Gateshead Setting of Jane Eyre

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  • 0:03 Who We Were Is Who We Are
  • 0:53 A Humble Girl of…
  • 2:45 The Red Room
  • 4:44 The Site of Ultimate…
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

Charlotte Bronte's 1847 masterpiece, 'Jane Eyre,' tells the story of a humble governess and her love for her brooding employer, Mr. Rochester. But it is Jane's childhood home, Gateshead, that plays a key role in making Jane who she is.

Who We Were Is Who We Are

Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, tells the iconic love story of the penniless governess and her brooding employer, Mr. Rochester. But it is Jane's childhood home, Gateshead, that shapes the woman she is to become.

Jane spends the first 10 years of her life at Gateshead, a ward of her rich aunt, Mrs. Reed, and the favorite object of torment for her cousins, John, Georgiana, and Eliza Reed. A destitute orphan, Jane learns at Gateshead the terrible power of economic and social status, or the expectations, opportunities, and restrictions placed on people based upon who they are and what their background is. Her earliest years are spent at the mercy of wealthy relatives who despise her.

A Humble Girl of Humble Origins

Class plays a potent role in Jane's world. It defines who people are and what they can hope to be. Far more than just exercising economic power, the affluent are believed to be the cultural and moral leaders of the nation. Their affluence is read as a sign of intellectual and ethical superiority, a sort of divine approval that gives them the authority to shape the world according to their will.

The poor, on the other hand, are stigmatized, or negatively labeled. They are perceived to be unhealthy in body, mind, and spirit. Their poverty is taken as a sign of divine disfavor, of heavenly judgment that makes them unfit to order their own lives. The affluent must intervene to save them from themselves. The poor must submit to the authority - and power - of the rich.

These are lessons that Jane learns at Gateshead. Young Jane lives at the mercy of Aunt Reed and her cousins, who resent her presence at Gateshead. John, Georgiana, and Eliza brutally exert their power as children of privilege. They beat and mock Jane. They torment her at every turn.

Aunt Reed, likewise, labels Jane with every stereotype of the impoverished child. She believes Jane has a naturally bad disposition, a tendency toward lying and violence. She finds in Jane a stubborn will that she attempts mercilessly to break.

Jane learns to accept the abuse and the judgment, not because she agrees with the treatment she receives, but because she recognizes her own powerlessness. She humbles herself to suffering, but never bends her will to agree with such treatment. At Gateshead, she plays the social role she is required to play, but she never compromises her sense of self or her inner standard of right and wrong.

The Red Room

The Red Room at Gateshead where Jane is often punished for her cousins' misdeeds plays a particularly key role in the novel. The room terrifies Jane. The threat of being sent to the red room is the one thing that can break the young Jane's stony resolve and leave her begging for mercy.

We all have those places that creep us out, that fill us with a nameless terror, that menace us in a way we can't fully understand or convey to others. This is what the red room is to Jane. She believes that she has seen ghosts and demons in this room. The red room is for Jane a personal hell.

This is, for Jane, what psychologists call the site of the primal scene, the inevitable moment in a child's life when she experiences something so disturbing and incomprehensible it changes the child forever. Often, the primal scene is associated with the first time the child accidentally sees his parents having sex.

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