This lesson is a description of the character Mrs. Reed in Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’. Mrs. Reed, Jane’s aunt, is a cold-hearted woman who favors her own children and treats Jane harshly as a child. Jane eventually forgives Mrs. Reed on her deathbed.

Mrs. Reed and Jane as a Girl

As an orphan, Jane lives with her aunt Mrs. Reed and her children. Mrs. Reed’s husband was Jane’s mother’s brother. Mr. Reed loved Jane, and on his deathbed, he made his wife promise to love and care for Jane after he passed. Sadly, Mrs. Reed didn’t keep this promise.

At the Reed residence, Mrs. Reed provides for Jane’s basic needs, but that’s about it; she provides no real affection and makes Jane feel like she does not belong. Jane responds by keeping to herself, reading, and dreaming of what life could be like.

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One of the most significant conflicts between Jane and Mrs. Reed happens after Jane and her cousin John fight. Jane is blamed and is locked in the red room where Jane’s uncle died as punishment. Jane feels that there is a supernatural presence in the room. Mrs. Reed cruelly leaves her in the room.

This is the breaking point. Jane has the opportunity to go away to school, and she looks forward to this as an escape to a new life. Right before Jane goes, Mrs. Reed tells the visiting school official that Jane is a liar, and he promises to tell all of the teachers about Jane’s lying nature. This is too much for ten-year-old Jane to take. She tells Mrs. Reed, ‘I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you…I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.’

Mrs. Reed and Jane as an Adult

Years later, Jane does see Mrs. Reed again and calls her ‘aunt.’ Mrs. Reed had a stroke after finding out about her son’s death and is asking to see Jane. Mrs. Reed doesn’t always realize that she is talking to Jane, but Jane learns that Mrs. Reed hated her because Mr. Reed loved Jane and Jane’s mother so much. She also can’t forgive Jane for way that Jane spoke to her when Jane was only ten years old. Mrs. Reed says, ‘I have had more trouble with that child than any one would believe. Such a burden to be left on my hands…I declare she talked to me once like something mad, or like a fiend–no child ever spoke or looked as she did; I was glad to get her away from the house.’

It turns out that Mrs. Reed still can’t think well of Jane, but she is feeling guilty about not honoring her husband’s wishes. Mrs. Reed gives Jane a letter from her uncle, John Eyre. It was written three years earlier and says that he wishes to adopt Jane and leave her his wealth. Mrs. Reed didn’t send it to Jane and told Mr. Eyre that Jane had died of fever at school.

Even after this, Jane still tries to make up with her aunt. She wants to give Mrs. Reed an opportunity to die with a clear conscience. ‘Many a time, as a little child, I should have been glad to love you if you would have let me; and I long earnestly to be reconciled to you now: kiss me, aunt,’ Jane offers. Mrs. Reed refuses the gesture. She will not kiss Jane’s cheek, and she pulls her hand away. Mrs. Reed dies at midnight.

Character Analysis

Mrs. Reed’s treatment of Jane when Jane was a child speaks to Mrs. Reed’s jealously and selfishness. She cannot love Jane because she is jealous of the affection that her husband had for Jane and for Jane’s mother. Mrs. Reed is possessive and protective of her resources and is unwilling to share them with anyone other than her own children. She views Jane as inferior because of her lower socioeconomic standing, and this is echoed frequently by Mrs. Reed’s son, John. However, Mrs. Reed is far from warm even with her children. Tellingly, her daughters show no emotion about her passing.

Mrs. Reed is cold, proud, and not quick to forgive. Her impression of Jane is forever solidified by early resentment and by Jane’s outburst. She is unable to see how her own actions affected Jane. Instead, she holds firm to the idea that Jane is a bad seed through and through, even when she sees evidence to the contrary years later. Jane thinks, ‘Poor, suffering woman! it was too late for her to make now the effort to change her habitual frame of mind: living, she had ever hated me–dying, she must hate me still.’

Mrs. Reed contributes to Jane’s dislike for unfairness and her need to forge her own path. While Jane often felt outcast and victimized by Mrs. Reed, she gains self-assurance as she gets older. Mrs. Reed’s stubborn refusal to make peace with Jane contrasts with Jane’s forgiveness of her aunt despite her cruelty. This final interaction shows the change that Jane has undergone, compared to the lack of change in Mrs. Reed.

Lesson Summary

Mrs. Reed is Jane’s aunt and her guardian until Jane turns ten. She resents Jane because of her late husband’s affection for Jane and her mother. Mr. Reed had made Mrs. Reed promise to care for Jane, but she treats Jane as an outsider. After a flurry of conflict when Jane is ten, she is sent away to school. Jane vows never to see Mrs. Reed again or refer to her as her aunt. Years later, Jane is summoned to Mrs. Reed’s deathbed and goes to her. She learns that Mrs. Reed still despises her, and that she hid a letter from Jane’s uncle on the other side of the family. Jane offers reconciliation, but Mrs. Reed is too stubborn to make peace.

Mrs. Reed is the primary antagonist at the beginning of the novel and establishes Jane’s view of unfairness and authority. Mrs. Reed’s inability to forgive contrasts with Jane’s personal growth.