Copyright

Religion in Jane Eyre: Analysis & Examples

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë represents religion as a powerful force that can be used for evil or good. This lesson examines the novel's Romantic perspective on religion as seen in the lives of Jane, Rochester, and the other characters.

Jane Eyre: Genre, Authorship, and Religion

The presentation of religion in Jane Eyre is complex and nuanced. Throughout the novel, the supernatural is treated with great seriousness. Elements of the mysterious and otherworldly are intrinsic to the plot, rendering Jane Eyre typical of the genre of Gothic romance. Also typical of the Romantic movement is the novel's combination of skepticism toward organized religion with a generally positive portrayal of personal piety.

Charlotte Bronte
CB portrait

Some of Jane Eyre's ambivalence towards religion can be traced to the life of its author, Charlotte Brontë. The daughter of a priest in the Church of England, Charlotte herself was devout but also a fierce critic of religious hypocrisy. Responding to outcries against Jane Eyre as an anti-religious work, she summed up her views in the preface to the novel's second edition: 'Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion.' She offered no excuse or apology for Jane Eyre's contents.

The Book and Its Heroine

title page

Early Childhood

Jane Eyre is narrated in the first person, so Jane's perspective on religion shapes the narrative at every turn. Jane herself is devout despite the fact that her childhood abusers use religion to excuse their behavior. Servants in her aunt's household predict that 'God will punish her' or 'strike her dead.' In Chapter 3, however, the maid Bessie sings a hymn, 'God is a friend to the poor orphan child,' presenting an alternate view.

Religion vs. Faith at Lowood

Jane and Mr. Brocklehurst
wickedness

At Lowood School, where Jane is sent by her Aunt Reed, the school's brutal director, Mr. Brocklehurst, uses religion as an instrument of power. In Chapter 5, Lowood's biblical motto, exhorting good works and taken from the Sermon on the Mount, has no connection to the school's regime. Sunday services are a chill and joyless ritual, during which Mr. Brocklehurst speaks of the teachings of suffering. Famously, Jane fails to be intimidated by his threats of hellfire.

Also at Lowood, Jane meets her first true friend, Helen Burns. Helen's innocent faith is contrasted with the bullying and hypocrisy of Mr. Brocklehurst. Helen encourages Jane to forgive those who mistreat her, referring to the Gospels. Jane comes to share Helen's belief in the mercy of God and the equality of souls.

Jane, Rochester, and Religion

Jane Eyre's emphasis on spiritual equality is typical of the Romantic movement. The potential for this religious conviction to be socially subversive is made clear in Jane's relationship with Mr. Rochester. Despite the fact that he's her employer, Rochester recognizes Jane as his intellectual equal, and they become friends. There's also intense romantic chemistry between them. When Jane confesses her feelings to Rochester, she speaks as if they stood 'at the feet of God, equal, as we are.' Rochester responds by proposing marriage, saying 'My bride is here, for here is my equal and my likeness.'

Jane and Rochester's different attitudes toward religion are the source of troubles for their relationship. Rochester keeps trying to behave like God, which is problematic. His belief that he can claim moral authority to override convention is destructive because it is selfish. In leaving him, Jane advises him: 'Do as I do: trust in God and in yourself.' This dual reliance is the key to Jane's moral strength. In Chapter 24, Jane describes herself as tempted to idolize Mr. Rochester and neglect religion. When tempted to stay with Rochester as his mistress, she holds firm, telling herself: 'Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation...If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?'

Biblical Allusions

Direct and indirect allusions to the Bible abound in Jane Eyre, especially in moments of narrative tension. When Mr. Brocklehurst interviews Jane as a potential pupil, he's shocked to learn that Jane doesn't like the Psalms. The biblical books she prefers are dramatic, filled with prophecy and adventure. Jane clearly has read attentively, not with the mechanical rigidity of Mr. Brocklehurst. Although Bible-reading is not an automatic index of virtue, it can be associated with it, as Thornfield's kind housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, reads the Bible every morning.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account
Support