Jane Eyre Chapter 7 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

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

The seventh chapter of ''Jane Eyre'', written by Charlotte Bronte, tells us more about life at Lowood Institution and all the girls there have to endure. Jane faces new trials, and finds small comforts.

Feeling Low at Lowood

'My first quarter at Lowood seemed an age,' Jane tells us, 'and not the golden age either.' Reading further makes it clear just what an understatement that is! Even in the worst and coldest weather, the girls are still made to spend an hour outside every day without the protection of gloves, boots, or proper coats. Many end up with chilblains, which is a skin affliction caused by exposure to cold and dampness. They cause swelling, itching, and pain. In a mild form, chilblains can look like this:


Eww. Jane offers this cringe-worthy description of them: 'I remember well the distracting irritation I endured from this cause every evening, when my feet inflamed; and the torture of thrusting the swelled, raw, and stiff toes into my shoes in the morning.' Can you imagine?! Yuck!

In addition to being perpetually cold and wet and afflicted with a painful skin condition, the girls at Lowood are chronically underfed. Jane tells us that they are given rations 'scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate invalid.' This results not only in hunger and malnourishment, but also in a base, animalistic competition among the girls. Jane tells us about how the bigger, stronger ones often rob the younger ones of their portions, leaving these little ones even hungrier and more malnourished.

Sunday: Another Awful Day

'A day of rest,' the Bible calls the Sabbath. No so for the girls of Lowood! Instead, they are made to walk two miles through the snow to church (with their chilblains and no boots!), where they are regaled with sermons and fed a scant meal of cold meat and bread before walking two miles back to the school in the same freezing weather. Jane tells us, 'We set out cold, we arrived at church colder; during the morning service we became almost paralysed.' Of the long walk home, Jane remembers 'the bitter winter wind... almost flayed the skin from our faces.'

Upon returning to the school, instead of finding rest, they are thrust back into a Darwinian race for survival. The biggest girls crowd around the small fires while the younger ones are left to shiver behind them. Despite being given a double portion of brown bread at tea time on Sundays, even with --gasp!-- 'a thin scrape of butter' (what luxury!), the younger girls are still bullied into giving much of what they have to the bigger ones. Thus having been further starved and chilled, the girls are treated to hours of reading and recitation of Bible verses, during which sessions even Miss Miller is beset with 'irrepressible yawns.'

Mr. Brocklehurst

Having learned of the cruel mistreatment these girls endure at Lowood Institute, the reader is not disposed to think well of Mr. Brocklehurst, the school's proprietor, when he is introduced again in the story, and he does nothing to improve said reader's opinion of him. His brief visit is comprised entirely of criticism and cruelty. He begins with Miss Temple, taking her to task over affording the girls too many luxuries and kindnesses (after reading about the horrors these girls endure at his behest, this is completely infuriating). Miss Temple does what she can to speak on the girls' behalf, but to no avail.

Mr. Brocklehurst makes a particular point about Miss Temple's decision to give the girls bread and cheese to eat when their porridge was burnt. 'Oh, madam,' Mr. Brocklehurst implores her, 'when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children's mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!' By trying to veil his cruelty in the guise of Christianity, Mr. Brocklehurst makes himself hypocritical as well as cruel.

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