Jane Eyre Chapter 3 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of the third chapter of Charlotte Bronte's ''Jane Eyre.'' We will learn how far-reaching the consequences of the events in the red-room might be.

Recovery and Despair

At the start of Chapter 3, Jane regains consciousness in stages. We are not told how long it took someone to find her after she had passed out in the red-room. We see things from young Jane's point of view as she gradually becomes aware of her surroundings. While Jane seems to suffer no lasting physical effects from the horrific red-room events, she does feel a lingering 'unutterable wretchedness of mind.' She spends much of the next day sitting by the fire weeping. She is offered kindnesses and luxuries she has never before been allowed. Not even a delicate tart served on her favorite plate can entice her to move beyond her misery.

Bessie's Long Overdue Kindness

In the previous chapter, we saw some slight evidences of kindness from Bessie, the children's nurse, toward Jane. It seemed possible Jane could have an ally in Bessie. However, the third chapter makes it pretty clear that Bessie's slight efforts are too little, too late to be of any use. In this chapter, we see Jane regarding Bessie's kindnesses with confusion and skepticism, illustrating how different from the norm this treatment is for her. When Bessie speaks kindly to her, Jane tells us, 'Scarcely dared I answer her; for I feared the next sentence might be rough.' Furthermore, Bessie's companionship in the nursery and her kind singing do nothing to make Jane feel cared for. It seems Bessie has too long established a pattern of ill treatment toward Jane to be able to dispel it now with a few gentle words.

Jane's reaction to seeing Bessie after her fainting spell is most telling: while she says Bessie's presence 'was far less obnoxious' than Abbot's would have been, Jane finds no comfort in it. In contrast, the relative stranger by her bed brings to her 'an inexpressible relief, a soothing conviction of protection and security', simply because he was 'a stranger in the room, an individual foreign to Gateshead and unrelated to Mrs. Reed.' (Gateshead, we learn, is the name of the estate where Jane lives with the Reed family.) If simply the presence of an outsider is able to elicit such feelings of 'protection and security', poor Jane must be living daily without them. It appears the abuse she habitually sustains at the hands of the Reeds and their staff has left a mark too deep to be rubbed out by a few moments' kind treatment.

Jane's Family History

This third chapter reveals a little more to us about Jane's antecedents. When she overhears a conversation between Bessie and Abbot in the nursery at night, we learn, along with Jane, that her father was a poor clergyman. Her mother, marrying him against the wishes of her family, was cut off from the Reed family fortune and left alone in penury. Both of Jane's parents died of typhus, at which point Mr. Reed collected young Jane and brought her to live at Gateshead. The reader is made to feel Jane's isolation in learning that, not only was she an orphan, but she also knew nothing whatsoever about her parents until now, and this she only learns accidentally.

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