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How does religion affect the novel Jane Eyre by charlotte Bronte

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In the preface to Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte writes, “narrow human doctrines… should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.” And this is not the only place that religious references, more specifically Christian references, are mentioned in the preface. In fact there are Christian references in many places in the preface.

Charlotte Bronte was the daughter of a Church of England vicar who would almost certainly affected her religious beliefs and in the time the book was written religion played a larger part in the day-to-day lives of most people. As you can tell from these comments in the preface and her religious influences, Charlotte Bronte is clearly Christian so in this essay I will discuss the effect her religion had on the novel. I will do this by analysing the portrayal of religious characters.

First I will distinguish which characters are religious characters. In order of appearance in novel, the first notably religious character would be Mr Brocklehurst, the treasurer and manager of Lowood institution. Another student at Lowood, Helen Burns was also a devout Christian, and finally Mr St John Rivers, a man who took Jane into his home when she ran from Mr Rochester after discovering about his insane wife, Bertha. The other notable characters, including Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre herself, were not particularly religious or did not choose a particular doctrine like most of the more devout characters.

Mr Brocklehurst is portrayed as a hard, cruel man who uses religion as justification for causing great suffering and humiliation. He is described less physically than Mr St John Rivers and more emphasis is put on his character. The following quote is from a point in the book where Mr Brocklehurst demands all he girls of Lowood are to have their topknots (hair) cut off. This quote shows his attitude towards the girls of Lowood and his religion.

“I have a master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh”

This sort of language would not be in day-to-day use today but would have seemed perfectly normal when this was written. This quote is saying that in the name of his god he must purify the sprit of the girls whatever effect this may have on the living body. This is in keeping with the beliefs of Calvinism, but he and his family are shown to dress and behave like a typical upper class family.

Helen Burns is another student at Lowood Institute who strictly follows the doctrine of Calvinism (or reformed theology) which is the belief that only god can bring salvation. She says that we should all follow in the path of Jesus, forgive all evils and love all. This leads her to accept whatever punishment and criticism given even though it may not be deserved. For example after being beaten Helen told Jane:

“the Bible bids us return good for evil.”

In the storyline this difference in opinion between Helen Burns and Jane Eyre causes many disagreements and allows different views on religion to be shown.

Mr St John Rivers is a clergyman who takes Jane in when she runs away. John is initially portrayed as a kind man and not an ugly man but he could not quite be described as handsome.

“He was young – perhaps from twenty- eight to thirty – tall, slender; his face riveted the eye”

“His eyes were large and blue, with brown lashes; his high forehead, colorless as ivory, was partially streaked over by careless locks of fair hair.”

The imagery used here is very vivid and clear, which builds a clear picture in the mind of the reader. The description of Mr. St John Rivers is more focused on the physical description leaving the description of his character much more to show in the events that take place as the story progresses than in the description of Mr. Brocklehurst.

He takes Jane into where he is living and feeds her but soon we see the rest of Mr St John Rivers. We see that he is a cold man who wants power, glory and fame. He sees that he might get this through missionary work, and so asks Jane to marry him and go with him to India as a missionary’s wife as he thinks he can control her. He does not want the marriage for love; he really loves Rosamund, but hides it. He hides emotion and has become like a robot:

“With all his firmness and self-control,” thought I, “he tasks himself too far: locks every feeling and pang within – expresses, confesses, imparts nothing.”

In conclusion I think that religion has a rather negative portrayal as most of the religious characters are portrayed badly and/or hide all emotions, and Jane Eyre finds it impossible to believe in a particular doctrine. I think that Mr. Brocklehurst and Mr. St John Rivers overall are not portrayed positively where Helen Burns is portrayed positively but almost like a robot without emotion.

Helen Burns sees dying young as a good thing:

By dying young, I shall escape great sufferings. I had not qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have been continually at fault.”

Mr St John Rivers wanted to marry Jane, not for love, but to take her to India as a missionary’s wife. And finally Mr Brocklehurst caused great suffering to the girls at Lowood institute and said it was for the sake of their souls.

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