents and learns that Mrs. Reed, happy to be rid of Jane, has agreed to Mr. Lloyd's suggestion.

Analysis

Chapters 2 and 3 answer questions about Jane's relationship to the Reeds and how and why she came to be at Gateshead. Chapter 2 also reveals the hypocrisy of Mrs. Reed, who not only treats Jane with unfair harshness but is shown to have reneged on the deathbed promise made to her husband. The red-room scene brings in some of the gothic elements often found in popular 18th- and 19th-century novels: an elaborately decorated, cold, dark room where someone has died, a mysterious light, and a raging storm. The atmospherics of the storm reflect Jane's tumultuous emotions, as well as contributing to her fright and profound sense of isolation.

The red-room incident clearly is a traumatic and memorable experience for Jane, and she recalls it later in the book when she reaches personal crises. Being locked alone in the red-room—"no jail was ever more secure," she comments—reflects her feelings of isolation and being trapped by her status as an unwanted orphan. These feelings will emerge later, as she bristles against societal restrictions on her because she is a woman. The red-room is often associated with Jane coming of age as a woman.

Reflecting on the incident and her life at Gateshead, Jane the child is bewildered: "I dared commit no fault," she says. "I strove to fulfill every duty." Yet she is always punished. Bessie's comments that Jane has never behaved like this before back up Jane's contention that she has always tried to be good, showing that she is a reliable narrator. While the child Jane cannot understand her situation, the adult narrator has a better view, based on life experience: "I was a discord at Gateshead Hall; I was like a nobody there." Imprisoned in the room, Jane considers two options to end her misery—escape and starving herself to death. Mr. Lloyd's suggestion provides her with hope for relief. After careful consideration, she decides that the only solution to her problem is to leave Gateshead.

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