Religion in Jane Eyre

Religion plays a part in Jane Eyre in a number of ways, and Jane's opinions of the characters or concepts concerned form an important part of the narrative

Fictional clergymen

Photo by Tom Jollife available through Creative CommonsThere are several characters in the novel who are clergymen:

  • Mr. Brocklehurst exercises a harsh form of Calvinism which lays stress on the unregenerate nature of the girls at Lowood and suppresses their natural impulses. He is also revealed as a hypocrite who preaches against luxury, yet allows it to his own wife and daughter
    • Jane disapproves deeply of Brocklehurst, for the suffering he causes, for his denial of the natural and for his hypocrisy
  • St John Rivers also expresses Calvinist views, but he has a genuine commitment to his vocation to be a missionary and is prepared to undergo self-denial (as in his feelings for Rosamund), suffering and even death in the pursuit of his duties: he is the ideal Christian pilgrim, as the references to Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress on the last page of the novel make clear
    • Although Jane finds herself unable to share St John's life, she understands and applauds his commitment – it is notable that the novel ends with his words
  • Both Miss Temple and Mary Rivers marry clergymen. Little is said about either of these characters, but it is clear that they earn Jane's approval.

A variety of religious beliefs

Other characters in Jane Eyre represent a range of religious beliefs and attitudes:

  • Helen Burns preaches an ideal of acceptance and resignation, both to her position in the world and to the fate God has decreed for her; thus she is uncomplaining about her treatment at Lowood and can face her own death with fortitude
    • Jane finds this position unsatisfactory, not because of lack of faith but because it is always her instinct to fight for both life and justice
  • Eliza Reed is planning to convert to Roman Catholicism and become a nun, living in a convent
    • Jane is always hostile towards Eliza and her distaste for Eliza's plan to become a nun is a combination of her Protestantism and her belief that to hide yourself away in a convent is a denial of life

The moral assessment of characters

Within the novel, characters are often seen in relation to Christian virtues and concepts such as charity, unselfishness, repentance and forgiveness. This is most evident in the case of Rochester, who exercises the Christian virtue of pity in keeping his wife at Thornfield, but who considers committing bigamy, and who is repentant and grateful at the end of the novel.

Imagery from the Bible

The language of the novel is full of biblical references: these are noted in the section Jane Eyre Synopses, but a few general points are worth making:

  • Both Brocklehurst and St John Rivers make frequent references to the Bible, as might be expected, given their vocation
  • Rochester also alludes to or quotes from the Bible; in the early part of the book, he often likens himself to Satan, the fallen angel, but by the end of the novel his references tend to be drawn from less harsh sections of the Bible that speak of forgiveness: it is clear that through suffering he has undergone a moral regeneration (even his physical suffering echoes Jesus' words about losing a hand and eye rather than sin Mark 9:47–48).
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