The very beginning of the novel tells us something about Jane and her situation, the first few lines are very general and give us no indication of any maltreatment of Jane however as the paragraph progresses we see that Jane is depressed because of her situation, her ‘heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse. ‘ Then we are also given the impression that Jane is so often told that she is inferior to the Reed children that she is now beginning to believe it as she says she is ‘humbled by the consciousness of her physical inferiority to Eliza, John and Georgiana Reed.
The following paragraph creates an image to the reader of a warm and loving household for everyone but Jane. As Mrs Reed lay about by the fireside with her ‘darlings about her’, however Jane is not allowed to join the group. We then get the first conversation between Jane and Mrs Reed, as Jane asks ‘What does Bessie say I have done? ‘ The question is completely justified and was probably not intended and indeed does not sound rude but we can see from Mrs Reed’s response that Jane is treated completely unreasonably as she replies …. until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent. ‘
As Jane leaves the room she shrines herself with a book ‘in double retirement’ cutting herself off from the room completely, perhaps showing how she wishes she could be cut off from the family completely and drift into the much more comforting world of books. As Jane begins to read the book her vivid imagination takes over as she describes scenes from the book using quite lonely and sad imagery such as ‘quite solitary churchyard’ and ‘marine phantoms’.
Jane does then tell us of one person in the house who is sometimes in ‘good humour’. Someone who is not always mean to Jane, and we can see this when we are told that Bessie sometimes narrated tales to Jane on winter evenings. Then on page five the reader is suitably introduced to John Reed who refers to Jane as a ‘bad animal’ showing the reader that John is certainly not kind to her and addresses her with contempt at all times, or as Jane describes it as an ‘antipathy’ towards her, this involving a beating not ‘once or twice during the day; but continually’.
Jane then describes the great fear she has of John and the point is emphasised with some quite gruesome imagery as she describes ‘every morsel of flesh in her bones’ shrinking when he was near. Worse than this is the fact that nobody wants to do anything to stop the bullying as the servants are afraid to offend their masters and Mrs Reed does not see a problem. The continuous bullying continues as Jane is struck by John and then humiliated further as John says that Jane should be begging and the reader is told of Jane’s situation whereby she is forced to live in this house after her father abandoned her.
John then hurls the book at Jane as he feels she has no right to read his books and the book strikes Jane and she begins to bleed. Up until this point in the book Jane has obeyed John, she came to him when he called and she showed him the book when he asks, but now it seems that Jane’s other feelings boil over as she shouts to him ‘Wicked and cruel boy! ‘. Then as he flies at her she fights back and hurts John.
As happened at the beginning of the book Jane is treated unreasonably as she gets punished for defending herself when she was really the victim. Jane is then taken to the red room as punishment; as she resists all the way the servants consider tying her up which shows how mistreated Jane really is. Jane’s time in the red room is particularly useful to learn about Jane herself and her situation as she has time to reflect.
The first thing we see is Jane’s imagination surfacing again as she begins to see phantoms in the room, but then Jane begins to think about how unfairly she is treated she thinks how she can never please but then lists the faults of all of the Reed children, the longest list beginning to John who twists the necks of pigeons, calls his mother ‘old girl’ and reviled her for her dark skin yet he was ‘her own darling’. The reader then gains more of an insight into Jane’s situation as we are told that it was in fact the now deceased Mr Reed, who died in the red room, who had taken Jane in and treated her well.
However with his passing came Mrs Reeds reign of terror. Soon after the reader is told this Jane’s overactive imagination finally gets the better of her as she begins to think about Mr Reed’s spirit appearing before her as she sits in the red room, she screams and rushes to the door where Bessie unlocks the door and takes Jane’s hand showing her compassionate side, Abbot however still thinks of Jane as the devious child she is portrayed as by the Reed’s.
As Mrs Reed arrives, Bessie reluctantly leaves Jane as Mrs Reed thrusts her into the red room where the chapter ends when Jane falls unconsciousness perhaps because of a fit of fright. The next chapter begins with Jane waking up in her own bed with the physician and Bessie in the room. Jane expresses her joy at having someone unrelated to Mrs. Reed which once again shows how badly Jane must be treated to enjoy the company of a stranger. The less harsh side of Jane’s treatment then comes through in the way of Bessie as she is polite and very kind to Jane offering her a drink or something to eat.
Jane describes it as ‘Wonderful civility’. This continues on page 15 as something so simple as a tart on a plate is described so vividly by Jane who finds all this so pleasing, however it seems that Jane does not consider herself good enough to eat the tart or read the book as she leaves the tart ‘untasted’ and closes the book ‘which she dare no longer peruse’. The as the physician enters once again Jane’s situation is lessened as Bessie tries to cover for the Reed’s by making up excuses for why Jane is ill, ‘she had a fall.
It can be seen that Bessie is really in the centre of a conflict as she tries to protect the Reed’s but also Jane, her compassion for Jane can be seen on page 20 when Bessie says ‘Poor Miss Jane is to be pitied too, Abbot’. Then Abbot’s response is one to be expected as she refers to Jane as a ‘little toad’. Chapter 4 sees a change in Jane as she gains confidence and begins to speak out against the Reed’s. When she overhears Mrs Reed telling John ‘neither you or your sisters should associate with her’ she replies ‘they are not fit to associate with me’.
After this the interaction between Jane and the rest of the household is kept to an absolute minimum as months pass and almost a page of the book involves no interaction at all, when it does come it comes, significantly, from Bessie. Who at this point seems to be fond of Jane, kissing her and wishing her good-night. Later in the chapter once the school master has left, the ongoing battle between Jane and Mrs Reed reaches its climax as Jane finally turns to Mrs.
Reed and says ‘I am not deceitful: if I were I should say I loved you, but I declare I do not love you’. Once Jane has finished her reply to Mrs Reed the reader is given a huge sense of relief from Jane ‘my soul began to expand with the strangest sense of freedom. ‘ Mrs Reed’s reply is one of false kindness which gives the reader the impression that Jane has emerged victorious. In conclusion from the first four chapters of Jane Eyre we are given a very good impression of Jane’s character and her surroundings.
The most prominent thing is the constant bullying from John Reed and the unreasonable nature of the whole Reed family who completely disregard everything Jane says. She is treated more like an animal than a human being and the only person compassionate towards her is Bessie. Who, despite being nice to Jane can be mean if she does not wish to offend her masters. Jane herself seems to have been mentally crushed by all the physical bullying, her self esteem is very low she considers herself inferior to the Reed family.
The fact that she is cut off from the family leads her to indulge in books and causes her imagination to become overactive, seen particularly while Jane is in the red room, and as Jane has grown up she has realised that the light she saw was probably a lantern outside her window rather than a spirit. Although Jane’s situation may be bad there are times during the book when Jane shows that perhaps she has no better alternative. On page 18 while Jane is talking to the physician and he asks her why she does not leave, she explains that all her relatives are poor and she ‘should not like to belong to poor people’.