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After an absence of several months, Mr. Brocklehurst pays a visit to the school. He begins by lecturing Miss Temple for giving the girls extra meals of bread and cheese. Then he notices a girl who has naturally curly red hair, and he orders that the barber come to cut it off the very next day. Even natural curls are forbidden at Lowood School!
Mr. Brocklehurst's speech is interrupted by the arrival of his wife and two daughters. They're wearing silk and velvet, and the girls have fancy beaver fur hats with ostrich plumes. Their hairdos are elaborately curled, and Mrs. Brocklehurst is even wearing a fashionably curly hairpiece!
Not at all bothered by this evidence of his hypocrisy, Brocklehurst goes on to single out Jane Eyre, announcing to the whole school Mrs. Reed's charge that she is a liar. Brocklehurst warns the other girls that Jane is such a bad influence that they should not talk to her all day, and he sentences her to stand for half an hour on the punishment stool in the center of the room. Jane is on the point of bursting into tears, but Helen Burns finds an excuse to pass by where Jane is standing and flashes her a smile of encouragement. Helen may believe in obedience, but she is a loyal friend above all.
In spite of having Helen on her side, Jane can't get over her humiliation at being singled out as a liar in front of the whole school. Helen tells her that no one will believe Mr. Brocklehurst, and that Jane shouldn't worry too much about what others think about her: The important thing is that Jane's conscience is clear. Jane disagrees. "If others don't love me, I would rather die than live," she tells Helen.
Once again the two girls have a disagreement about values: Which matters more-what other people think of you, or how you feel about yourself?
Miss Temple comes looking for Jane and invites both girls to come to her room. As Helen predicted, Miss Temple finds it hard to believe Mr. Brocklehurst's charges. More calmly than usual, Jane tells her the true story of her life with the Reeds and begs Miss Temple to write to Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary, who can confirm that Jane was never a bad girl, just miserable and unwanted. Miss Temple agrees.
Then she invites Jane and Helen to share her tea and buttered toast. The portions are tiny-even Miss Temple doesn't rate high enough with the cook to get second helpings-but she brings out a cake of her own. Two hungry girls are in heaven.
In writing this scene, Charlotte Bronte must have been thinking about her own days at Cowan Bridge school where the pupils were served dry bread six days a week, with "a scraping of butter" on Sundays. In a place where neither the students nor the teachers ever get quite enough to eat, Miss Temple's invitation to tea is more than a casual gesture. At last someone in authority is giving Jane the approval she craves.
A week later Jane's triumph is complete when Miss Temple announces to the entire school that Mr. Lloyd has answered her letter. He takes Jane's side, and she's cleared of the charge of lying.