In Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Religion plays an integral part in the overall theme of the book, religion governs these characters such as Mr. Brocklehurst, Eliza Reed, and St. John Rivers. Jane experiences and is introduced to many forms/ideas about religion, Bronte wants to show us as readers, that religion governed and played a huge role in society. At the beginning of Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane is introduced to a character named Mr. Brocklehurst, who is a stern, strict man and uses God as a leverage for his dominance and power. Mr. Brocklehurst comes into play when Jane’s aunt Mrs. Reed calls for her daughter to be cast out and cleansed from the impurities consumed within her, as she is viewed as a wicked child who fights with her brother John Reed. Mr. Brocklehurst uses religion as a form of power and control over his students at Lowood school. Bronte describes in the book, how Mr. Brocklehurst is perceived when he tells Jane, “That proves you have a wicked heart; and you must pray to God to change it: to give you a new and clean one: to take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (40). Therefore Mr. Brocklehurst is not a righteous person, he downgrades Jane and the students at Lowood school.
Mr. Brocklehurst uses religion, not for the children’s sake, but uses religion as a form of justification for his agenda as a form of control. More of this is apparent in the book, Bronte describes that Mr. Brocklehurst used his stature to make Jane stands on a stool for half an hour, for dropping her slate. “Let her stand half an hour longer on that stool, and let no one speak to her during the remainder of the day” (79). Indeed, Mr. Brocklehurst is a hypocrite, instead of helping others and preaching God, he instead, preaches for his gain and he cuts girls hairs and shuns them, but his daughters live in luxury. (Bronte,2006, p.75-77). When Helen Burns passes away, Mr. Brocklehurst realizes his faults and his wrongdoings. By then it is too late, and he is relieved of his duties and is replaced by better teachers at Lowood school. When Jane Eyre learns of her mother’s sudden sickness, she sets out on a journey to see her Aunt reed. When she arrives, she rekindles her relationships with her cousins, Georgina and Eliza reed. Eliza, unlike John Rivers and Mr. Brocklehurst, sets out to the Continent to find herself and God as Bronte mentions when Jane speaks of what her cousin told her, “I am obliged to you for your valuable services and discreet conduct! There is some difference between living with such a one as you and wish Georgina: you perform your part in life, and burden to no one” (279). Additionally, Eliza is telling Jane that this life is short, don’t waste it, do what makes you happy.
Eliza is hellbent on finding herself, and tells Jane she’ll devote herself to the Roman catholic dogmas, as she must take the veil. Eliza sees her life as wasted and wants something good in this life, to dedicate herself to something, and to make a change. Eliza doesn’t want to end up like her brother, John Reed who wasted his life on money, alcohol and eventually couldn’t bear it and committed suicide. The difference between Eliza and Mr. Brocklehurst is that Eliza isn’t a control freak, she doesn’t want power or control. Eliza is trying to contain herself from harm and the impurities of life.
Lastly, towards the end of Bronte’s book St. John Rivers is introduced when he stumbles upon Jane when she leaves Rochester because she couldn’t bear him, as he was still married. St. John Rivers is introduced as a young, handsome educated clergyman, but what holds him back from being a saint, is that he too is controlling of a person, cold in his emotions, and doesn’t usually care for other’s opinions. However, he has his sight on being a missionary in India. Jane gets coerced into marriage, as John forcefully wants her to marry him in the sake of being a missionary’s wife, but Jane does not want this, as she isn’t in love with John. John wants Jane to be a robot, a servant who obeys his command, while Jane wants to be a free spirit and doesn’t want to be governed by religion.
As explained by Bronte towards the end of the book, Diana Rivers states, “He is a good man and a great man; but he forgets, pitilessly, feelings and claims of little people, in pursuing his large views” (479). What Diana is trying to tell us about her brother John is that he is too self-righteous/self-centered, he’s so focused on his mission that he has lost any sense of human emotions, and he’s too focused on religion that he is an unhappy individual, like Eliza. John is also a hypocrite like Mr. Brocklehurst, as he uses God, as an anchor to force Jane to marry him, because if she doesn’t marry him, she refuses the will of God. Finally, John Rivers, Eliza, and Mr. Brocklehurst all share one common trait, they all use religion to mask their true self and their faults. Additionally, they all have dedicated their lives to God, but their views on religion are askew and is rather a form of control. Overall, they all use religion as some form of governor. Mr. Brocklehurst uses religion to scare the children at Lowood, as a form of fear and power over them, as he views himself as a monarch. Eliza uses religion to sustain her faults, to not be like her Mother Reed, and her brother John Reed, who both of which bullied and ridiculed Jane.
Lastly, John Rivers used religion to coerce Jane into marriage, and govern her life with religion. All three characters display no emotion or connection, as they’re all viewed as callous, and strict. The main theme of Bronte’s Jane Eyre, is that being a conventional person, doesn’t make you a moral person, and being a self-righteous person, doesn’t make you a follower of religion. All three characters were consumed by religion that they forgot what it’s like to be human. They forgot what it’s like to love, to live, and to be free of constraints, and thus that is the dangerous morality they all share.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre, edited by Stevie Davies. Reprint Edition. Penguin Classics, 2006, pp. 40-479.