Fighting Oppression in Lowood and Gateshead in Jane Eyre

This sample essay on Gateshead Jane Eyre reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.

Jane Eyre is a young orphan who lives at Gateshead with her Aunt Reed and her three cousins John, Georgina and Eliza. She is placed in an unusual situation as her Aunt only looks after her because of her late husband’s final request which was for her to treat his niece as her own child.

Aunt Reed, however, has not kept her word and instead excludes Jane from her family. The first nine chapters of Jane Eyre follow Jane through her childhood as she leaves Gateshead and attends a school named Lowood. In both of these places Jane is made to feel alone and is looked upon as a charity case.

At Gateshead Jane’s Aunt Reed locks her on her own in the Red Room and similarly, at Lowood Jane is forced to stand on a stool to be humiliated in front of the other girls.

These methods of punishment both isolate Jane and put her in a position that she cannot escape. However, at Lowood Jane becomes more mature and learns how to overcome oppression instead of retaliating as she would do at Gateshead. Being able to accept criticism allows Jane to enjoy her time at Lowood whereas she thoroughly disliked her years at Gateshead.

One of the reasons Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre was to question the prejudice views of Victorian society and to fight for women’s rights.

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When Jane Eyre was first published it was written under the name Currer Bell because no one would accept a woman’s novel and interestingly Charlotte Bronte is sometimes known as one of the first early feminists. She relates to her own life in parts of Jane Eyre through drawing on her own experience at her own school of Cowan Bridge to create Jane’s school named Lowood. This makes the novel semi autobiographical and adds a degree of authenticity.

Jane Eyre Overcoming Oppression in Lowood

At Gateshead, Jane experiences oppression through the physical abuse she receives from her cousin John Reed. She says that ‘he bullied and punished me … continually’ showing how he beats her regularly and is never challenged by his mother Mrs Reed. He does this to show his position in the house and to prove his higher authority over her. Jane is extremely scared of John’s physical power and ‘every nerve’ she has ‘feared him’. She tells the reader how she was ‘dreading the blow’ moments before he hit her to emphasise the extent to which he terrorizes her.

At Lowood the physical abuse derives from the harsh conditions within the school. When Jane describes Lowood she tells the reader of the poor facilities and how there is ‘one basin to six girls’ and that two girls share a single bed. On her first morning at Lowood the lack of food is shown when ‘breakfast is over, and none had breakfasted’ demonstrates how undernourished the girls are whilst under Mr Brocklehurst’s care. Women’s clothing in Victorian fashion was used as a means of control and this can be seen at Lowood.

Jane describes the uniform as ‘insufficient to protect us from the severe cold’ and how it ‘gave an air of oddity even to the prettiest’ which illustrates how inadequate and dull their uniform is. As well as physical abuse, Jane also endures mental and psychological abuse. At both Gateshead at Lowood she is made to feel unwanted and consequently becomes desperate for someone to love her and care for her. On one particular occasion, Jane is locked in the Red Room by her Aunt Reed after an incident with John that was not entirely her fault as it was he who had provoked her.

She is left alone in this ‘chamber’ where her uncle ‘breathed his last’ and as she is a young girl this begins to frighten her. Jane’s imagination starts seeing strange supernatural things take place around her she sees how ‘a little figure … had the effect of a real spirit’. Jane describes how she looks up at the ‘high, dark wardrobe’ which adds to her vulnerability as she appears to be so small. This helps the reader to identify with Jane as they can see through a child’s perspective and therefore feel sympathy for her.

Similarly, at Lowood Jane is singled out by Mr Brocklehurst when he forces her to stand on the stool for Aunt Reed’s accusation of her being a liar. She describes the humiliation by saying ‘I felt their eyes like burning glasses against my scorched skin’ and compares her terror to being ‘paralysed’. Jane is left standing there to be shown how little power she has and to isolate her from the other girls. This makes Jane feel alone and as though no one cares for her. Pathetic fallacy is a technique Charlotte Bronte uses to mirror Jane’s mood at both Gateshead and Lowood.

Whilst Jane is looking out of the window at Gateshead the weather is described as ‘a pale blank of mist and cloud, with ceaseless rain’ which reflects Jane’s miserable emotions and how sad she feels there. Jane focuses on a ‘storm beat shrub’ whilst looking down on the grounds of Gateshead and this symbolises her terrible situation of being beaten by John and her separation in the house. On Jane’s journey to Lowood the weather is ‘misty’ which creates a sense of mystery and uncertainty of what is to come. Jane constantly describes Lowood as being ‘bitter cold’ and this represents the lack of warmth and love around her.

The two main characters responsible for Jane’s suffering are Mr Brocklehurst and Aunt Reed who both warp religion in order to make Jane suffer. Aunt Reed isolates Jane from her family and her punishments go as far as locking her in the Red Room where her own husband died, something which she would not dream of doing to her own children. When Jane first says how John beats her she tells the reader how ‘Aunt Reed was blind and deaf on the subject’ meaning that she thinks of her son John being perfect and seems to have no idea of what he is capable of.

She gives Jane no love or care and even spoils the beginning of her time at Lowood through accusing her of being a liar. The motive for Aunt Reed’s cruel behaviour towards Jane is that she thinks of her as an intrusion on her ‘darling’ family. Also, Aunt Reed’s believes Jane not to be as pretty as her own daughters and thinks of her as a poor charity case. Aunt Reed knows that Jane is only living with her because of her husband’s last request which makes her a constant reminder to Aunt Reed of him. However, these reasons are not good enough for Aunt Reed to exclude Jane from her family and not to love her.

At Lowood, Jane’s headmaster Mr Brocklehurst also treats Jane unjustly and like Aunt Reed he believes it is for her own good. Mr Brocklehurst does not question Mrs Reed’s accusation of Jane being a liar and uses it as his reason for oppressing her. On one occasion he sees a girl with naturally curly hair and orders for it to be cut off as he wants ‘these girls to be the children of Grace’. However, when his own daughters enter the room the girls of Lowood see how Mr Brocklehurst allows them to dress in ‘elaborate’ clothing and have ‘false…

French curls’ which shows how hypocritical he is towards his pupils. He indulges his own daughters whilst making his pupils live with only the basic necessities. Throughout her childhood Jane learns how to overcome oppression on her own. At Gateshead she uses a physical approach as she retaliates against John after he hits her. She calls him a ‘wicked and cruel boy’ and a ‘murderer’. However her fiery temper ends up with her being locked in the Red Room. On Jane and Aunt Reed’s final encounter before she leaves for Lowood Jane finally finds the courage to stand up to Aunt Reed.

She tells her how she dislikes her ‘the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed’ and that she is ‘hard hearted’ and ‘deceitful’. This outburst leaves Jane ‘shaking from head to foot, thrilled with ungovernable excitement’ and makes her feel she has beaten her Aunt in their on going battle. At Lowood Jane also overcomes oppression when she argues with Helen Burns about fighting back against injustice. She tells Helen ‘I must dislike those who… persist in disliking me’ which is part of her quick-tempered character.

However, Helen responds that you should ‘love your enemies’ which is something Jane never thought about before and this makes her question how she should react to oppression. Jane also overcomes her suffering with the help and care of others. At Gateshead, Dr Lloyd shows his concern by asking Jane lots of questions such as ‘have you any pain? ‘ and this makes her able to confide in him. She describes this comfort as ‘a soothing conviction of protection and security’ which is something Jane has never felt before.

One of the maids at Gateshead, Bessie, becomes a friend to Jane and she says ‘Bessie seemed to me the … indest being in the world’ which shows her respect for her. Bessie helps Jane get into Lowood which gives her a new life. Jane is always pleased to be in Bessie’s presence. As Jane has no parents, she regards Miss Temple as a mother figure who cares for her well being. Miss Temple cleared Jane’s name from having been accused of being a liar and this gives Jane the chance of a better childhood. Jane describes Miss Temple as ‘a beauty… of meaning… of movement and of radiance’ which shows how highly she thinks of her. Miss Temple is a comfort to Jane and she shows this by saying how ‘it was a treat for her to be with me in the room’.

When Jane leaves Lowood she reflects on how ‘Miss Temple … stood me in the stead of mother, governess and latterly companion’. Helen is Jane’s best friend at Lowood and she helps her to overcome oppression. She does this by comforting her after she has been on the stool and tells her that ‘probably not one in the school either despises or dislikes you: many … pity you much’. This reassures Jane that no one thinks badly of her for being accused of being a liar, but instead they feel sorry for her. This ‘calmed’ Jane and increases her confidence.

Whilst Jane is standing on the stool, another girl smiles at her and Jane tells the reader ‘how the feeling bore me up’, and she stands with her ‘lifted … head’, filled with pride on the stool. I think the time Jane spends standing on the stool matures her because she does not fight back injustice as she would at Gateshead, but instead stands patiently and with confidence. Charlotte Bronte uses pathetic fallacy again to show the contrast in Jane’s mood after settling at Lowood. The weather changes as the ‘hardships of Lowood lessened’.

The quote ‘snows melted’ symbolises Jane finding warmth and love in a place she belongs. Flowers peeped out’ and ‘placid sunshine’ pictures a bright and colourful atmosphere which reflects how Jane is feeling. In conclusion, Jane is oppressed both mentally and physically by many different characters throughout her early childhood. At Gateshead Jane reacts with anger and does not cope well with criticism and the bullying of John. However, at Lowood through the teachings of Helen and Miss Temple she turns from a fiery, passionate girl into a mature young woman with a subdued character. The love she is given at Lowood enables Jane to deal with injustice and oppression in a more effective way.

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Fighting Oppression in Lowood and Gateshead in Jane Eyre. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Fighting Oppression in Lowood and Gateshead in Jane Eyre
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