Jane Eyre is a first-person narrative of the title character. The novel goes through five distinct stages: Jane’s childhood at Gateshead, where she is emotionally and physically abused by her aunt and cousins; her education at Lowood School, where she acquires friends and role models; her time as the governess of Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with her employer, Edward Rochester; her time with the Rivers family; and the finale with her reunion with, and marriage to, her beloved Rochester.
Her story unfolds on a dreary November afternoon at Gateshead, the home of the wealthy Reed family. Jane Eyre sits in the drawing room reading Bewick’s History of British Birds. Jane’s aunt, Mrs. Reed, has forbidden her niece to play with her cousins Eliza, Georgiana, and the bullying John who bullies Jane for being a lowly orphan who is only permitted to live with the Reeds because of his mother’s charity. John pushes Jane to the end of her patience by throwing a book at her. Jane erupts, and the two cousins fight. Jane is held responsible for the scuffle and sends her to the “red-room” as punishment.
Servants Miss Abbott and Bessie Lee, escort Jane to the red-room, and Jane continuously resists. Once locked in the room, Jane begins to reflect on the events that have led her to such a state. She remembers her kind Uncle Reed bringing her to Gateshead after her parents’ death, and she recalls his dying command that his wife promise to raise Jane as one of her own. Jane is struck with the impression that her Uncle Reed’s ghost is in the room and has come to take revenge on his wife for breaking her promise. Jane eventually becomes terrified at the thought and screams in fear then eventually faints in exhaustion and fear as her cries are ignored.
When she comes around, Jane finds herself in her own bedroom, in the care of Mr. Lloyd, the family’s kind apothecary. Mr. Lloyd speaks with Jane about her life at Gateshead, and he suggests to Jane’s aunt that the girl be sent away to school, where she might find happiness. Jane is cautiously excited at the possibility of leaving Gateshead.
Jane has been enduring even crueler treatment from her aunt and cousins while anxiously waiting for the arrangements to be made for her schooling. Jane is finally told she may attend the girls’ school Lowood, and she is introduced to Mr. Brocklehurst, the head of the school. Jane’s aunt warns him that Jane has been known for lying, a piece of information that Mr. Brocklehurst intends to publicize. Jane is so hurt by her aunt’s accusation that she cannot stop herself from defending herself to her aunt. Mrs. Reed, for once, admits defeat.