Discuss Charlotte Bronte’s portrayal of childhood in Jane Eyre.

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Discuss Charlotte Bronte’s portrayal of childhood in Jane Eyre.

Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’ was a controversial novel for its time.
It traces the heroine from an orphan child to a contented adult woman.
Through the trials Jane experiences Brontë highlights many hypocritical aspects of Victorian society, mainly focusing on the religious hypocrisy of the era. Subtitled ‘An Autobiography’, the novel in parts closely resembles Brontë’s own childhood and her evocation of Jane’s experiences of Gateshead and Lowood remain as vivid as ever for the modern reader.

Brontë explores childhood feelings of hurt and loss, focusing on a solitary, suffering child. In these first nine chapters we see Jane at
'Gateshead', where she is the
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Bronte has purposefully rejected the idea of a conventionally beautiful heroine; she told siblings ‘I will show you a heroine as plain and small as myself’. As a reader we have more respect for Jane because of these virtues, she has more emotion and does not appear placid. She questions everything, which is unfortunate at Gateshead as Mrs Reed doesn’t ‘like cavillers or questioners…there is something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner.’

Jane is shown to possess a strong and rich inner life, but we notice also how much she internalises and, when attacked, retreats and finds solace in solitude, in the world of art, and in contact with nature.

Something which recurs throughout the opening chapters is the emphasis on 'imprisonment' and confinement: locked in by Nature (the opening sentence of the novel), by the Reed family, locked in the 'Red Room', and effectively incarcerated at Lowood school. In a sense this provides a key to her character within the novel - unable or not expected to express herself outwardly she has to internalise, to take her responses within, and to reflect on and analyse them.

The windows keep her protected, although that is not what she wants.
Isolated from the rest of the family until she could ‘acquire a more sociable and childlike disposition’, she loses herself in academic volumes; first
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