Bronte successfully uses location throughout her novel to help portray her characters and their experiences. The novel follows the life of Jane and how she grows and develops over time. Without the changes of location in the novel it would seem unrealistic, in everybody’s life location is important. In these opening fifteen chapters we see three changes of location over Jane’s eighteen years of life. The 3 locations are metaphors of Jane’s journey to self discovery.
Jane’s first location is Gateshead her Auntie, Mrs Reed’s house. This location is significant in her life because this is where she was left by her uncle and her parents after their deaths. Gateshead is important in the characterisation of Jane:
“.You ought to beg, and not live here with gentlemen’s children like us…”
This shows the negative attitude towards Jane and how her past will always affect her future. This is also the first indication the reader’s gain of Jane’s past and her orphaned history. This location makes Jane feel inadequate and unequal.
The surroundings of this house are very grand and expensive, this portrays the middle class family that the Reed’s are. However, Jane is constantly reminded of her poor, orphaned background. The location here is a reality check for Jane in many ways. The location here is a reality check for Jane in many ways. It reminds her of her past and her current situation:
“Poverty for me was synonymous with degradation.”
This quote shows us that Jane is aware of her background and has formed her own opinion about it. Gateshead plays an important role in Jane’s establishment of those opinions. It helps Jane develop her understanding of her background and circumstances and also allows the readers to get an insight further into her life.
Gateshead also portrays the conflict that is continuing between Jane and her auntie. Living with her relatives only enhances her pain over the death of her immediate family. It’s important in reminding us of the ongoing hatred between Jane and her auntie. Jane provokes isolation and separation by her conflicting behaviour; this is relative to the cold atmosphere surrounding Gateshead:
“I am glad you are no relative of mine: I will never call you aunt again so long as I live.”
After Jane finds out she will be leaving Gateshead for her new school, she feels it necessary to be honest with Mrs Reed. The change of location is significant here because it ignites the desire for Jane to be honest with Mrs Reed and her dislike with her character.
Jane’s second location, Lowood, her new school is a highly anticipated change. It is significant in representing a change in her life. Jane is very excited about the move. However, it is not as brilliant as expected to be because she is classified as an orphan along with other poor, orphaned children. Jane is isolated here too; however she becomes stronger as a result and learns to control her emotions better, with the help of Miss Temple:
“I resolved, in the depth o0f my heart, that I would be most moderate – most correct; and, having reflected a few minutes…”
This strict environment at Lowood is significant because it has forced Jane to grow up and become emotionally more stable.
Lowood is also significant to Jane’s character because it forces her to be braver and bolder than before. Jane has to make friends now and Lowood provides confidence to her. Jane learns that there are other people in her position and that they are all been treated unjustly. This addition of her friend Helen Burns inspires her to embrace Lowood complacently without struggle. Lowood is very significant in the refinement of Jane’s character:
“It is not violence that best overcomes hate – nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury.”
This is significant as it is the first time in the novel we see Jane containing admiration and being inspired by a character. Helen has a very strong effect on Jane’s character and turns her into a better person.
Lowood is also incredibly important in social context. It is here that we see the rise and the fall of Mr. Brocklehurst. After the school is infected with typhus it is exposed that the school was in terrible conditions and that the children were suffering. The school then received backing from other wealthy sponsors. Lowood became a much better school after that. This quote shows Helen explaining the situation of social class:
“He is a clergyman, and is said to do a great deal of good.”
The orphans are expected to be conned into the idea of Mr. Brocklehurst being their saviour. However, Burns is too clever for that and does not give a direct answer to Jane’s questioning of his character. Lowood gives Jane a sense of what she would like to do when she is older too; it gives her direction and drive.
Jane’s final location in these fifteen chapters ends at Thornfield; it is generally a place of warmth compared to Jane’s other homes. It is at this location that Jane meets her first adult crisis head on. She experiences infatuation and love with Mr. Rochester. This location is important because this is the growing up of Jane and the development from a child to a woman. Jane is given responsibilities at Lowood and embraces them:
“Judgement would warn passion. Too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned.”
This is the first sign of Jane’s love towards Mr. Rochester; this is significant to the location because these are her first adult feelings.
Location is very important in this novel. It is the catalyst for Jane’s characterisation. By forcing Jane into new uncomfortable situation she has to learn to adapt and she can be a new person who she desires to be. The novel is constantly changing location and constantly developing Jane’s character. The location and characterisation of Jane are parallel throughout the novel.