The Orphan Narrative

While reading the first few chapters of “Jane Eyre”, I thought to myself that I have read this narrative before in the past. It was not Jane Eyre but something similar; it was not until the passage “On that same occasion I learned, for the first time, from Miss Abbot’s friends, who considered the match beneath her; that my grandfather Reed was so irritated at her disobedience, he cut her off without a shilling; that after my mother and father had been married a year.”

That I saw the comparisons to the Harry Potter series. I do not expect Jane to eventually find her way to Hogwarts but the concept is the same to a certain degree. Harry and Jane are both orphans who have to deal with abusive and morally bankrupt relatives. They also bare the same struggles more or less because of their parents marrying out of the hierarchy. The vehement disgust or just bitter indifference that both titular characters deal with is eye opening because of the fact, the settings for these books are so different; the issues with lineage should not be the same in relation to orphans.

The comparisons do not stop their because of the dynamic of the cousins are relatable. The novel starts with Jane receiving her daily abuse from her cousin John Reed, who seems highly malicious for a young man of his age. This mirrors the Harry and Dudley dynamic very well but a certain difference does exist because John applies more thought to his actions; whereas Dudley just like to hit Harry because he could hit him. The element of gender roles most likely plays a heavy hand in John’s abusive tactics towards Jane as well as everyone else’s indifference to his misogynistic behavior towards Jane.

“I knew he would soon strike, and while dreading the blow, I mused on the disgusting and ugly appearance of him who would presently deal it. I wonder if he read that notion in my face; for, all at once, without speaking, he struck suddenly and strongly.”

Mr. Reed clearly has issues he needs to resolve very much, most likely with his mother but Sigmund Freud has not been born yet. Poor Jane! The indifference from everyone else in the family strongly resembles the manner from Aunt Petunia who looked the other way various times at the abuse that Harry suffered at the hands of her son and the behavior of her husband. Mrs. Reed and all the way to Bessie, it is clear that no one finds Jane to be martyr in the slightest. The current way of thinking is that she should be happy for the life that she has been given from the Reeds. This arrogant thought is the same arrogant thought that course through the beginning of the Harry Potter novels as well. The idea that orphans are the lowest of the hierarchy and should never complain about being mistreated because begging is clearly a worse fate to be subjected to.  The similarities do not stop because of the comparisons between the “Red-Room” and the “Broom Closet.” Harry and Jane also share the honor of having rooms just designated for them to be punished. I also found it to be very interesting that both of them are called by their first and last names, which must be a way to distinguish orphans from the everyday family.

The only dramatic difference that I saw from “Jane Eyre” and the “Harry Potter” series and even “Emma.” The scene where Jane meets the school master is highly morally didactic it its approach. It’s a homage of some sorts to old British children’s literature that was meant only educate young boys and girls to learn to honor thy god and help them find themselves on the right path.

“Do you read your Bible?” “Sometimes.” “With pleasure? Are you fond of it?” “I like Revelations, and the book of Daniel, and Genesis and Samuel, and a little bit of Exodus, and some parts of Kings and Chronicles, and Job and Jonah.” “And the Psalms? I hope you like them?” “No, sir.” “No? oh, shocking! I have a little boy, younger than you, who knows six Psalms by heart: and when you ask him which he would rather have, a ginger-bread nut to eat, or a verse of a Psalm to learn, he says: ‘Oh! the verse of a Psalm! angels sing Psalms;’ says he, ‘I wish to be a little angel here below;’



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10 thoughts on “The Orphan Narrative


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  3. swu7

    Harry Potter is my favorite series, and I love that you made a comparison between Jane Eyre and Harry Potter. You said ” Harry and Jane are both orphans who have to deal with abusive and morally bankrupt relatives.” I love that phrase – “morally bankrupt.” It definitely applies to the Dursleys and their treatment of Harry. I was wondering what you meant, though, by “their parents marrying out of the hierarchy.” I see that with Jane, but how does that apply with Harry? Other than that, I think that the comparisons you bring up are striking and insightful, such as that between the room Jane is practically held prisoner in and Harry’s cupboard.

  4. Ali Troiano

    I agree with the comments above! I didn’t think of this connection as I was reading, but you point out really strong parallels. There is one point you make that got me thinking about Jane Eyre (as a child) and the narrator’s role in the text. You state, “it is clear that no one finds Jane to be martyr in the slightest.” I agree, and I think we are meant to sympathize with Jane. However, the first person narration in this text forces me to think about the reliability of the account. While I still sympathize with Jane and her family situation, I question whether this is an accurate depiction. At some points, the narrator steps away from the narrative and makes overarching claims such as, “Children can feel, but they cannot analyse their feelings […]” (19) or “human beings must love something […]” (23). These moments remind me that the narrator seems to be an adult remembering her distant experience as a child. This reliance on the narrator’s memory, especially with such a detailed account of feelings, thoughts, and events, makes me question the narrator’s reliability.

  5. mlfiloramo

    I have to say, the similarities you’ve drawn between the first few chapters of Eyre and the Harry Potter series are, to me at least, strikingly noticeable. It’s (regrettably) been years since I’ve picked up a Potter book–but even so, I knew there was someone in some book I’ve read that John Reed reminded me of (Dudley). When you pointed out all those similarities between Dudley and John Reed, and how Jane is constantly oppressed by the family she lives with (which is, as it is in Potter, her aunt and uncle’s family), it all started making sense. Great connection! Thanks for the insight!

  6. kelsey214

    I didn’t think of the comparison between Jane Eyre and the Harry Potter series myself while reading . However, now that you mention it, it stands very true. I’m hoping that further on in the novel, Jane can get some type of revenge on the wicked Reed’s in the same way that Harry uses magic to get back at his step brother. (The scene in the zoo when the glass between the animals and the onlookers disappears is my favorite :] ) Seeing that Bessie acts kindly to Jane gives the notion of a possible future friendship. Maybe even relatable to the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione!

  7. Laura Gonzaga

    I am captivated by the connections you make between Jane and Harry Potter. You make a good observation when saying “both of them are called by their first and last names, which must be a way to distinguish orphans from the everyday family.” Referring to others by their last name does create a distance between people. We usually refer to people by their first names when there is a familiarity and intimacy in the relationship. I do hope things turn out better for Jane and hope that like Harry she can fulfill a glorious destiny!

  8. Jason Tougaw

    Orphan narratives are so common! Dickens wrote a bunch of them, for example, including Oliver Twist and Great Expectations–both books we might have read if there’d be more time. That said, your comparisons are striking, and I wonder if Rowling had Jane Eyre in mind when she wrote Harry Potter. I could imagine a research project investigating that question. If the answer’s yes, I bet it’s been documented and written about.

  9. davidginsberg

    I’ve never read/seen Harry Potter but the similarities Kevin points out are striking. I felt horrible for Jane from the start of the book and despite the fact that she’s in a school for poor orphan children, her life can’t possibly get any worse than it was with the Reeds. At least, that’s what I hope.

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