Summary and Analysis
Following her discussion with Mr. Lloyd, Jane expects that she will soon be sent away to school. But the only change Jane notices in her status following her experience in the red-room is that the boundary between Jane and the Reed children is more solid. On January 15, after three months of waiting for a change, Jane is finally summoned to the breakfast-room. Here she finds Mr. Brocklehurst waiting for her. Standing like a black pillar, Mr. Brocklehurst interviews Jane about hell, sin, and the Bible. Her aunt's worst suspicions about her moral character are confirmed when Jane declares to Brocklehurst that the "Psalms are not interesting." As a final poke at Jane, Mrs. Reed declares that her niece is a liar, and Brocklehurst promises to alert the other members of the school to Jane's deceitful nature.
Jane resents Mrs. Reed's statements about her character, and when the two are alone together, Jane retaliates against her aunt. Angry and hurt, Jane declares that she is not a liar, that she is glad Mrs. Reed is not her relation, and, finally, that Mrs. Reed is hard-hearted. Jane feels a sense of triumph and exultation, and Mrs. Reed sheepishly leaves the room.
The chapter ends with a conversation between Jane and Bessie. Jane makes Bessie promise to be nice during Jane's final days at Gateshead. Bessie claims she likes Jane more than she likes the Reed children, and confesses that even her mother has noticed how often Jane has been mistreated by the Reeds. In celebration of their new friendship, Bessie tells Jane some of her most enchanting stories and sings her sweetest songs.
Mr. Brocklehurst enters the book in this chapter, ushering in the change that will alter Jane's life. On first seeing this grim man, Jane describes him as "a black pillar! — such, at least, appeared to me, at first sight, the straight, narrow, sable-clad shape standing erect on the rug; the grim face at the top was like a carved mask." A clergyman, Brocklehurst symbolizes Jane's aversion to some of the versions of organized religion. A straight, black, narrow, erect pillar, this man is hard and inflexible in his beliefs, certainly not attributes admired by the adventurous Jane. The "carved mask" of his face suggests his inhumanity, as does Jane's later reference to him as the "stony stranger." Unlike Jane who is associated with fire and energy, this man is cold and aloof as stone, someone with no passion and even less compassion. When Brocklehurst plants her straight in front of him, Jane exclaims, "what a great nose! and what a mouth! and what large, prominent teeth!": Brocklehurst has been transformed into the big bad wolf of fairy-tale fame, waiting to devour the innocent Little Red Riding Hood. From his first introduction into the story, one realizes that this spiritual man will offer Jane little comfort and no salvation.
Besides signaling Jane's lack of interest in the self-righteous religion Brocklehurst professes, their interaction also reminds readers of Jane's general lack of respect for tyrannous authority figures. Her inability to quietly accept unfair treatment becomes pronounced in her interaction with Mrs. Reed. When her aunt tells Brocklehurst that Jane's worst trait is her "deceitful nature," Jane immediately recognizes her lack of power: How can a poor child defend herself from unfair accusations? When Brocklehurst leaves, Jane is filled with a "passion of resentment," contrasting clearly with Mrs. Reed's "eye of ice" that dwells "freezingly" on Jane. Indeed, Mrs. Reed's iciness incites Jane's passions, causing her entire body to shake, "thrilled with ungovernable excitement" and her mind has become a "ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring." Following an outburst against her aunt, Jane feels a sensation of freedom and triumph. In fact, she declares herself the "winner of the field" and revels in her "conqueror's solitude." Has she simply stepped into her cousin John's role, becoming for a moment the "Roman emperor" she had earlier critiqued him for being?
Struck by the fate of Jane's enemies, many critics have viewed this novel as Jane's revenge fantasy. As the story progresses, notice what happens to Jane's attackers; all seem to meet with misfortune and unhappiness. Jane's fiery, passionate nature transforms as the novel progresses, and she learns to balance passion and reason. In this scene, Jane's passion quickly drains away, and she's left with its aftertaste, "metallic and corroding," showing her that excessive emotions will not lead to happiness. Yet releasing her inner fire has a positive result: Because of it she befriends Bessie at the end of the chapter. This conversation reveals Bessie's sympathy — even affection — for Jane.