On a dreary afternoon in Gateshead Hall, the ten-year-old Jane Eyre, who has been forbidden by her Aunt from playing with her three cousins, finds a curtained window seat where she can read. Jane pages through a copy of the History of British Birds. Its many pictures inspire her to imagine mysterious stories and arctic scenes.
Jane sitting and reading by herself, not allowed to play with her cousins, establishes her odd and lonely position at Gateshead Hall. Yet her willingness to find a book to read, rather than just moping, establishes her independence.
Jane's bullying cousin John Reed barges in and insults her, calling her a penniless orphan and beggar and a servant in his house. When he knocks her down with the book, Jane fights back for the first time in her life. The two children scuffle.
Because Jane is an orphan, the wealthy Reeds treat her as a dependent—someone who relies on their support. They treat her more like a servant than a family member.
Stunned, John goes crying to Mrs. Reed: his mother and Jane's aunt. Mrs. Reed, despite Jane's protests, accuses Jane of starting the fight. As punishment, Mrs. Reed orders Jane to be locked in the red-room. The red-room is a lavishly furnished and rarely used bedroom where, nine years previous, Mrs. Reed's husband (Jane's uncle) had died.
Jane's punishment is ironic—at the moment Jane asserts her independence, her freedom is taken away. The Reeds are tyrants and hypocrites, refusing to recognize Jane's virtues and their own vices.