Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Portrayal Of Education in Jane Eyre

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The Portrayal of Education in ‘Jane Eyre’

Jane Eyre provides a truthful view of education in nineteenth-century England. It is also largely autobiographical, as some of the events that happen in Jane’s life also happen in Charlotte’s for example, Janes time at Lowood is similar with Charlottes education at a school for daughters of the clergy, which she and her sisters Maria, Elizabeth and Emily left for in 184.

Jane Eyre is set in the early to mid eighteenth century and we see how life in the present compares to the time in which Jane lived. In the eighteenth century, school was not compulsory and that is why many people had little or no education at all. If you were wealthy, you would have a high-quality education, and you wouldn’t have to work. If you were underprivileged however, your education, if any, would not be of a very good standard and you would have to work to earn enough money to survive.

In ‘Jane Eyre’ Charlotte Bronte used her experiences at the Evangelical school and as governess. Jane Eyre in terms of education is a severe criticism of the limited options open to educated but poor women, the idea that women ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is also shows the separation of social classes.

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In “Jane Eyre” the clear division of classes and education is shown in the depiction of the higher classes in society being able to afford governesses for the education of a child where as the lower class children were sent to public schools.

Jane Eyre an orphan is living with her aunt Mrs. Reed and her three children; Eliza, John and Georgiana. J. Mrs. Reed believes she is from a poorer family and is only keeping her because she had promised her late husband, Jane’s uncle that she would. Ten-year old Jane lives at the Reeds Gateshead Hall. It becomes obvious that Janes place in the household is not a comfortable one, and Mrs. Reed does not think highly of her.

After an accident in the ‘red room’ where Jane is knocked unconscious, she wakes up to find herself in her own bed. Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary, comes to see her, and the next day she is up and about, though she is still feeling a little dazed. Mr Lloyd starts to question her and asks her is she wanted to go to school, Jane answers yes.

A few months pass without the mention of school, until Jane is called down to meet with Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst of Lowood School. There it is decided that Jane will go to Lowood Institution, which Jane later finds out is a charity school.

Lowood Institution was set up for girls that had lost one or both of their parents. These girls parents would have come from a professional background but most likely would have failed to produce the money to send their daughters to a fee-paying school. The hypocritical Mr Brocklehurst ensured that these girls were plain and humble, while his own wife and daughters dressed in fine, expensive clothes.

Lowood is described as a very underprivileged school. In chapter six, Jane wakes up to find out that the water in the basins had frozen overnight and as a result the girls would not be able to wash. When breakfast time came Jane gets her porridge it was “…not burnt; the quality eatable, the quantity small; how small my portion seemed!” The lessons mentioned include sewing and when Jane does well at school, is soon promoted to a higher class she starts French and drawing.

Like Jane, Charlotte Bronte also attended a girl’s school, the Clergy Daughters School in Lancashire in 184 but returned home the next year because of the harsh conditions.

In chapter seven, it seems that the conditions in Lowood are no better than they were in chapter six. Jane’s first quarter at Lowood passes and it is so cold that the girls feet swell from the walk in the cold to church. The girls do not have sufficient clothes for such weather, and they do not have enough food. Mr. Brocklehurst seems more concerned with his own wealth than that of the welfare of the pupils at Lowood, for example when Miss Temple tries to give the girls a lunch of bread and cheese, he tells her “Oh, madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children’s mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!” Miss Temple had to follow Mr. Brocklehursts rules because he was her boss.

Mr Brocklehurst sounds like the stereotypical ‘demon headmaster’ to which all must fear, and from the looks of things he isn’t one to be meddled with. Jane tries to remain unnoticed by Mr Brocklehurst, however when she accidentally drops a slate, he brings her up and makes her stand on a stool in front of the class. He tells the class and the teachers that Jane is a castaway, and that they should avoid her example and exclude her, as he learned from her benefactress, Mrs. Reed that she is deceitful. Mr. Brocklehurst leaves the room, and Jane is to stand on the stool for half an hour. Jane is only able to stand it because she sees Helen Burns and her smile. Helen is Janes first friend at Lowood. She does not complain about the situation, but tries to be good, telling Jane that she should too. When the half-hour on the stool ends, and the other girls have gone to tea, and Jane gets off the stool and weeps. Helen brings her coffee and bread, and tells her that the others will not dislike because of what had happened and what Mr. Brocklehurst had said, as the girls don’t like Mr. Brocklehurst.

When spring comes, the difficulties i.e. coldness, are lessened. However the school struck down with an infection as a result of “semi-starvation and neglected colds” and the institute is turned into a hospital therefore classes were broken up and the rules were relaxed. Sadly, some of the girls’ die, among those was Helen Burns. Some of the girls who were privileged to have relatives were able leave the school.

When the public learns of how many had died from the infection at the school and how poor the conditions were, many wealthy individuals came forward and built a new building and made new regulations and improvements. While Mr. Brocklehurst is still the treasurer, a committee of more sympathetic men now aids him. It was likely that wealthy individuals funded most charity schools, in the mid eighteenth century. The bad health conditions follow the conditions of the school the Bronte’s went to.

Jane is at Lowood for eight years, six as a student and two as a teacher. Miss Temple is there as superintendent the whole time, and while at first she is like a mother and governess to Jane, later they are close friends.

Miss Temple gets married and leaves Lowood, it is then that Jane realizes there is a world outside the confines of Lowood, so she puts an advertisement in the paper to be a governess, to which a Mrs. Fairfax in Millcote answers. There in Millcote, she becomes governess to a Miss Adela Varens. Having had a good education and teaching experience at Lowood, Jane was more qualified than most governesses. Janes lack of confidence in her abilities to fulfill the requirements of the job is unfounded. The education of Adela isn’t really described in the novel. Jane is obviously kinder and more compassionate in her teaching than that of Lowood, Jane talks about what Adela can and can’t do which suggests that she is teaching to Adeles personal abilities, following Pestalozzis theories.

Charlotte Bronte also tried her hand at being a governess In 181 she went to school at Roe Head, where she later worked as a teacher. However, she fell ill, suffered from sadness, and gave up this post. Charlottes attempts to earn her living as a governess were slowed down by her disabling shyness, her ignorance of normal children, and wanting to be with sisters.

Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre in 1847. At this time education followed the theories of the Swiss educationalist Pestalozzi, who was hated the restricting and hurtful disciplines that monitorial schools had. Montorial schools were schools that kept order by appointing monitors that gave advice and warnings to those who misbehaved. The monitorial system coincides with the systems created by Joseph Lancaster and Andrew Bell. Teaching in the monitorial system mostly involved memorization and spoken instructions. This is shown through Janes narration, At first, being little accustomed to learn by heart, the lessons appeared to me both long and difficult the frequent change from task to task, too, bewildered me. Both Burns and Jane excel only with great effort and by paying close attention. At the time Charlotte Bronte was writing Jane Eyre, Pestalozzis theory of learning was being practiced, which included kind, loving educators teaching the child through different sensory experiences. Lowoods system of a master teacher, under teachers, and monitors is similar to Bells complicated system. In addition, the brand of discipline given by Mr. Brocklehurst is similar to that of Lancaster.

Jane’s horror at the harsh punishments at Lowood is meant to prompt a similar reaction from the reader. The disciplining of Jane (when she was to stand on a stool) was not necessary, it was the result of an accident. Most of the punishments at Lowood seem to be for minor and unavoidable infractions such as having dirty nails when the wash water was frozen.

Even though the health problems at Lowood were common among charity schools, the outbreak of typhus brought Lowood into the public eye, where the living conditions at Lowood were found unacceptable. When the school was moved and Mr. Brocklehursts power was lessened, the discipline was relaxed as well. More kind men were in power of the school and Miss Temple didn’t have to follow Mr. Brocklehursts rules. While strict discipline was common in monitorial schools, it was not accepted by all, and lost favour as time went on. When Jane sums up the eight years between the passing of Helen Burns and her own leaving Lowood, she upholds the value of her education at Lowood, after Lowoods improvement While Bronte may have found the schools of the 1840s to be more efficient, she did learn much in her school days, as did Jane.

Janes jump from student to teacher at Lowood is quite rare. There is no mention in ‘Jane Eyre’ of Jane ever becoming a monitor, as many of the greatest girls were at Lowood, but it can be thought that she was before she became a teacher. Most under teachers in monitorial schools first went to a training school. Qualification requirements were often not needed in charity schools. It was also rare for a woman to be the master teacher at a monitorial school; it was usually men who had a university education to hold the position, although it was more common in charity schools. In putting Miss Temple in charge, Bronte parallels her own life at Miss Woolers school, as well as giving Jane a role model in Miss Temple.

St. Johns Morton School is an example of a class school. Again, Jane is never depicted teaching; only talking to her students after class. The school is accurate with the times, in which most of the public schools were now class schools. In these schools, a teacher is given a small class, allowing her to spend more time with each student, and every student would receive work suitable for his or her own age and ability. The passages which do show Jane at the school usually include praises of how well her students are doing and how the children of England are so much better than the children of the rest of the Europe. This belief also suggests that their education system is the best, including the newest form of schooling, the class school.

While at first Lowood was an awful experience, Jane ended up getting a very good education, and went on to offer even better education to other children. Jane Eyre illustrates the troubles that someone could face in the charity schools of the early nineteenth century and the development of that education system into a much better, more efficient system.

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