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What is your opinion of Mr Brocklehurst

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Jane’s first meeting with Mr. Brocklehurst is set up through the image of the “stiff” unyielding door-handle, which is perhaps hinting at Brocklehurst’s character. Jane’s first impression of Brocklehurst is that of a “black pillar,” a “straight, narrow, sable-clad shape standing erect on the rug; the grim face at the top was like a carved mask.”

Jane’s description of this “stony stranger” makes him appear cold and stone-like. His features and “all the lines of his frame were equally harsh and prim,” he has an arrogant, rigid disposition. Jane’s humorous description of Brocklehurst’s face echoes that of the wolf in Red Riding Hood, “What a face he had … what a great nose! And what a mouth! And what large prominent teeth,” these wolf-like qualities show Brocklehurst’s predatory nature.

It is ironic that Brocklehurst who appears to be a religious man, uses his religious beliefs to scare children, his favourite part of Christianity seems to be Hell. Brocklehurst tells Jane that if she “were to be called hence” she would fall into “a pit full of fire” and burn there forever. Brocklehurst is the one with no feelings which is ironic as he accuses Jane of having a “wicked heart” and tells her that she should pray to God to take away her “heart of stone and give her a heart of flesh”.

Mrs. Reed tells Brocklehurst to “guard against her worst fault, a tendency to deceit,” to which Brocklehurst replies that ” all liars will have their portion in the lake burning with fire and brimstone;” again using his beliefs to scare Jane. Mrs. Reed deliberately

ruins Jane’s chances for a new life away from Gateshead – she is blacklisted before she has even arrived at Lowood. Mrs Reed wants Jane to be kept “humble” and “useful.” Brocklehurst already hints at his hypocrisy in humility – he has “studied how best to mortify in them (the pupils at Lowood) the worldly sentiment to pride” while his own daughters are spoilt and indulged.

Before leaving Brocklehurst gives Jane an “account of the awfully sudden death of Martha G-, a naughty child addicted to falsehood and deceit,” again trying to scare her with his beliefs.

Pathetic fallacy is used in describing Jane’s arrival at Lowood “rain, wind and darkness filled the air.” Lowood aimed to prepare impoverished girls for a life of self-denial and submission by breaking their spirits with severe frugality, continuous punishment and repression.

Brocklehurst encourages humility in the girls and they are kept drearily and “uniformly dressed in brown stuff frocks of quaint fashion,” which was “insufficient to protect us from the severe cold,” their hair “combed from their faces, not a curl visible …it suited then ill, and gave an air of oddity even to the prettiest.” The conditions at Lowood are poor and primitive; there “was but one basin to six girls” and the schoolroom was “cold and dimly lit.”

The food is meagre; the night Jane arrives the supper consisted of water, “the mug being common to all” and “a thin oaten cake shared into fragments.” The porridge is so “disgusting,” even the teachers complain about it, proclaiming it “Abominable stuff! How shameful!” This “scanty supply” of food was barely enough for the girls

The girls complain about the breakfast, as it was “the sole consolation they had,” speaking “with serious and sullen gestures … the name of Mr. Brocklehurst pronounced by some lips; at which Miss Miller shook her head disapprovingly; but she made no great effort to check the general wrath; doubtless she shared in it.” Miss Miller obviously does not approve of the girls blaming Brocklehurst, but does nothing to stop them as she probably shares their opinion.

During his first visit to Lowood in Jane’s time Brocklehurst is “longer, narrower, and more rigid than ever.” Mr. Brocklehurst tells Miss Temple that the girls are not “on any account” to receive more than one darning needle, and that they are limited to one clean tucker a week. Upon hearing that Miss Temple ordered a lunch of bread and cheese for the girls because they were unable to eat breakfast, he tells her that “should any accidental disappointment of the appetite occur…. The incident ought not to be neutralised by replacing with something more delicate the comfort lost.” He is a hypocrite; he tells Miss Temple that while she “puts bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children’s mouths, you may feed indeed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!”

While at Lowood he spots a girl with curly hair, who “conforms to the world so openly – here in an evangelical, charitable establishment.” When Miss Temple informs him that the girl’s hair curls naturally, he contradicts himself saying that “we are not to conform to nature” either. He then orders that her and all the other first form shall have their hair cut off. Brocklehurst is small-minded, he calls curly hair an “excrescence”

Brocklehurst makes a speech outlining his ethos; he wants to “render them hardy, patient, self-denying.” Bronte uses bitter irony when she deliberately misconstrues Christ’s words “If ye suffer hunger or thirst for my sake happy are ye.” Miss Temple understands this unwitting irony. Brocklehurst then goes on to say that his mission is “to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh,” but is interrupted by his wife and daughters who were “splendidly attired in velvet, silk and furs.” Their arrival totally undercuts his moral and spiritual message.

Brocklehurst then humiliates Jane in front of the whole school on a “pedestal of infamy”, he announces that she is to be alienated, ostracised for she is a “liar.” Brocklehurst enjoys Jane’s torment. Later when the girls take sick Brocklehurst, keen though he was to “nurture” their souls “never came near Lowood now.”

However there is some good to be found in Lowood, in Miss Temple and Helen Burns. Even Miss Temple’s name suggests how kind she is. Upon arriving at Lowood Jane is met by Miss Temple and Miss Miller. Miss Temple is described as “a tall lady with dark hair, dark eyes, and a pale and large forehead; … her countenance was grave, her bearing erect,” whereas, in comparison Miss Miller was “ordinary,” an “under-teacher.” Jane finds all the teachers generally disappointing except Miss Temple who was “tall, fair, and shapely”. She is kind and compassionate, she orders a lunch of “bread and cheese” for the girls, since they were unable to eat their breakfast. Miss Temple is “full of goodness” and “it pains her to be severe to anyone.”

Helen burns is first introduced by the sound “of a hollow cough.” Helen is later, along with Miss Temple, to become Jane’s nurturer. Helen is an important source for the reader – like a touchstone character -she tells Jane about the teachers and Brocklehurst, who lives two miles away at a “large hall” in total comfort – he doesn’t practise what he preaches.

Miss Scatcherd victimises Helen, making her stand in the middle of the schoolroom. Helen does not retaliate, she is like a Christian martyr. Jane is indignant at Miss Scatcherd’s treatment of Helen who remains introspective “her sight seems turned in, gone down into her heart.”

Miss Scatcherd again picks on Helen because her nails were not clean. Scatcherd beats her unfairly, calling her a “dirty, disagreeable girl,” even though Helen couldn’t have cleaned her nails because the water in the basin was frozen. After beating her, Miss Scatcherd proclaims her a “hardened girl”. Jane and Helen are complete opposites, Helen allows herself to be beaten unfairly whereas Jane would have stood up for herself. Jane learns restraint at the hands of Helen.

When Jane is later ostracised by Brocklehurst, Helen smiles at her, a small but profound gesture “like a reflection from the aspect of an angel.”

Miss Temple is fair and listens to Jane while she talks about the treatment she received at the hands of the Reeds; “I felt as I went on that Miss Temple fully believed me.” The compassion of Miss Temple is shown in how she cares for Helen, “it was Helen her eye followed to the door, it was for her she a second time breathed a sad sigh; for her she wiped a tear from her cheek.” While Helen is with Miss Temple “her soul sat on her lips, and language flowed, from what source I cannot tell.” This metaphor shows the inner goodness and warmth of Helen Burns. Miss Temple later publicly exonerates Jane, who then flourishes in this new environment; “I would not now have exchanged Lowood with all its privations for Gateshead and its daily luxuries.”

Lowood later becomes a “cradle of fog and fog bred pestilence,” and the girls become seriously ill. Miss Temple stays in the sick room with the girls and Helen whose condition is deteriorating, is cared for in Miss Temple’s room. On her last night Jane goes to see her, the intimacy and love of both girls is evident and pathos is generated through the simplicity of language and Jane’s proximity to Helen in her “little crib.” Helen dies in Jane’s arms.

The treatment of the girls at the hands of Brocklehurst is later discovered and conditions at Lowood improve -“the school … became a truly useful and noble institution.”

Bronte claimed, “conventionality is not morality.” For a woman to come out with these ideas was shocking, she was aware of the injustices of the Victorian class system which allowed hypocrites, like Brocklehurst, to flourish while good people, like Jane and Helen, endured criticism and punishment simply because they were poor. “Angels” like Helen Burns are despised by fellow man whereas people like Brocklehurst are revered in society. He is a true villain and a hypocrite; he lives in the lap of luxury but exploits his religious beliefs to justify his harsh treatment of the girls.

“Such is the imperfection nature of man! Such spots are there on the disc of the dearest planet; and eyes like Miss Scatcherd’s can only see through those minute defects, and are blind to the full brightness of the orb.”

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