Charlotte Brontë illustrates a coming-of-age plot through her work, Jane Eyre. From the time as an adolescent living under the roof of her relatives to her time as a married woman, Jane Eyre has had an ongoing conflict within herself. Due to the unequal treatment that she endures throughout her life, Jane continues on a path through life in which she searches for earthly gain which causes her to lose sight of the right essence of the omnipresent God. Although knowing of His existence, Jane Eyre at times chooses to ignore His will over her own because she lacks confidence in her actual moral duty as characters such as Mr. Brocklehurst and Helen Burns teach her contradictory lessons. As sins are a major factor in the plot, penance is paid by most of the characters by the end of the novel. Through Jane’s constant struggle between her desire to follow spiritual duty and receive earthly acknowledgment, Jane Eyre depicts the story of a young lady in search of true serenity and discovery both in mind and soul.
Due to the constant encounters with “stony” spiritual characters, Jane Eyre throughout the novel associates religion with a powerful and merciless God. Jane understands the basic principles of religion such as who is God and what is hell, but she fails to know what is her role throughout it all. Despite having the will to follow through with her faith, Jane still yearns for many of the rewards that she can reap on the earth. At a young age, when she first meets Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane Eyre describes him as a “black pillar;” he becomes her first association with religion and darkness (24 Brontë). Mr. Brocklehurst’s character is contradicted by the personality and beliefs of the friend Jane makes at Lowood, Helen Burns. Full of innocent spirituality, Helen does not care for materialism because she only believes in the joys of heaven. Jane Eyre struggles to follow either one of the characters’ beliefs as one is too severe whilst the other is too self-sacrificing. Neither Christian attitudes reflect what Jane is willing to obey. As a rebellious child, she is not able to go along with strict practices or deny who she truly is inside her heart.
Jane Eyre realizes the omnipotence of God through the actions that occur to many of the characters that are associated with the anguish in her life. As her cousin, St. John, offers another set of Christian conduct, he is met with an ill fate. Practically forcing her to become a submissive wife, St. John is used for depicting one of the seven deadly sins: pride. St. John only sought to make a name for himself, thus it led him to become a missionary in India. Since Jane was able to deny him, she was free from his prideful sin and saved from an early death on a path for glory. Jane Eyre begins to accept that everyone has their own way of complying with the will of God as seen in her prayerful act, “Prayed in my way- a different way to St John’s, but effective in its own fashion” (402). Aside from St. John, the novel also illustrates how other sinful characters are made to pay for their sins in the end. Mr. Rochester, who lived a life of adultery and pleasure, is left in the end as a cripple and blind. Although he does love her, one of Mr. Rochester’s motives for marrying Jane Eyre is because she can be the person to bring purity back into his life. Jane refuses to become a mistress and allows for a path in which God rightfully makes him reconcile with his past.
This spiritual negligence that Jane Eyre suffers with throughout the novel is directly influenced by this desire that she has to break the strict English class system enforced by society. Not only is she an orphan with a poor financial status, Jane is also a woman without a foothold in the social class. From an early age, Jane Eyre was verbally abused by her aunt and cousins which is where her strong desire to be acknowledged in the world began. During her rough time at Lowood, it became clear that Jane enjoys more what Mother Nature has to offer than God does. Her narration in chapter nine of the novel shows her deep appreciation for the beauty of May as she describes the scenery with adjectives of admiration, “A bright serene May it was; days of blue sky, placid sunshine, and soft western or southern gales filled up its duration,” (68). Readers can fully comprehend her deep love for the earthly world whilst being torn by her confusing thoughts regarding God, “Where is God? What is God?” (74).
To Jane Eyre, the earthly world is more tangible than a god that she feels may have abandoned her in the “red room” and during her stay at Lowood. As her life continues, and she forms a career as a governess, Jane is unsure but no longer ashamed of her position in society as she challenges Mr. Rochester when he speaks to her. She becomes comfortable with speaking to him in a tone that implies that they are of equal status to each other. This feeling of worldly gain is once more crushed when it is made clear to her that Jane should not have been flirtatious with her master. She flees from his home despite every ounce of her wishing for him. She loves Mr. Rochester but when he tries to manipulate her, Jane once more realizes that being changed is not what she wants. Jane Eyre wants to become somebody, but not if that somebody is not who she truly wants to be.
The rewarding aspect of the novel is when Jane is able to resolve the ongoing conflict within her. She, once she is rich and has a loving family, returns to the man she loves, Mr. Rochester, as his equal. They are happily married, in love, and are now of the same class all because of the gracious works of God. After living with her cousins, the Rivers, Jane has finally come to terms with her relationship with God. It may not be perfect, but it is exactly what she needs to move forward with her life. Charlotte Brontë allows for Jane Eyre to lose herself for a period of time in order for her to come to terms with everything and attempt to sort it all out. The unceasing clash between the earthly and spiritual world of Jane’s life helps to serve readers advice as they too struggle on their rugged journey through life.
- Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 3rd Ed., Bantam Books, 1987.