Jane Eyre Summary
She was orphaned by her parents as young child, cruelly mistreated by the relatives assigned to care for her, sent to a charity school run by a greedy, abusive headmaster and experienced a typhus epidemic, losing her only friend. All this before the age of 12!
Jane Eyre's early life was an exercise in hardship, but understanding Charlotte Bronte's classic novel doesn't need to be. Here's a teen-friendly refresher course in the plot of this work of literature, as well as SAT vocabulary your teen can use to discern what happens for themselves.
Jane Eyre lives with her cousins, who have been caring for her (if you can call it that) since her parents died of typhus while ministering to the poor. Mrs. Reed and her children are nasty to Jane- continually reminding her of their “charity.” One day Jane can no longer take the snide comments from her cousin John, and they get into a fight. Jane of course is blamed and dragged to the “red- room” for a time-out (pretty creepy - it’s the room where her Uncle died.) During her punishment, Jane thinks she sees his ghost and passes out in fear.
The family’s apothecary, Mr. Lloyd, takes care of her and learns about her cruel treatment in the Reed’s home. In a misguided attempt to save poor Jane, he later suggests to Mrs. Reed that Jane be sent away to school. Out of the frying pan for Jane, but…well, you’ll see.
Useful vocabulary to describe Jane’s early life:
- Adversity - Hardship
- Calamity - Major misfortune
- Bereft - Lacking in something needed or wanted
- Forlorn -Lacking companionship
- Forsaken - Abandoned
Jane becomes a student of The Lowood School, whose headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, has “alternative” ideas about education. In fact, he seems to believe the key to learning is starvation and humiliation. Due to the poor conditions at Lowood, the students are struck down by a typhus epidemic, and Jane's best friend Helen dies. However, the epidemic attracts attention to Brocklehurst’s practices, and he is replaced. With the new leadership at Lowood, things improve for Jane for a few years- she receives her education and even becomes a teacher, joining the staff of her alma mater for two years. But she longs to see more of the world – and accepts a position at an estate called Thornfield as a governess.
Useful vocabulary to describe Mr. Brocklehurst’s teaching philosophy:
- Adamant- forceful; inflexible
- Odious- Hateful
- Degradation- Deprivation, Poverty
- Vituperate- Criticize harshly
- Berate- Scold severely
The owner of Thornfield, Mr. Rochester, seems to be absent quite a bit when Jane first arrives, but Jane’s student is a sweet little girl named Adele. It seems like things could be looking up for Jane, except for the strange occurrences around Thornfield that no one ever explains, or even seems to notice except Jane.
She wonders…where is the sound of maniacal laughter coming from? Doesn’t anyone else hear that? And if Grace Poole, the seamstress, is truly a drunk and strange, why does she make more money than any of the other members on staff?