Instilled in Jane Eyre’s life story is a subdued search for God and a sought for consolation through religion. Making this a challenge for Jane, Charlotte Brontë frequently associates Jane with characters who have religious ideals that clash with one another. Certain religious ideals are oftentimes misconstrued by significant people in Jane’s life. Some of these people include; Mr. Brocklehurst, the supervisor of the Lowood Institute which was the boarding school Jane attended for orphan girls. He was the ultimate hypocrite because he strongly emphasized the value of humility before God. On the other hand, Jane’s first real friend whom she met at the Lowood institute is very devout and clearly plays the role of a martyr. Jane’s newfound cousin, St. John opens her eyes and aids in her becoming an increasingly Christian character, although he is lacking an important Christian value.
As stated before, Mr Brocklehurst is an exemplary case of the hypocrisy of a fellacious religious life. When the rigid Mrs. Reed decides to send Jane away to boarding school, she invites Mr. Brocklehurst over to inform him that Jane is a bad child. He asks her if she likes psalms and she tells him she finds them uninteresting. So, he replies, “That proves you have a wicked heart and you have to change it: to give you a new clean one: to take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Page 40) Rather than being as benevolent as a true Christian would to a child, he is overly judgemental and proceeds with the pattern of dehumanization and inequity which has shaped Jane’s childhood. Instead of providing Jane with his forgiveness like a true Christian, he demands for all the Lowood girls to shun her. In a similar manner, he advocates the notion that all humans are inherently evil and must overcome it. In doing this, he attempts to rid his students of their pride by forcing them to undergo crude changes in their appearances. He does this by particularly starving his students, cutting off a girl’s naturally curly hair and subjecting the girls to plainclothes that are not nearly warm enough in the winter. In turn, he allows his own daughters to prance around in fancy clothing and curled hair, emphasizing his role as a hypocrite.
On the contrary, Helen Burns is one of the initial examples of religion being applied accurately. Helen instructs Jane, “Make his word you rule, and his conduct your example… love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you.” (Page 69) Later in life, Jane takes this advice and turns it into a reality by wholeheartedly forgiving her harsh aunt, Mrs. Reed as she nears death. Jane feels as though she did what was right even though, Mrs. Reed still showed very little compassion toward her. Helen also expressed how she believed God to be the universal parent. In doing so, she encourages Jane, someone who is a strong believer in the present to work hard, be forgiving and possess thick skin because God will reward everyone in the future, in heaven.
Yet another philosophical character Brontë incorporated in Jane Eyre is none other than St. John Rivers. St. John, Jane’s newly discovered cousin is always striving to unleash himself from the chains of emotional attachment. For St. John, spiritual enjoyment is acquired from his strong commitment to carrying out, “God’s work,” rather than the positive outcomes of his work. Therefore, one reason Jane and St. John merely get along is because they both have such controlled mentalities. However, St. John takes it a step farther. This is particularly expressed when Jane presses the topic of Rosamond Oliver, a woman Jane is certain takes a liking to him. He reacts by choosing to only allow himself to think about Rosamond for very few minutes. Here, he is suppressing feelings of love and worldly desire in order to fully focus on his main goal of following Jesus. This is the principle reason Jane rejects St. John when he wants to marry her. St. John really only believes that Jane will be an impressive missionary wife because she could travel with him to India to carry out spiritual labor whilst not distracting him from his job. As Jane thinks to herself, “I should suffer often, no doubt, attached to to him only in this capacity: my body would be under a stringent yoke, but my heart and mind would be free,” (Page 455) she realizes that he is an undeniably virtuous man but his lack of the Christian virtues of love and compassion would stand in her way of marrying him.
In the final analysis, each one of these characters have impacted Jane both spiritually and emotionally in positive and negative ways. From a young age, it is extremely difficult for Jane to faithfully follow religion and trust in god, given the heart wrenching and unpromising cards she had been dealt her whole life. Despite this, characters like Helen Burns and St. John Rivers manage to transform her into a more spiritual being. From Helen, Jane learns the importance of forgiveness and endurance. That you must bear the sins of others, turn the other cheek and love thy enemy. St. John’s devotion to God pushes Jane to become more Christian but more importantly teaches her that none of your devotion and labors for God matter if you don’t hold the virtues of compassion and love somewhere in your heart. Although he impacted Jane negatively, Mr. Brocklehurst left her with a positive message of practicing what you preach since he constantly stole money from the school for himself and strongly mistreated his students while always preaching for them to overcome the “evil” in their hearts. In essence, Jane may not have been as absorbed into her religious beliefs, but because of these characters, they all contributed to her personal growth in life.