Religion in Jane Eyre: Analysis & Examples

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  • 0:04 Genre, Authorship, & Religion
  • 0:57 Plot: Jane's Early Childhood
  • 2:08 Jane, Rochester, & Religion
  • 3:25 Biblical Allusions
  • 4:48 Fire and Biblical Imagery
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

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.

Some of Jane Eyre's ambivalence toward 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.

Plot: Jane's 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.

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's 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?''

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