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A Religious Approach of Evangelical Christianity in Jane Eyre

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In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre encounters three different figures in her life: Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, and St. John. They represent their own established versions of religion that builds upon the foundation of her faith to God. These versions are presented in order to contrast the opinions of Jane which play a central part in her personal character development. It is through these interactions in which she rejects the traditional Christian religion and creates her own personal connection to the one above.

The hypocrisy of religion begins with Jane’s enrollment into the Lowood School, an institution for orphaned girls, by her beloved aunt, Mrs. Reed. She learns Christian teachings under the wing of her teachers, Mr. Brocklehurst and Ms. Temple. Nevertheless, Mr. Brocklehurst’s institution can be seen as stripping its students of virtuous pride by forcing them to use frozen washwater, follow a strict dress code, and submit to cruel methods as a means of correcting disobedience. For example, Mr. Brocklehurst orders the curls of a student, Julia Severn, to be cut: “‘Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature. I wish these girls to be the children of Grace: and why that abundance? I have again and again intimidated that I desire the hair to be arranged closely, modestly, plainly, Miss Temple, that girl’s hair must be cut off entirely.’” (Bronte 76)

It is important to note that in this time period of the Victorian era, the act of cutting more of a girl’s hair besides her bangs was considered to be looked down upon or ruin her “vanity.” This event displays how Mr. Brocklehurst’s Evangelical practices humiliate and deviate his students rather than promote moral goodness—a non-Christian way of disciplining His children. To add, his family flaunt their weath in fine furs and silks of the latest trends at the expense of the Lowood students. In fact, his very actions serve as a mockery of Christianity, because he uses his apparent strong beliefs as an excuse for providing the bare minimum for living at Lowood. He claims “my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh, to teach them to clothe themselves with shamefacedness and sobriety” (76) yet lacks the spiritual end of the religion to follow through with his word.

Jane is viewed as “un-Christian” due to her tantrums, temper, and lack of self-control which lead to her being labelled as an immoral person. Miss Abbot constantly reminds Jane of her wickedness and need for repenting, because she believes: “God will punish her: He might strike her dead in the midst of her tantrums, and then where would she go?” (16). However, a reader can infer that Jane knows the Holy Bible quite well amidst Mr. Brocklehurst’s interrogation of her faith:

“‘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!…’

‘Psalms are not interesting,’ I remarked.

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‘That proves you have a wicked heart; and you must pray to God to change it: to give you a new and clean one: to take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’” (40)

This exemplifies Jane’s inexperience and naivity in her spiritual journey. Instead of showing kindness towards Jane like a true Christian, Mr. Brocklehurst is critical and judgemental of her background: “whose information respecting my past life and conversation was to brand me as a bad child” (73). He does not forgive her for sinning and orders all the other girls to shun her for being a “bad child.”

During her stay at Lowood School, she befriends Helen Burns, a girl facing the brink of death. Helen is the epitome of Christian values in exemplifying qualities such as compassion, generosity, and humility in her actions towards others. She never wavers in her belief in Him and always responds to Jane’s negativity with hopes of instilling God’s positivity.

“‘Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how He acts; make his word your rule, and His conduct your example.

‘What does He say?’

‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you.’

‘Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I cannot do: I should bless her son John, which is impossible.’” (69)

Jane applies this ruling to “love,” “bless,” and “do good” to your enemies in her visit to Mrs. Reed on her deathbead. She forgives Mrs. Reed and her cousins for the physical and mental abuse relieving her aunt of any regrets. Helen is unjustly punished and scolded for her behavior by her classmates which creates a defense mechanism of quoting scriptures like “the impalpable principle of life and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature” (70). Bronte criticizes that this way of Christian living is unhealthy as symbolized in Helen’s fight till death from consumption. The two girls discuss a comforting belief in an afterlife with the presence of God in Helen’s dying moments. Helen praises God for dying at a young age: “By dying young, I shall escape great sufferings” (97). Unlike Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen is completely spiritual. She takes her religious values and applies them through deeds instead of spiritual words. The contamination of bacteria causing failure in her lungs is also symbol of her enduring trials and tribulations brought about by cold-hearted individuals like Miss Scatcherd. Jane explains: “If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way; they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse” (68). She argues that striving such traits are good if not to the extent of your health being destroyed in the process. Though Jane is unable to foster Helen’s strong ideals i.e. forgiving all wrongs as her own, she develops a sense of admiration and respect for her mentality in exuding Christ-like attributes on a day-to-day basis.

St. John Rivers shares similar beliefs to Helen Burns in his devotion to God. It says that “a large proportion of his time appeared devoted to visiting the sick and poor among the scattered population of his parish” (403-404). Jane questions his holy saintness and devotion, because he did not have spiritual fulfillment in his works: “I was sure St. John Rivers – pure – lived, conscientious, zealous as he was – had not yet found that peace of God whoch passeth all understanding” (405). He believes he knows what God wants him and others to do, but this arrogant nature draws away from what a true Christian is like. She refuses his proposal of marriage in her realization that life devoid of passion is a life devoid of Christian principles. This is an instance where Jane listens to her heart and head in order to avoid depriving herself of living life to her utmost desires. He fails to impress her with missionary in India by his attempts to profess that she is “formed for labour and not for love” (464). The type of religion St. Johns seek is of glory which Jane does not wish for thus forcing her to curb her passions in God’s nature. The “tempatation to surrender her own identity and allow a man, St. John Rivers to control her access to God or to speak to her for God is idolatry” (Griesinger 51).

Jane evolves from a young girl of regarding religion as a passionless existence to a woman that demonstrates how she has been called and chosen by our Almighty God to be a follower. In one particular case, she argues her devout motives on a moral foundation to Mr. Rochester:

“‘To speak truth, sir, I don’t understand you at all; I cannot keep up the conversation, because it has got out of my depth. Only one thing I know: you said you were not as good as you should like to be, and that you regretted your own imperfection; one thing I can comprehend: you intimated that to have a sullied memory was a perpetual bane. It seems to me, that if what you yourself would approve; and that if from this day you began with resolution to correct your thoughts and actions, you would in a few years have laid up a new and stainless store of recollections, to which you might revert with pleasure.’” (161)

She justifies reason over passion in her depature from Mr. Rochester demonstrating religion over love. Ultimately, Jane finds a middle-ground with complete faith in God and still confidence in her independence. While Jane essentially rejects all three models of religion, she does not reject God. In fact, she discovers her own identification with Him that is not as harsh as Mr. Brocklehurst’s nor passive as Helen’s or manipulative like St. John’s for “God’s providential care encourages Jane’s movement towards freedom and equality” (Lamonaca 246). Bronte states in her preface, “narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be subsituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ” (6). She juxtaposes the protagonist with characters of different religious beliefs to show how Jane maintains her morality and spiritualism along with flourish her individuality.

Works Cited

  1. Griesinger, Emily. “Charlotte Brontë’s Religion: Faith, Feminism, and ‘Jane Eyre.’” Christianity and Literature, vol. 58, no. 1, 2008, pp. 29–59. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44313877.
  2. LAMONACA, MARIA. “JANE’S CROWN OF THORNS: FEMINISM AND CHRISTIANITY IN ‘JANE EYRE.’” Studies in the Novel, vol. 34, no. 3, 2002, pp. 245–263. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/29533514.

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A Religious Approach of Evangelical Christianity in Jane Eyre. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-religious-approach-of-evangelical-christianity-in-jane-eyre/
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A Religious Approach of Evangelical Christianity in Jane Eyre. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-religious-approach-of-evangelical-christianity-in-jane-eyre/> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
A Religious Approach of Evangelical Christianity in Jane Eyre [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Feb 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-religious-approach-of-evangelical-christianity-in-jane-eyre/
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