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Free Barron's Booknotes-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER 4

One day, about three months after Mr. Lloyd's visit, Mrs. Reed calls Jane into the breakfast room for an interview with a stranger. This turns out to be Mr. Brocklehurst-a tall, thin man dressed in black from head to toe. Mr. Brocklehurst addresses Jane by bending over so that his face is just a few inches away from hers and asking "Do you know where the wicked go when they die?"

"What a face...!" thinks Jane, "what a great nose! and what a mouth! and what large prominent teeth!"

NOTE:

Does this description remind you of someone? What about the wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood?" It is worth rereading this scene just to see how the author suggests this comparison without ever so much as mentioning the word wolf. When Jane first sets eyes on Mr. Brocklehurst, he is so tall he looks to her like a "black pillar." He is described as "sable-clad," which means dressed in black, although of course sable is also a kind of fur, which is dark brown or black. Later, Jane notices other telling details, including Brocklehurst's bushy eyebrows and his unusually large feet.

Even though she's taken aback by Mr. Brocklehurst's morbid questions, Jane doesn't let him get the best of her. When he asks her how she can avoid going to hell, Jane refuses to give him the answer that she knows he wants. Instead, she replies, "I must keep in good health and not die."


NOTE:

We can't help silently cheering Jane on for having the courage to talk back to the awful Mr. Brocklehurst. Even so (and especially if you happen to be religious), you may not feel quite satisfied with Jane's answer. No matter how healthy we may be, we still have to face death someday. What then? Jane is soon going to learn that rebellions and a quick wit won't help her to avoid some of life's grimmer tragedies. Later on she'll have to think beyond her hasty answer to Mr. Brocklehurst's question.

Mrs. Reed tells Brocklehurst that Jane is a deceitful child, and he promises that his school, Lowood, will be just the place to make Jane repent her bad habits. Stung at hearing herself called a liar, Jane waits until Mr. Brocklehurst has gone and then lashes out at Mrs. Reed. "I will never call you aunt again as long as I live," she cries. "I will never come to see you when I am grown up.... People think you are a good woman, but you are bad;
hard-hearted. You are deceitful!"

This outburst leaves Jane feeling a sense of triumph. But not for long. Jane wants to be loved, but then she has to admit that she is not very lovable. She can't change the fact that she's plain and awkward, but she does think often about changing her behavior. She's sure that her worst fault is that she is "too passionate"- that is, she has strong emotions and isn't good at disguising them to make herself more acceptable. Only Bessie disagrees with this view; the kind servantwoman loves Jane enough to see the loneliness that underlies Jane's rebellion. She warns Jane not to be afraid to reach out and show affection. Jane responds by giving Bessie a warm good-bye kiss.

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