The Reed Family in Jane Eyre: Character Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
The Reed family are related to Jane Eyre by blood, but are consistently unkind to her. Mrs. Reed represents herself as a guardian of morals, but is self-deluding and cruel. In ''Jane Eyre'', the Reed family exemplify the snobbishness and hypocrisy of the English commercial classes.

The Significance of the Reed Family to Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre spends her early childhood with her Aunt Reed, so as readers, we get to know Jane and the Reed household simultaneously. In the early chapters dealing with the Reeds, author Charlotte Bronte introduces several themes of Jane Eyre, including moral hypocrisy, class prejudice, and the importance of the supernatural.

First edition: Jane Eyre
title

Since Jane Eyre is written as though it were an autobiography (though it is really a work of fiction), the reader sees the Reeds through Jane's eyes, first as she looks back on her childhood, then later on her experiences as an adult. Jane's character and behavior are contrasted with those of the Reeds, and her process of maturation is shown through her changing relationships with them.

Bullying and Abuse

As a poor relation, Jane is 'less than a servant' in the Reed household. She has nothing in common with the Reeds, either in temperament or in interests. Even as a child, she describes herself as experiencing 'indignation at their treatment' and having 'contempt of their judgment.' Despite the Reeds' abusive treatment, Jane develops a strong sense of self, and is determined to pursue independence.

Jane's three cousins, John, Eliza, and Georgiana, all treat Jane cruelly, taking advantage of their mother's dislike of her. John Reed is Jane's chief tormentor; he hits her and calls her a 'bad animal.' His younger sisters are also bad-tempered; Eliza is described as 'headstrong and selfish,' while Georgiana is spiteful and spoiled, but indulged for being pretty.

Jane refuses to conform to expectations of correct behavior. Ironically, Mrs. Reed says that she wants 'natural' childlike behavior. Clearly, however, her own children have learned to perform to expectations, displaying hypocrisy in their conduct towards Jane and their behavior with their mother. Their lies to Mrs. Reed about Jane's conduct influence her treatment of Jane. The novel's consistent juxtaposition of social expectations with true morality thus begins with the contrast between Jane and the Reed children.

The Reed children are unchecked by their elders in their cruelty to Jane, as in everything else. Although Jane's dead uncle, Mr. Reed, asked his wife to raise Jane as one of their own, Mrs. Reed has not kept that promise. Jane, in turn, perceives and despises her aunt's selfishness and hypocrisy. In presenting authority as not worthy of respect for its own sake, Jane Eyre is typical of the Romantic movement. Mrs. Reed hates having her authority questioned, and perceives Jane's honesty as deceit.

In one of the novel's most famous gothic episodes, Mrs. Reed punishes Jane by placing her in 'the red room,' where Mr. Reed died. Jane imagines herself surrounded and tormented. Even when the terrified child screams for help, Mrs. Reed is adamant. The red room illustrates the importance of the supernatural as a potentially dangerous force in the novel, which was characteristic for Gothic romances.

Jane and Mrs. Reed

Jane and her aunt
early ills

In the aftermath of the traumatic red room incident, Jane and her Aunt Reed have a fateful conversation. Mrs. Reed is angry at Jane; she tries to get her to confess to things of which her cousins have accused her. Jane, however, refuses to make her own life easier at the cost of a lie. Furious, she bursts out: 'I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.'

Outraged by her niece's boldness in speaking to her as to an equal, Mrs. Reed arranges to have Jane sent to Lowood School, a strictly-run institution where hypocrisy and cruelty are just as rampant as in the Reed household. Despite the privations Jane experiences there, she still welcomes it as a positive change from living with the Reeds.

Jane's Relationship with the Reeds as an Adult

Despite her angry, youthful vow to leave the Reeds permanently behind her, adult Jane responds to a letter from her dying aunt, asking Jane to visit her later. This decision illustrates Jane's own strength. Her positive relationships with Helen Burns and Edward Rochester, and her own increased self-confidence, enable her to forgive her abusive aunt.

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