Religion in Jane Eyre

Religion in Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte addresses the theme of Religion in the novel Jane Eyre using many
characters as symbols. Bronte states, “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness
is not religion”(preface v). In Jane Eyre, Bronte supports the theme that customary actions
are not always moral through the conventional personalities of Mrs. Reed, Mr.

Brocklehurst, and St. John Rivers.
The novel begins in Gateshead Hall when Jane must stay away from her aunt and
cousins because she does not know how to speak pleasantly to them. Mrs. Reed,
possesses a higher standing in society. Due to Jane’s lower class standing, Mrs. Reed
treats Jane as an outcast. As Bessie and Miss Abbot drag Jane to the “red room” a most
scary room for a child, she is told by Miss Abbot: “No; you are less than a servant for you
do nothing for your keep”(14).She must stay in the red room after she retaliates to the
attack John Reed makes upon her, her obnoxious cousin. John tells Jane “mamma says;
you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not live here with
gentlemen’s children like us and eat the same meals that we do, and wear clothes at our
mama’s expense”(12).
She receives no love or approval from her family. The only form of love that she does
have is the doll she clings to at night when she sleeps. Mrs. Reed is a conventional woman
who believes that her class standing sets her to be superior, and therefore better than a
member of her own family. As a result of Jane’s tantrums, quick temper, and lack of self-
control, society classifies her as an immoral person. She speaks up for her herself when
she knows she is not supposed to, and her family believes that she acts more like a “rebel”
than a young woman. Her spontaneous and violent actions go against conventionality and
she must suffer for being so free-spirited. Miss Abbot believes: “God will punish her: He
might strike her in the midst of her tantrums”; (15). Jane’s tantrums are not customary or
acceptable, so during those precise moments of her tantrums, she is especially susceptible
to God’s punishment. Miss Abbot constantly reminds Jane that she is wicked, she needs to
repent, and she is especially dependent on prayer. The Reed children, in contrast, are
treated completely opposite. Although John Reed is cruel and vicious to Jane, he receives
no type of warning that God will punish him.
The novel proceeds to Lowood, a school designed to educate and care for orphaned
children. Mrs. Reed decides to send Jane there after the doctor, Mr. Lloyd, advises her
that Jane should attend school. Mrs. Reed is glad to be rid of Jane and asks Jane not to
wake the family the day of her departure. Jane arrives at Lowood and observes the
behavior of the students. They are “all with plain locks combed from their faces, not a
curl visible; in brown dresses, made high, and surrounded by a narrow tucker about the
throat”(49). The day is long and all students must wake up at dawn and read the Bible for
hours at a time. One day, Miss Temple serves the children cheese in order to compensate
for their burnt porridge. Mr. Brocklehurst, the self-righteous leader of Lowood, tells Miss
Temple: “You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls, is not to accustom them
to luxury and indulgence, but to render them, hardy, patient, and self-denying”(65). Mr.

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Brocklehurst stresses the importance of plain clothing and humility. The acts performed
by Mr. Brocklehurst are even more hypocritical when one compares them to the acts of
Helen Burns. She serves as a role model to Jane and states: “Love your enemies; bless
them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despite fullly use you”(60).

Bronte uses Helen’s beliefs as a contrast to the conventional and self-righteous actions of
Mr. Brocklehurst.

Life continues at Lowood and the children trudge to Brocklebridge Church daily in the
freezing cold without proper clothing. The long walks coupled with the lack of food at
Lowood lead to an outbreak of typhus. During this outbreak, Helen dies and she states “I
count the hours till that eventful one arrives which shall restore me to him, reveal him to
me”(114). Here, Bronte emphasizes the point that Helen dies happy and clings to her
religious beliefs. The outbreak of typhus leads authorities to examine the school. They
discover the awful conditions the students of Lowood live in. “And the discovery
produced a result mortifying to Mr. Brocklehurst, but beneficial to the institution”(116).
Mr. Brocklehurst is punished for his actions. He no longer may run the institution on his
own. He is a self-righteous man who confused the ideals of Religion with suffering. Jane
blossoms at Lowood and acquires many new skills. Mr. Brocklehurst was not able to
fulfill his desires to change his students at Lowood into servants and sufferers because
others gained authority over him. Bronte’s views that “self-righteousness is not religion”
are supported through the actions of Mr. Brocklehurst.
The novel then proceeds to Thornfield, where Jane meets Mr. Rochester. She falls in
love with him after some time, but she leaves him when she finds out that he would
commit an act of bigamy if he marries her. Jane ends up with the Rivers family. Jane
meets a very enthusiastic religious man, St. John, who devotes his life to performing
religious acts. Jane states, “He was comparatively seldom at home: a large proportion of
his time appeared devoted to visiting the sick and poor among the scattered population of
his parish”(353). As a clergyman, St. John Rivers performs all of the duties that society
expects of him, he visits the poor, he takes care of the sick, and he plans to take mission
trips. If St. John believes that the society will perceive a mission trip to India as a
beneficial thing, then he will go to India. All of his actions are planned and traditional and
as a result, St. John takes no personal satisfaction in the work that he does. As Jane learns
about St. John, she realizes that he is similar to Mr. Brocklehurst, she seems to get a hint
of distrust in him. St. John Rivers is also a hypocrite. He preaches the news of God, as a
missionary, but he simultaneously commits a very sacrilegious act. He tries to force Jane
to marry him when he states: “and do not forget if you reject it, (the proposal) it is not me
you deny, but God”(411). St. John focuses his life on the acts of Religion and is not a
happy person and is not easily able to lead a satisfactory life. Like Mr. Brocklehurst, he
confuses the idea of conventionality with morality.

The novel ends when Jane marries Mr. Rochester, who establishes a firmer grasp on
religion. He has overcome many handicaps throughout the novel. He once believed that
he had to lavish individuals with gifts in order to show his love for them. When the novel
ends, Rochester has changed his value system and no longer places an extreme emphasis
on physical things, he confesses his sins to God. He does not confuse morality with
conventionality as St. John and Mr. Brocklehurst have. He knows that in order to maintain
a relationship with God, he does not have to travel to church in the freezing cold. Bronte
uses Mr.Rochester as a contrast to Mrs. Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, and St. John Rivers. Mr.

Rochester changes his conventional ways, and then is able to live a more moral and happy
life. The characters Mrs. Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, and St. John lead their lives in
conventional and self-righteous ways and Bronte portrays them to be corrupt. This idea
supports the main theme in JaneEyre, “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness
is not religion”.

Category: English


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