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Comparing the relationship between Jane Eyre and her cousin John Reed

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In this essay I am going to be comparing the relationship between Jane Eyre and her cousin John Reed. The story is written before 1900 and is a fictional autobiography. Charlotte Bronte uses the fictional character of Jane Eyre to portray herself in parts of the story, especially the similarities between the fictional Lowood and Cowen Bridge school, i.e. the conditions, characters and the fact that Jane teaches at Lowood after finishing there as a pupil, and Charlotte Bronte taught at Cowen Bridge school after finishing her education there. Charlotte Bronte tells the first ten chapters through the eyes of a ten year old Jane, who is brought up by her uncles’ wife, Mrs Reed at Gateshead.

Jane’s relationship with John Reed is not a good one. This is established from the first page of the novel, where Jane talks about her relationship with John Reed and his sisters Georgiana and Eliza as,

‘humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John and Georgiana Reed’ – page one

From this quotation, I can pick out three main words – humbled and physical inferiority. Therefore, John, in contrast to Jane is superior in strength, age and mind. A point to remember is that the story is told by Jane, from Jane’s point of view, so the descriptions of John are most likely to be biased and not completely true.

One of the reasons why John treats Jane like this is the fact that in the nineteenth century females were inferior to males. Sons treated even mothers as their minors. The role of women in the nineteenth century only changed late into the century where because of the changing pace of industry, more and more women were working in factory conditions, and though this did not have an effect on their social and political position in society, it was vital to the change in their rights as time passed

Even though he is but a child John emerges as the dominant male figure at Gateshead because he is the only male at Gateshead. He insists that Jane bow down to him and serve him at all times by threatening her with physical abuse.

‘every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near.’ – page 4

‘and I came out immediately, for I trembled at the idea of being dragged forth by the said Jack’ – page 4

‘accustomed to John Reeds’ abuse, I never had an idea of replying to it’- page 5

John does not appear to only harm Jane physically, but mentally as well.

‘You have no business to take our books; you are a dependant, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and eat the same meals as we do, and wear clothes at our mama’s expense.’ – page 5

Jane describes John as:

‘ Was a schoolboy of fourteen years old … large and stout, with a dingy and unwholesome skin … heavy limbs and large extremities.’ – page 4

This would help John to be able to physically abuse Jane as not only is he four years older than her, he is a much larger build and much stronger and heavier.

I think John reed feels threatened by Jane because although she is a lot weaker in strength she is much cleverer and stronger willed.

‘She’s an underhand little thing: I never saw a girl of her age with so much cover’ – page 7

Jane disagrees with John ruling over her and she makes this known:

‘Master! How is he my master? Am I a servant? No; you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep’ – page 7

Mrs Reed treats Jane as an extra nuisance whereas she spoils John. This from another reason why Jane dislikes John so much. We know that his mother treats Jane and John so differently by taking two quotations from the book:

‘He (John) should have been at school but his mama had taken him home for a month or two…Mr Miles…affirmed that he would do very well if he had fewer cakes sent him…but the mothers heart turned from an opinion so harsh’- page 4

Whereas Mrs Reed says to Jane:

‘I was…to acquire a more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner – …she really must exclude me from privileges intended only for contended, happy, little children’ – page 1

Jane then replies:

‘ What…have I done?’

and Mrs Reed just dismisses her by saying:

‘Jane… there is something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent.’

It is after this conversation that John physically abuses Jane for reading a book and Jane gets sent to the red room

Mrs. Reed excuses John’s behaviour and sees him as the victim. Which, from Jane’s’ point of view, is completely untrue as the only time Jane ever strikes back, she gets sent to the red room – a room in which her uncle died and is rumoured to be haunted;

‘He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair an my shoulder … I saw a drop of blood trickle down from my head to my neck … I don’t know very well what I did with my hands, … but he …bellowed out loud…Dear! Dear! What a fury to fly at Master John! Take her away to the red room and lock her in there’ – page 6

Later on in the book while Jane is at Lowood, Bessie comes to visit her and Jane asks about John Reed. Bessie tells her that,

‘he is not doing so well as his mama could wish. He went to college, and he got – plucked, I think they call it: and then his uncles wanted him to be a barrister, and study the law: but he is such a dissipated young man, they will never make much of him, I think.’ – page 104

This shows that even though, as a child, John was the much stronger and richer

one of the two of them, Jane has come to lead a happier, more successful life, which shows that no matter how much John bullied and tormented her, it didn’t pay off. Perhaps John saw this as a child and this is another reason that Jane threatened him.

When Jane hears that John is dead – page 264, Jane, understandably does not seem very upset, she just immediately asks

‘how does his mother bear it?’ – page 264

This indicates that perhaps Jane did care for Mrs Reed just a little, but, seemingly more than John Reed.

I conclude that Jane and John did not have a good relationship and that he subjected her to constant torment, if not physically then mentally. He was able to get away with this because his mother or ‘mama’ as she was referred to in the book turned a blind eye on the subject of any of John’s wrong doing.

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