Though it has already come up as a topic of discussion in this blog, religion serves as a central motif in the novel that brings up many complex ideas. I felt the need to further discuss its role in Jane Eyre and, in particular, her personal responses to religious influences in her personal development.
Even during her youth at Gateshead, Jane’s unique response to a series of common religious catechisms demonstrates an independent character that defies the standards of a young girl of her position and upbringing. When asked how to avoid the fires of hell, Jane (rather stubbornly) responds that she “must keep in good health, and not die” (39). From the novel’s very onset, then, the societal norms of Christianity are imposed on Jane; however, her unconventional response establishes her as a freely thinking individual, fully capable of resisting any principles she sees as unjust.
Yet, Jane’s relationship with religion is not merely one of resistance and rebellion. As she undergoes “bildung,” Jane comes to curate her own religious principles. She admires, and even matures by learning from, the ascetic principles of Helen Burns when at Lowood, and distinguishes Helen’s Christianity from the hypocritical Christianity of Mr. Brocklehurst. After leaving Thornfield with only a few coins to her name, Jane even marvels at “His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence” (373) and gives thanks to “the Source of Life.” When rescued by the hospitality of St. John’s sisters, she again gives thanks to God.
However, unlike St. John or Helen Burns, Jane is not absorbed into her religious beliefs; rather, they are one of the many elements that have contributed to her personal growth and worldview. Right after giving thanks to God, Jane acknowledges that “the next day, Want came to me.” Religion alone is not enough to sustain her. Similarly, right before Jane commits to St. John’s evangelical mission, her mind rings with the call “Jane! Jane! Jane!” and is again prevented from committing completely to religion. Instead, Jane is ultimately dominated by her physical needs and the internal voices that haunt her in the form of Mr. Rochester– a supernatural, if not religious, force of its own. Jane’s individual character, then, remains independent of the societal elements of religion that may be pressed onto her.