January 19, the date of Jane's departure from Gateshead has arrived. She rises at five o'clock in the morning, so that she'll be ready for the six o'clock coach. None of the family rises to bid Jane farewell, and she happily journeys far away from the Reeds. The porter's wife is surprised that Mrs. Reed is allowing such a young child to travel alone. Jane's imaginative nature is once again apparent, and she worries that kidnappers will snatch her away at the inn where the coach stops for dinner.
The day of Jane's arrival at Lowood is rainy, windy, and dark. Jane is led through the unfamiliar, labyrinthine halls of Lowood, until she reaches a large room in which eighty other girls sit doing their homework. Soon it is bedtime, and Jane wearily makes her way to bed. The next day, Jane follows the full routine of the school, studying from pre-dawn until five o'clock in the evening. The chapter is filled with Jane's observations of the school. Jane discovers the kind Miss Temple and the unreasonable Miss Scatcherd, who unfairly punishes Helen Burns. While solitary and isolated through most of the day, Jane does converse with Helen, who tells Jane that Lowood is a charity institution for orphan children. She also learns that Miss Temple must answer to Mr. Brocklehurst in all she does.
Jane is making progress in her journey of self-knowledge, and has now progressed from Gateshead (note the significance of the name, as the starting point of Jane's quest) to Lowood. Its name alerts the reader that the school will be a "low" place for Jane, and, thus, it appears on her first day. Modeled after the Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge where Charlotte Brontë and her sisters Maria, Elizabeth, and Emily were sent, Lowood is not appealing. The school day begins before dawn, the students are offered eat meager rations of burnt and unappetizing food, and the grounds surrounding the school are blighted and decayed. The chapter shows the harsh realities of charity-school life in Victorian times.
Besides acquainting us with the rigors of Lowood, the chapter also introduces us to two women who will have significant impact on Jane's development: Miss Temple and Helen Burns. Miss Temple's name signifies Jane's worshipful feeling for Lowood's superintendent, as does her appearance: she is tall, fair, and shapely, with a "benignant light" in her eyes and a "stately" posture. Notice how Miss Temple's appearance contrasts with the stony, dark, rigid exterior of her employer, Mr. Brocklehurst. Supplying the compassion he lacks, Miss Temple orders a decent lunch for her students to compensate for their burnt breakfast.
Another hero in Jane's story, Helen Burns, is introduced in this chapter. What does Helen Burns' name signify? She is burning with a passion for heaven, and her fate is to die of a fever. Burns is based on Charlotte Brontë's oldest sister, Maria, who died when she was twelve years old after contracting consumption at the Clergy Daughters School. Brontë's second-oldest sister, Elizabeth, also died from this disease, caught at the unsanitary and damp school. Both Charlotte and Emily were withdrawn from the school before the following winter for the sake of their health. Like Helen Burns, Maria was known for the precocity of her thinking; Mr. Brontë said that "he could converse with her [Maria] on any of the leading topics of the day with as much freedom and pleasures as with any grown-up person."
When Jane first notices Helen, her friend is reading Samuel Johnson's didactic tome, Rasselas, an essay arguing that happiness is often unobtainable. Although she enjoys reading, Jane isn't interested in Helen's book because it doesn't contain any fairies or genii. Like Jane, Helen is a poor, lonely child, but her method of dealing with her problems contrasts with Jane's, as is apparent in the interaction with Miss Scatcherd. After being unfairly disciplined by Miss Scatcherd, Helen neither cries nor looks humiliated; instead, she accepts her situation with composure and grace. Wondering how Helen can accept this treatment so quietly and firmly, Jane notices that Helen seems to be "thinking of something beyond her punishment," and her sight seems to have "gone down into her heart," emphasizing Helen's focus on spiritual rather than material matters. Jane is fascinated with Helen's self-possession, which signals a depth of character that is new to her. At this point in the story, Jane doesn't know how to judge Helen: Is she good or bad? Jane's goals in this first section of the book to learn to recognize character and to find a role model.