Jane Eyre

by: Charlotte Brontë

Mrs. Reed

Well might I dread—well might I dislike Mrs. Reed, for it was her nature to wound me cruelly…Now, uttered before a stranger, the accusation cut me to the heart. I dimly perceived that she was already obliterating hope from the new phase of existence which she destined me to enter; I felt, though I could not have expressed the feeling, that she was sowing aversion and unkindness along my future path.

Jane is describing the abusive relationship she has with Mrs. Reed. Jane responds to the negative comments that Mrs. Reed made about Jane’s character to Mr. Brocklehurst. The fact that Mrs. Reed cannot even let Jane start fresh at Lowood school shows how vindictive and hateful she is towards Jane. Here, Jane considers how Mrs. Reed’s continued abuse has effects stretching into the future.

Mrs. Reed might be at that time, some six or seven-and-thirty; she was a woman of robust frame, square-shouldered and strong-limbed, not tall, and, though stout, not obese. She had a somewhat large face, the under-jaw being much developed and very solid; her brow was low, her chin large and prominent, mouth and nose sufficiently regular; under her light eyebrows glimmered an eye devoid of truth; her skin was dark and opaque, her hair nearly flaxen; her constitution was sound as a bell; illness never came near her; she was an exact, clever manager; her household and tenantry were thoroughly under her control.

Jane describes Mrs. Reed’s appearance and character while watching her sew after their meeting with Mr. Brocklehurst of Lowood school. While Jane never judges Mrs. Reed’s physical traits, she notes that Mrs. Reed’s dark and hard physical description matches her harsh and controlled personality.

“You think I have no feelings, and that I can live without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so; and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back—roughly and violently thrust me back into the red-room, and locked me up there—to my dying day; though I was in agony;…And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me…People think you a good woman; but you are bad—hard-hearted.

After Jane and Mrs. Reed’s meeting with Mr. Brocklehurst of Lowood school, Jane confronts Mrs. Reed regarding the callous and cruel way she treats Jane. In this moment, Jane releases all of her feelings about Mrs. Reed’s mistreatment over the years, and her outspoken nature starts to solidify. In speaking truthfully, Jane reveals the harshness of Mrs. Reed’s character while also gaining some freedom from the emotions engendered by the suffering at Mrs. Reed’s hands.

The well-known face was there, stern, relentless, as ever; there was that peculiar eye which nothing could melt, and the somewhat raised, imperious, despotic eyebrow. How often had it lowered on me menace and hate! And how the recollection of childhood’s terrors and sorrows revived as I traced its harsh line now! And yet I stooped down and kissed her; she looked at me...I had once vowed that I would never call her aunt again; I thought it no sin to forget and break that vow now. My fingers fastened on her hand which lay outside the sheet; had she pressed mine kindly, I should at that moment have experienced true pleasure. But unimpressionable natures are not so soon softened, nor are natural antipathies so readily eradicated; Mrs. Reed took her hand away, and turning her face rather from me, she remarked that the night was warm. Again she regarded me, so icily, I felt at once that her opinion of me—her feeling toward me—was unchanged and unchangeable.

Jane is recalling her experience while visiting Mrs. Reed on her deathbed. Many years have passed since the two last met. Even though Jane is ready to forgive and forget the bitterness between them, Mrs. Reed shows her character to be “unchangeable.” Even on her death bed and after asking Jane to come to her, Mrs. Reed cannot show Jane love or kindness. Jane’s final observation that Mrs. Reed’s physical features are still hard and cold belied the hardness of her heart.

Poor, suffering woman! It is too late for her to make now the effort to change her habitual frame of mind; living, she had ever hated me—dying, she must hate me still.

Jane finally accepts that Mrs. Reed will never change and will show hatred for Jane even in death despite Jane’s gracious forgiveness. Jane’s resignation comes only moments after Jane found out that Mrs. Reed kept the truth about Jane’s uncle and relatives from her. The consequences of character are revealed in the contrast between Jane’s balanced and open nature, and Mrs. Reed’s negative and cruel outlook. Hatred and betrayal caused more suffering for Mrs. Reed than Jane.