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
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 the students of Lowood live in.