Family structure in Jane Eyre: Eyre, Reed and Rivers

As the novel proceeds, it becomes increasingly clear that Jane Eyre is a family drama:

  • It deals with two generations in the history of the Eyre, Reed and Rivers families
  • In the older generation, only one person survives, Mrs Reed, who is no blood relation of Jane's - this means that the novel is notably lacking in parents
  • At the beginning of the book, Jane is living with one set of first cousins, the Reeds
  • In the last part of the novel, she finds a home with another set of cousins, the Rivers
  • The shapes of the two families mirror one another: an older, dominant brother and two younger sisters.

A family tree would look like this. The characters who actually appear in the novel are marked in blue.

Investigate!
  • How do you respond to the fact that when Jane is destitute and near to death after leaving Thornfield, she should find shelter with people to whom she proves to be related?
    • What might this apparent coincidence tell us about the kind of novel this is?
  • What other parallels and similarities in the Eyre, Reed and Rivers families are revealed by the family tree?
  • Do you think there is any significance in the choice of names given to the children in the younger generation?
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