Throughout her first days at the Lowood Instution, Jane Eyre finds many surprising elements about her new home and the people in its community. She finds herself not only to be in harsh conditions in this school, but also to be underfed, overworked and forced to pay attention and obey during endless sermons. The difference between the girls here and her cousins back at Gateshead is also something that she takes great notice of and finds rather interesting. Most importantly for Jane, through befriending one of her more peculiar classmates, Helen Burns, she is exposed to another way of coping with life, a way that explains to her why the girls here are so obedient and mentally strong.
First of all, the living conditions at the Lowood institution are not exactly of the highest quality. The sleeping chambers one could say were the worst place; “when I laid down I glanced at the long rows of beds, each of which was quickly filled with two occupants; in ten minutes the single light was extinguished, and amidst silence and complete darkness I fell asleep”. The chambers are large, crowded but silent and completely dark, in places like these you have no personal space and the fact that all of these people are complete strangers to Jane adds even more to the feeling of uncomfortableness and insecurity. Despite being uncomfortable and insecure the feeling that grabs Jane the most is the cold; “a keen north-east wind, whistling through the crevices of our bedroom windows all night long, had made us shiver in our beds, and turned the contents of the ewers to ice”. This shows that there is a lot of sickness and disease spreading around Lowood Institution as all the girls are freezing at night.
If the food at Lowood is good, there is not enough. If the food at Lowood is absolutely horrible, there is too much of it. The meals of her first days consist of burnt porridge and strange meats mixed and cooked together with potatoes; “Ravenous, and now very faint, I devoured a spoonful or two of my portion without thinking of its taste; but the first edge of hunger blunted, I perceived I had got in hand a nauseous mess; burnt porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes; famine itself soon sickens over it”. When food becomes this bad people will simply not eat it. In conditions like this, with sickness all around due to cold nights, enough food is the only thing that is fighting the disease, without this food the sickness will take over and spread like a wild fire. However, there is one teacher that is different from the others, Miss Temple, she does not only realise that food like this is not edible but she also does something about it which comes as a surprise to the rest of the staff. Miss Temple provides a good second meal to make up for the last one, which Jane feels very happy about and decides that this is her favourite teacher so far.
Miss Temple is the odd one out of the staff members, she is the nice and kind teacher while the rest are strict and even cruel. One of the more extreme cases is Miss Scatcherd who is their history teacher. Jane notices that her new friend, Helen Burns, is especially bullied by this teacher; “Burns, you are standing on the side of your shoe; turn your toes out immediately”, “Burns, you poke your chin most unpleasantly; draw it in” and “Burn, I insist on your holding your head up; I will not have you before me in that attitude”. Jane is surprised by how tough Helen Burns and the other girls are, as they keep completely silent and obedient while they’re being mocked for the most idiotic reasons. Had these girls been her cousins they would probably have weeped and been broken in a matter of days. Miss Scatcherd decides to use a rod of bundled twigs tied together at one end to beat some sense into Helen, to Jane’s surprise she does not shed even one tiny tear during the process.
Jane quickly discovers the most crucial thing to her survival in the Lowood Institution, though she might not believe in it at first. She finds this out due to her interest in Helen’s toughness and asks her personally why she finds it fair that the teachers can treat her this way. Before having this conversation Jane strongly believes that it is a natural act to resist those who punishes unjustly, Helen believes quite the opposite; “I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last: with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking to the end.” As smart as Helen is in Jane’s eyes, she finds her religious ways of coping with life very interesting and that it would help very much to think the same, seeing as she is very new and needs to both ignore all the bad occurences and at the same time adapt quickly to her new home.