Jane Eyre: The Settings


Throughout Jane Eyre, as Jane herself moves from one physical location
to another, the settings in which she finds herself vary considerably. Bronte
makes the most of this necessity by carefully arranging those settings to match
the differing circumstances Jane finds herself in at each. As Jane grows older
and her hopes and dreams change, the settings she finds herself in are perfectly
attuned to her state of mind, but her circumstances are always defined by the
walls, real and figurative, around her.
As a young girl, she is essentially trapped in Gateshead. This
sprawling house is almost her whole world. Jane has been here for most of her
ten years. Her life as a child is sharply defined by the walls of the house.
She is not made to feel wanted within them and continues throughout the novel to
associate Gateshead with the emotional trauma of growing up under its "hostile
roof with a desperate and embittered heart." Gateshead, the first setting is a
very nice house, though not much of a home. As she is constantly reminded by
John Reed, Jane is merely a dependent here.
When she finally leaves for Lowood, as she remembers later, it is with a
"sense of outlawry and almost of reprobation." Lowood is after all an
institution where the orphan inmates or students go to learn. Whereas at
Gateshead her physical needs were more than adequately met, while her emotional
needs were ignored. Here Jane finds people who will love her and treat her with
respect. Miss Temple and Helen Burns are quite probably the first people to
make Jane feel important since Mr. Reed died. Except for Sunday services, the
girls of Lowood never leave the confines of those walls. At Lowood, Jane learns
that knowledge is the key to power. By learning, Jane earns greater respect and
eventually, she becomes a teacher there, a position of relative power, all the
more so compared to what she left behind at Gateshead. Jane stays inside the
walls of Lowood for eight years. She has learned a great deal but all she finds
for herself, when she does finally decide to leave, is "a new servitude." The
idea that she might be free in an unbounded world is not yet part of her
experience -- in a sense, it never will be.
Once again, Jane changes setting and circumstance and into a world that
is completely new to her experience. Thornfield is in the open country and Jane
is free from restrictions on her movements. Jane has always lived within
confining walls and even as a teacher at Lowood had to get permission to leave.
She is still confined, in a sense, but now she is living with relative freedom,
but as she will discover later, Jane is not equipped to live utterly free. Jane
is an adult but to live she must be employed. . After Mr. Rochester arrives,
Jane feels it is finally time to have a family of her own, but unwittingly, Jane
becomes Mr. Rochester\'s mistress, not his wife. With that in mind Jane decides
to leave Thornfield even though Rochester tries desperately to convince Jane to
stay. At her stay at Thornfield, Jane learns what it feels like to be needed,
by both Adele and Edward Rochester.
What she finds next is that, in the free world which she often only
could dream of, she is incapable of surviving totally independent. At
Thornfield, or even Gateshead, she had the financial support to make mistakes as
forgetting money without to much a consequence. The world outside those walls
is not so forgiving. She resolves to live with Nature, but the next day she is
found "pale and bare". She quickly ends up a common beggar, eating food given
to her because "t\' pig doesn\'t want it."
Guided by a unknown forces, she stumbles upon Moor House and is taken in.
Soon she regains her health and is allowed to stay. The companionship of Mary
and Diana is perhaps the best suited to her intellect and temperament than any
she has had before and the walls that she finds herself within are attractive.
At Moor House, Jane is exposed to a way of living she had never quite seen
before and, having seen the reality of the world she had previously only
imagined. She then takes a job as a teacher -- the only skill she truly has.
She finds another home, and again it suits her prospects. The cottage is "a
little room with white-washed walls and a sanded floor"