Importance of Settings in Jane Eyre
Throughout Jane Eyre, as Jane herself moves from one physical location to another, the settings in which she finds herself vary considerably. Bronte makes the most of this necessity by carefully arranging those settings to match the differing circumstances Jane finds herself in at each. As Jane grows older and her hopes and dreams change, the settings she finds herself in are perfectly attuned to her state of mind, but her circumstances are always defined by the walls, real and figurative, around her.
As a young girl, she is essentially trapped in Gateshead. This sprawling house is almost her whole world. Jane has been here for most of her ten years. Her life as a child is sharply defined by the walls of the house. She is not made to feel wanted within them and continues throughout the novel to associate Gateshead with the emotional trauma of growing up under its "hostile roof with a desperate and embittered heart." Gateshead, the first setting is a very nice house, though not much of a home. As she is constantly reminded by John Reed, Jane is merely a dependent here.
When she finally leaves for Lowood, as she remembers later, it is with a "sense of outlawry and almost of reprobation." Lowood is after all an institution where the orphan inmates or students go to learn. Whereas at Gateshead her physical needs were more than adequately met, while her emotional needs were ignored. Here Jane finds people who will love her and treat her with respect. Miss Temple and Helen Burns are quite probably the first people to make Jane feel important since Mr. Reed died. Except for Sunday services, the girls of Lowood never leave the confines of those walls. At Lowood, Jane learns that knowledge is the key to power. By learning, Jane earns greater respect and eventually, she becomes a teacher there, a position of relative power, all the more so compared to what she left behind at Gateshead. Jane stays inside the walls of Lowood for eight years. She has learned a great deal but all she finds for herself, when she does finally decide to leave, is "a new servitude." The idea that she might be free in an unbounded world is not yet part of her experience -- in a sense, it never will be.
Once again, Jane changes setting and circumstance and into a world that is completely new to her...