The novel opens with Jane reading alone in the breakfast room, hoping she can find peace away from the Reed family. However, this doesn't last, as Master John Reed arrives, wanting to torment Jane. He taunts Jane by calling her a 'rat', claiming she is poor, ungrateful and as she depends on his mother's wealth, is a beggar. Jane retaliates and a fight breaks out. Mrs Reed arrives with her servants to stop the fight and orders Jane to be taken and locked in the 'Red Room.' The Red Room is a 'haunted' room in the household, and it is here that Jane believes she meets her uncle's ghost. She is terrified by this and bangs on the door, wanting to be let out, but no one comes for her. Jane suffers a fever and it nearly kills her.
Mrs Reed does not want Jane in her household anymore so sends her to Lowood School, a school run by the cruel Mr Brocklehurst. She tells him that Jane must be punished and Brocklehurst relishes any opportunity to punish Jane in front of her peers. Conditions at the school are not very good - illness is rife and there isn't enough food or water for the girls. Jane makes her first friend and, for the first time in her life, understands the value of friendship and love. Tragically, Helen Burns, Jane's best friend, dies of consumption and Jane is there with her until her death, refusing to leave her side. Soon after, the school is taken over by some kind and sympathetic gentlemen, thus improving the conditions. Jane later becomes a teacher there.
Jane decides to leave Lowood School and applies for a governess position. She gets the position and moves to Thornfield Hall where she looks after and teaches Adele, a lively French girl. After a few months, Jane meets Rochester, the owner of the estate and her boss. She finds him aloof and rude yet intelligent and sharp. She begins to fall in love with Edward Rochester, fantasising what life would be like with him.