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.
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