Jane’s Traumatic Childhood, Abuse, and the Red Room

Jane’s maltreatment as a child is disturbing. At the beginning of this book, we are told that Jane was raised as an orphan at the hands of her Aunt who treats her rather cruelly and sends her to the “red room” in which her Uncle died in as punishment.

Jane’s Aunt also tells her school that she is a “compulsive liar” when she is not, and evidently causes a lot of stress for Jane. This is obviously abusive, seeing as how Jane’s Uncle made her Aunt promise to raise Jane as her own, and yet mistreats her so by punishing her in ways that are despicable, such as lying to her school and holding her power as an adult over Jane’s head.

When Jane is sent to school, she finds out it is in fact a school for orphans. There is of course the unlivable conditions of the frozen water pitchers, and Jane is punished by Mr. Brocklehurst who is also notable for his reputation as being cruel to the students. One of the punishments for Jane is standing in front of the class and telling people she is a liar. Jane’s new school almost seems like another sort of “red room” for her, similar to the one her Aunt put her in when she was being punished.

What is the significance of the “red room?” Is it significant of a sort of prison for Jane? A reminder of her childhood? Of grief for her Uncle? Or is it much greater than that, perhaps a symbol of the inescapable “red room” Jane is in now?

I am not sure entirely, but I think the significance of the “red room” isn’t just a symbol of the abuse she endured, but also a greater metaphor for her stature in society as a whole.

10 thoughts on “Jane’s Traumatic Childhood, Abuse, and the Red Room

  1. *SPOILERS for ~Chapter 26*
    This post makes me wonder if Jane could harbor more sympathy for Bertha if she recalled what it was like to be in the Red Room. It was only a night for Jane, but Bertha is imprisoned in a similar manner for years of her life, through no real fault of her own, much like Jane was by Mrs. Reed. To bring it back around as well, this great post (https://www.brit.lit.nrhelms.plymouthcreate.net/questions-and-reflections-spring-2021/a-warning/) talks about how Bertha could have escaped her imprisonment to warn Jane about Mr. Rochester. If Jane kept as scrupulous a diary as this retelling would likely warrant, and Bertha had escaped to read it, she could have assumed a kindred soul in Jane in more ways than one. But, of course, this is only speculation. Nice work on your post!

    1. That’s a really good connection! I never thought about how both Jane and Bertha have experienced being trapped like that before, although obviously to varying degrees. To bring it to the angel/monster dichotomy, it can reflect on the patriarchy. Women deemed “monstrous” like Bertha are threatening/undesirable to men and it’s easier to lock them up to control the threat they pose, while more “desirable” and “Angelic” women like Jane are valued. It’s sad to see how men can control the fate of women based on if they meet their standards or not.

      1. YES! The patriarchy is very present here! I am so glad you mentioned the way women are portrayed in this novel (as “monstrous” or threatening/undesirable to men). So important! Mr. Rochester desired Jane because he could control her… a really good point.

    2. I actually never made this connection, either! I never made the link between Bertha being locked in her room at Thornfield and Jane being sent to the Red Room where she is locked in there for long periods of time, and the same place her uncle died. Also, the way Jane first describes Bertha, pretty much like an animal, using words like “savage” or “not human,” even calling her a vampire in an earlier chapter. You would think that coming from someone who had been locked in a room for a long period of time, like Bertha, Jane would perhaps be more understanding of Bertha. She also had destroyed Jane’s veil, maybe to warn her of Rochester or of Bertha’s existence?

      1. We might also consider the levels of perspective in this text. Maybe Jane doesn’t sympathize with Bertha, but perhaps the novel is encouraging US to through the parallels of the red room and Bertha’s confinement.

      2. I am like thoroughly disturbed the way that Jane also villainized Bertha. In this scenario, I am almost reminded of how Jane “becomes” her abusive Aunt in the sense that she shows Bertha the same cruelty Jane’s Aunt showed her… despite the similarities Bertha and Jane both have about feeling confined. Maybe there is something bigger here in the sense that Jane is still suffering from abuse at the hands of her Aunt.

    3. I hate how unsympathetic Jane was towards Bertha. I would have expected them to kindle a friendship over their mutual hatred for Mr. Rochester. But of course, Jane goes running back to him at the end of the novel despite everything he’s done. A really great point about the diary, too! Jane and Bertha were very kindred souls in several ways… too bad Jane could not see this fact.

  2. It is very disturbing and depressing throughout the book how Jane gets treated. Her aunt is especially heinous with her constant abuse and neglect towards Jane. Her aunt telling the school that Jane is a “compulsive liar” is an example of abuse called gas-lighting. A young child after hearing this could falsely believe that they themselves are a compulsive liar, even though they are not. The school does not care either however, and neglects and denies Jane and the other students attending basic human necessities. Also my last point, you have good questions in regards to what the Red Room could possibly mean in a symbolic sense. Well done!

    1. Oh my goodness I completely overlooked this! Yes… I agree with you, the school was a lot like another “red room” for Jane… and the gas-lighting at the hands of her Aunt is absolutely horrible.

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