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Jane Eyre | Chapters 6–7 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 6

On her second day at Lowood, Jane begins classes, noting how cold the classroom is. She notices that Miss Scatcherd frequently targets Helen Burns for punishment over minor infractions; she beats Helen "a dozen strokes with the bunch of twigs." Jane asks Helen how she can endure such treatment without becoming angry and rebellious. Helen explains that she benefits from the criticisms because Miss Scatcherd is right about her "faults." Helen admits to being disorganized and undisciplined, "careless" and forgetful. Miss Scatcherd, Helen says, is only trying to improve her. Jane says she dislikes people who dislike her and feels compelled to defy anyone who punishes her unjustly. Helen advises Jane to "read the New Testament" and follow Christ's advice to "love your enemies." When Jane tells Helen why she can't love Mrs. Reed and John, Helen responds that Jane will be "happier if [she] trie[s] to forget" both Mrs. Reed's cruelty and her own "passionate emotions."

Chapter 7

Jane describes in more detail the hardships of life at Lowood during her "first quarter." The girls are always hungry because of the small portions and poor quality of the food, and they don't have warm clothing for the long trek to church in the cold and snow. After Jane has been at Lowood for three weeks, Brocklehurst visits the school. Brocklehurst reprimands Miss Temple for spending too much money on food and clothing for the students. Then he demands that girls with abundant or curly hair have it cut off completely to make them look modest and plain. Brocklehurst's very well dressed wife and two daughters come in. Jane drops her slate, breaking it, and for punishment Brocklehurst has her stand on a stool at the front of the room for 40 minutes. Then he warns the entire school to shun Jane because she is a liar. Mortified, Jane's emotions begin to get the better of her. As her emotions begin to rise again, Helen comes near her to talk to the teacher and meets her eyes in a silent signal of support. When Helen returns to her seat, she smiles warmly at Jane, "like a reflection from the aspect of an angel."

Analysis

In Chapter 6, Jane is fascinated by the way Helen handles being punished because it is the opposite of how she herself reacts to punishment. Jane seems to have a vague sense that she should learn to control her rebellious, passionate nature. She can't quite understand Helen's "doctrine of endurance," but she says, "Still I felt that Helen Burns considered things by a light invisible to my eyes. I suspected she might be right and I wrong; but ... I put [thinking about] it off to a more convenient season." This theme of governing one's passions recurs throughout the story and is examined through the actions of several of the characters.

Jane's ability to follow Helen's model is tested in the next chapter, when she is punished for dropping her slate. Worse than that, Jane's worst fears are realized when Brocklehurst condemns her as a liar. She struggles with her anger against Brocklehurst. Will she respond to his accusations with a passionate outburst, or will her conversation with Helen help her to have a more measured response? How will the support she receives from Helen affect her behavior? The chapter ends with Jane reflecting on the irony of her perception of Helen's goodness and deeply moral nature versus yet another unjust punishment Helen suffers at the hands of Miss Scatcherd, who, like Brocklehurst and Mrs. Reed, represents the hypocrisy that Brontë criticizes.

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