Jane Eyre: Christian Values
Throughout the novel, Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte, Jane struggles to find the right balance between moral duty and earthly pleasure; between obligation to her spirit and attention to her physical and emotional needs. She lives most of her childhood as a rebellious and defiant youth, but the impact of those whom she is surrounded by helps her grow and develop into a disciplined woman of the Christian faith. Bronte represents Christianity with three major characters: Helen Burns, Mr. Brocklehurst, and St. John. The saint-like Helen Burns practices selfless faith and is able to love those who persecute her. Mr. Brocklehurst is a hypocritical Christian and uses religion as justification for his cruelty. St. John has a strong religious conviction and an equally powerful sense of duty and mission in spreading the word of Christianity. The Christian values Helen Burns, Mr. Brocklehurst, and St. John Rivers demonstrate are extremely influential in Jane’s Christian life and how she comes to define her own faith and values.
During her stay at Lowood School, Jane develops a close relationship with Helen Burns. Jane considers both Helen and herself as alienated from the other students. Though a brief character in the novel, Helen’s model of Christianity helps Jane discover how to live her life like a true Christian. Helen endures cruel treatment and forgives the people who abuse her with humble self-restraint and grace. Her view is primarily that you should, “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you. ” (p. 0) However, this outlook is not easily accepted by Jane who cannot understand Helen’s belief of tolerance of injustice.
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Young Jane believes, “When we are struck at without reason, we should strike back very hard… so as to teach the person who struck us to never do it again. ”(p. 60) Even as Helen is lying on her death bed conversing with Jane about God, she expresses an attitude of unquestioning faith. “Why, then, should we even sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over, and death is so certain an entrance to happiness – to glory? ” (p. 2) Helen eagerly awaits her impending death so that she may soon be with God. Jane is so intrigued with her friend’s strong trust in God that she eventually matures into a woman of the same devout faith. Mr. Brocklehurst undeniably characterizes the false Christian who disguises their hypocrisy and cruelty behind the pretense or doctrines of self-righteous Christianity. Mr. Brocklehurst manipulates Christian doctrine to serve his own needs and agenda and Jane sees the deceit of his behavior as it contrasts so grossly with the true Christian virtues that Helen possesses.
His behavior oppresses others while Helen’s uplifts and serves those she encounters. At Lowood, Jane and the other girls are fearful of Mr. Brocklehurst who uses religion as a rationalization for their poor living conditions. He even goes so far as to chastise Miss Temple for providing the girls with an extra meal when their breakfast had been unfit to eat. He sternly rebukes her by saying, “A judicious instructor would take the opportunity of referring to the sufferings of the primitive Christians; to the torments of the martyrs…”(p. 5) and considers the persecution of the early Christians as the justification for avoidable poor treatment of his students. Also in the same chapter, Mr. Brocklehurst’s hypocritical nature is evident when he insists that the girls’ hair be cut because curls are un-Christian and not modest enough, while his wife and two daughters have their hair styled in curls and dressed in velvets, silks, and furs. Jane rejects this double standard because of its obvious cruel hypocrisy and recognizes the importance of true Christian morality and integrity in her own practice of faith.
The handsome blonde-haired, blue-eyed parson, St. John, is described in both physical and spiritual appealing terms by Jane. Yet, Jane identifies the conflict demonstrated by St. John’s ambition in pursuing an admired, self-sacrificing mission in the church versus her need for emotional bonding and passion to fulfill her need for personal freedom, love and emotional support. St. John is not hypocritical like Mr. Brocklehurst in his practice of faith, but rather described as “patient and placid” with little expression of personal relationship with God in Christianity.
St. John wants Jane to imitate his Christianity as a duty instead of a relationship and vocation. He wants her to marry him and admonishes her to forgo her own independence and possible vocation as a housewife in submission to the “will of God” and serve with him in India as a missionary. In trying to convince her of her “moral duty” and that refusing him would be refusing the will of God, Jane realizes her own Christian identity. St. John: “One fitted to my purpose, you mean—fitted to my vocation.
Again I tell you it is not the insignificant private individual—the mere man, with the man’s selfish senses—I wish to mate: it is a missionary. ”(p. 408) Jane: “Oh! I will give my heart to God,” I said. “You do not want it. ” (p. 409) In the end, she turns away from St. John and towards a relationship in which she finds that true individual freedom is not found in loneliness and duty, but in relationships built on emotional dependency and vocation. Jane was once a stubborn and boisterous child who would fight back and stand up for herself without regard for Christian humility or values.
However, with the opportunity to witness the modeling of faith of significant characters in the book Jane Eyre, Jane develops and embraces her own Christian beliefs. Helen Burns, exemplifies a devout, forgiving, and self-sacrificing faith through her gentle and calm nature and faith expression, but lacks the tenacity that is inherent to Jane’s nature. Brocklehurst’s hypocritical treatment of the girls at Lowood is an injustice that Jane is too just to ever repeat. St. John demonstrates duty versus vocation and his lack of passion contrasts with the intense need for relationship both in her relationship with God and her expression of that through her vocation as a housewife. It is through these characters that Jane encounters in the novel that she is able to learn and deepen the understanding of her own faith. In the end, it is the times of extreme distress when she turns to prayer that she finds answers in the quiet conversations between her and God. It is through all these encounters that Jane grows into a confident woman of Christian faith.