Poverty and Charity in Jane Eyre
When Jane Eyre resided at Gateshead Hall, under the care of her aunt, Mrs. Reed, she yearned for a change. The treatment that she received at Gateshead Hall was cruel, unjust, and most importantly, lacked nurture. Jane wanted to escape Gateshead Hall and enter into a school. The school that was imposed upon Jane was Lowood Institution. Through her eight year stay at Lowood, Jane learned how to control her frustrations and how to submit to authority. After leaving Lowood Institution and taking the occupation as governess at Thornfield Hall, Jane realized that her experiences at Gateshead Hall and Lowood Institution had deeply rooted themselves into her personality. After departing Thornfield Hall, Jane wandered about as a vagabond. Arriving at Whitcross, Jane was starving, cold, and in need of help. It is St. John Rivers who aids in helping Jane back to health. Through her experiences at Gateshead Hall, Lowood Institution, and Whitcross, Jane Eyre becomes the recipient of the positive and negative aspects of the New Poor Law depicted by Charlotte Bronte in nineteenth-century England.
Under the care of Mrs. Reed, Jane's aunt, Jane is treated as though she is a "wicked and abandoned child" (60; ch. 4). Her "father had been a poor clergyman" (58; ch. 3) and both her parents died from typhus fever. She was given to her motherí's sister-in-law in "promise of Mrs. Reed that she would rear and maintain her as one of her own children" (48; ch. 2). Jane is treated just the opposite. She entered into Gateshead Hall, the residence of the Reeds, in hopes of being brought up a civil and well-nurtured child. Instead, Jane is treated as a subservient child who is abused not only by Mrs. Reed, but also by her children.
John Reed, Mrs. Reed's son, "was a schoolboy of fourteen years old" (41; ch. 1). He constantly reminds Jane that she is inferior to him. In one instance, finding that Jane had borrowed one of John's books, he physically and mentally torments her:
You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mamma says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not live here with gentleman's children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mamma's expense. Now, I'll teach you to rummage my book-shelves. (43; ch. 1)
After yelling at Jane, John Reed threw the book at her and caused her head to bleed. The entire outcome of this incident was blamed on Jane; not because she borrowed a book, but because she was considered "less than a servant" and a wicked child by everyone who resided at Gateshead Hall, including the servants (44; ch. 2). It was hard for Jane, who at the time was ten years old, to understand why she was treated so harshly. She questioned herself as to why she deserved such ill-treatment: "Why was I always suffering, always browbeaten, always accused, and forever condemned?" (46; ch. 2). The only answer she could come up was that she "was...