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Critiquing Christian Interpretations in Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"

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Words: 1108 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 1108|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Mr. Brocklehurst - The Self-Righteous Hypocrite
  3. St. John Rivers - The Ascetic Devotee
  4. Helen Burns - The Passive Ascetic
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works Cited

Introduction

Religion, a multifaceted and intricate concept, often encompasses a wide spectrum of perspectives, interpretations, and values, even within the confines of a single faith. In Charlotte Bronte's novel "Jane Eyre," the author delves into the diverse interpretations of Christianity, employing them as a lens through which to critique various forms of religious practice. The titular character, Jane, grapples with the perennial dilemma of choosing between moral duty and personal desires throughout the narrative. As the story unfolds, Jane encounters several religious figures, with three prominent ones being Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, and St. John Rivers. Each of these characters represents a distinct facet of Christianity that Jane, in her pursuit of self-understanding and faith, finds herself in partial disagreement with. Bronte employs these character interactions to shed light on what she perceives as misconceptions regarding the essence and purpose of Christianity, while also alluding to values that she deems truly reflective of Christian principles.

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Mr. Brocklehurst - The Self-Righteous Hypocrite

Mr. Robert Brocklehurst embodies a self-righteous and hypocritical interpretation of Christianity, using religion as a means to rationalize the mistreatment of children at Lowood School. Under the guise of promoting Christian virtues like humility and self-sacrifice, Brocklehurst enforces cruel and un-Christian methods to subdue and control the students. He claims that his practices aim to strip the children of their egos, yet, paradoxically, he resorts to humiliation, manipulation, and deprivation, which run counter to Christian principles. His students endure deprivation of basic necessities like food and proper clothing, with one girl even coerced into cutting her hair to appear humble and inconspicuous. Furthermore, while he preaches the importance of modesty and humility, his own family displays ostentatious wealth and extravagance. This glaring hypocrisy reveals a stark contrast between his professed Christian values and his actions. Jane, in stark contrast, advocates for a Christianity that recognizes the equality of all individuals before God, irrespective of gender, wealth, or societal status. Her belief that she and Mr. Rochester stand as equals before God, regardless of societal norms, underscores her rejection of Brocklehurst's self-righteous interpretation of Christianity. Bronte, through Jane's character, questions the authenticity of such a self-serving form of religiosity, asserting that true Christianity transcends such hypocrisy.

St. John Rivers - The Ascetic Devotee

St. John Rivers embodies a view of Christianity characterized by unwavering and austere devotion. He epitomizes self-discipline and religious commitment, prioritizing faith over personal happiness or pleasure. Rivers emphasizes the spiritual aspect of life, relegating physical experiences to a secondary role. His demeanor is marked by an unusual bitterness and an absence of comforting gentleness. Despite his apparent dedication to clerical duties and charity work, there is a conspicuous absence of joy in his life. Jane observes that, although Rivers is zealous in his ministerial pursuits and leads a blameless life, he seems devoid of the inner serenity and contentment that should accompany a sincere Christian. Rivers's proposal to Jane encapsulates his self-abnegation and devotion to his religious calling, as he willingly forsakes his personal feelings for Rosamond in favor of pursuing missionary work in India with Jane. Jane's refusal of Rivers's proposal can be interpreted as Bronte's critique of an extreme religious worldview. Jane recognizes that accepting the proposal would mean subordinating her personal desires to her religious obligations, but she desires to pursue her own dreams and seek happiness on Earth. Consequently, she rejects Rivers and ultimately returns to her true love, Mr. Rochester. The novel emphasizes the importance of striking a balance between religious devotion and personal fulfillment, rather than favoring one over the other.

Helen Burns - The Passive Ascetic

Helen Burns represents a form of Christianity rooted in submission and asceticism. She advocates patience and acceptance in the face of suffering, prioritizing spiritual salvation over earthly contentment. Helen subscribes to the belief that death is the gateway to happiness and glory, emphasizing the importance of finding solace in the afterlife. She demonstrates a remarkable tolerance for injustice, brushing off the mistreatment she and her peers endure at Lowood School with stoic resignation. She does not concern herself with the injustices of her present life, as she believes that eternal rewards await her in death. In stark contrast, Jane refuses to passively forgive those who wrong her. She believes in standing up against injustice, demonstrating a commitment to creating a better life in the present rather than merely awaiting divine judgment. Jane's inability to fully embrace Helen's doctrines underscores Bronte's criticism of a passive Christian mindset. Jane's desire for justice and her reluctance to accept injustice align more closely with the value Bronte places on earthly life and the pursuit of happiness in the here and now. This juxtaposition of ideologies serves to highlight Bronte's emphasis on the importance of human existence and the pursuit of contentment in the present.

Conclusion

In "Jane Eyre," Charlotte Bronte utilizes a cast of diverse characters to explore and critique various interpretations of Christianity. Through the characters of Mr. Brocklehurst, St. John Rivers, and Helen Burns, the author highlights aspects of religious practice that Jane ultimately rejects in her pursuit of genuine faith. Bronte suggests that self-righteousness, self-abnegation, and passive acceptance of injustice are not true reflections of Christian principles. Instead, she advocates for a Christianity that recognizes the equality of all individuals before God, balances religious devotion with personal happiness, and stands against injustice in the present rather than relying solely on divine judgment in the afterlife.

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As Jane undergoes her spiritual journey, she arrives at a nuanced understanding of the role of religion in her life. Importantly, this understanding does not require her to forsake her personal desires or ambitions but encourages a harmonious coexistence of faith and earthly fulfillment. In many ways, Bronte's own beliefs and experiences parallel those of Jane, suggesting that the character's religious views may serve as a reflection of the author's personal convictions. Through "Jane Eyre," Bronte invites readers to contemplate the essence of true Christian practice and the values that truly embody the Christian faith.

Works Cited

  1. Bronte, C. (1847). Jane Eyre. Smith, Elder, & Co.
  2. Dunn, R. (1996). The Theological Character of Jane Eyre. Literature and Theology, 10(3), 254-267.
  3. Lodge, S. (1984). Jane Eyre: A World of Change. Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 39(4), 483-499.
  4. Machann, C. L. (2001). The Role of the Pupil-Teacher in Jane Eyre: A Study of Charlotte Bronte's Use of the Governess Plot. Victorian Literature and Culture, 29(1), 177-193.
  5. Zonana, J. (1980). The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structure of Jane Eyre. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 5(1), 63-88.
  6. Gilbert, S. M., & Gubar, S. (1984). The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Yale University Press.
  7. Fraser, R. (1988). Jane Eyre and the Invention of the Self. New York University Press.
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Critiquing Christian Interpretations in Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/charlotte-brontes-christianity-equality-and-pleasure-in-jane-eyre/
“Critiquing Christian Interpretations in Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/charlotte-brontes-christianity-equality-and-pleasure-in-jane-eyre/
Critiquing Christian Interpretations in Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/charlotte-brontes-christianity-equality-and-pleasure-in-jane-eyre/> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2024].
Critiquing Christian Interpretations in Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Feb 10 [cited 2024 Feb 22]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/charlotte-brontes-christianity-equality-and-pleasure-in-jane-eyre/
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