“Jane Eyre” is set during the Victorian period, at a time where a women’s role in society was restrictive and repressive and class differences distinct. A job as a governess was one of the only few respectable positions available to the educated but impoverished single women.
Not only is “Jane Eyre” a novel about one woman’s journey through life, but Brontë also conveys to the reader the social injustices of the period, such as poverty, lack of universal education and sexual inequality. Jane’s plight and her “dependant” status is particularly emphasised at the beginning of the novel.
Miss Temple is the kind and fair-minded superintendent of Lowood School, who plays an important role in the emotional development of Jane Eyre.
Miss Temple is described by Helen as being “good and very clever” and “above the rest, because she knows far more than they do”. This description is more significant because it has been said by Helen, and she herself is extremely mature.
One of Miss Temple’s most outstanding qualities is her ability to command (perhaps unconsciously) respect from everyone around her, “considerable organ of veneration, for I yet retain the sense of admiring awe with which my eyes traced her steps”. Even during their first encounter Jane is “impressed”… “by her voice, look and air”.
Throughout Jane’s stay at Lowood, Miss Temple frequently demonstrates her human kindness and compassion for people. An Example of this is when after noticing that the burnt porridge was not eaten by anyone, she ordered a lunch of bread and cheese to be served to all, realising their hunger. This incident is also evidence of her courage, of how she is not afraid to stand up to her superior, when she feels that too much unnecessary suffering has been inflicted on the children
Miss Temple’s Christianity contrasts with that of Mr Brocklehurst, where instead of preaching restrictive and depressing doctrine, which he then proceeds to contradict, she encourages the children by “precept and example”.
After the incident involving Mr Brocklehurst announcing to the whole school that Jane is a liar, the reader becomes aware of Miss Temple’s sense of natural justice, where before accepting what Mr Brocklehust has said, she inquires from Jane her version.
It is of no coincidence that Brontë choose to coincide Miss Temple’s arrival into the schoolroom with the moon’s light “streaming in through a window near”. Brontë throughout the novel uses weather to set the mood of a character.
Jane’s time at Gateshead Hall was one of misery and anguish. She was subjected to domestic tyranny, and abused by her cousin John Reed continually. Jane, from her “very first recollections of existence” had been told that she had better not think herself “on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed” and that it was her “place to be humble”. At Gateshead she was made to feel like a “discord” and a person “not worthy of notice”. Even the servants treated her with inferiority, because of her “dependant” status, which in Victorian society was viewed without compassion. Her strong desire to love and to be loved was not fulfilled here. Whereas at Lowood Jane was treated with respect and as an equal by Miss Temple, and her desire to be loved and cared for was fulfilled by Miss Temple and Helen Burns.
Jane arrives at Lowood as a passionate little girl, who is deeply resentful of her aunt and cousins, but due to the influence of Helen Burns and Miss Temple’s example, Jane learns to control these feelings, and be happy, “I had given in allegiance to duty and order”… “I believed I was content”… “I appeared a disciplined and a subdued character”.
Jane admits “to her instruction I owed the best part of my acquirements; her friendship and society and been my continual solace; she had stood me in the stead of mother, governess, and latterly, companion”.
Miss Temple’s treatment of Helen also has an influence on Jane. Jane has a great deal of admiration for Miss Temple, and in many ways copies her behaviour. Miss Temple’s treatment of Helen shows Jane how to treat other people, with kindness and respect.
When Miss Temple invites Jane and Helen for tea, Jane listens enraptured to Helen’s and Miss Temple’s intellectual discussion, while observing a real warmth and affinity between them. It is clear to Jane that both Miss Temple and Helen are both very intelligent and well read, Jane admires these qualities and tries to seek them herself as they lead to an independence of mind, another quality that Jane wishes to acquire.
The extent of Miss Temple’s influence on Jane can be seen by the way she reacts to Miss Temple’s departure, “from the day she left I was no longer the same: with her was gone every settled feeling that made Lowood in some degree a home to me” and without the presence of Miss Temple there to guide her she feels that “the reason to be tranquil was no more”.
Miss Temple acts as a strong role model to Jane, and holds the qualities which Jane aspires to have: kindness, sensitivity to the sufferings of others and resolute in her stance to injustice, “I had imbibed from her something of her nature and much of her habits”.
It is through Miss Temple’s influence that Jane deals successfully with situations that occur later in her life, including leaving Gateshead and refusing to marry St John.