The Theme Of Spiritual Journey In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
In Victorian London, women were undoubtedly considered the lesser of the sexes. Women were expected to stay at home and it was socially unacceptable, even more difficult, for them to gain a higher education. It was predicted that women were passive when it came to romance, and it would be heinous to indulge in their passion. Charlotte Bronte developed the theme of spiritual journey in Jane Eyre through characters and symbolism that ultimately leads to Jane’s independence.
Characters that shape Jane’s early life are Mr. Brocklehurst, Miss Temple, and Helen Burns. Mr. Brocklehurst believed Mrs. Reed when she told him about Jane’s constant lying and bad behavior. Since Mr. Brocklehurst “follows through with his threats, Jane feels as though she has been branded for life”. However, through Miss Temple’s investigation, Jane was proven innocent of the charges. Because of Mr. Brocklehurst being a part of Jane’s life, she learned that not one person alone can put a permanent label on her, but that her deeds alone will prove her true character. Mr. Brocklehurst troubles Miss Temple after she gave the students bread and cheese after they received burnt porridge. Miss Temple did not yield however, asserting that she had done what she felt morally obligated to do and that if recompenses were necessary, she would take them on as it was her decision. Miss Temple showed Jane the importance of standing up for what is morally right and that it is worth any consequences that come with that decision. Among Jane’s peers at Lowood, Helen Burns tries to show Jane that nothing on Earth will satisfy her and that fulfillment can only be achieved through death. Helen believes that she cannot do anything right in this life and that is why she takes on the constant suffering of physical beratement and being humiliated in front of the other students. Jane Eyre admires Helen’s good nature, yet despises her for not standing up for herself, therefore Jane learns to be kind, but the act of denying her passions is beyond her. Jane Eyre is exposed to Mr. Brocklehurst, Miss Temple, and Helen Burn’s way of life and must decide for herself what kind of person she wants to grow up to be.
Symbolism in Jane’s early life involve Gateshead, the Red Room, and Lowood. In Gateshead, the “head” is the start of Jane’s trek, while the “gate” is what she must “pass through” to cultivate her independence. In every journey there must be a starting point, Jane’s begins at Gateshead with the family that does not want her, allowing Jane the freedom to be different when they send her away. Jane’s confinement to the Red Room at Gateshead represents many aspects of Jane’s reality. The fury Jane has is represented by the red paint, and Jane experiences a moment in which she believed she was going to die, and since her uncle did perish in the Red Room, the room is also a symbol of the cruelty against her. Jane’s rage over the kerfuffle fuels her anger against the injustice within the Reed household and the moment in the Red Room is the closest thing Jane has yet come to an ethereal experience as well as the first of two times in her life that she loses consciousness. After she leaves Gateshead, “Lowood’ is not only a ‘low’ point in her journey, but it is also a ‘wood’ where the big bad wolf Mr. Brocklehurst takes her”. At Lowood, Jane first feels “branded” by Mr. Brocklehurst and then watched her best friend, Helen Burns, die of consumption. Jane’s experience of death at Lowood and the inequalities at Gateshead convey her progress in her spiritual journey of life.
Characters that shape Jane’s life as a young adult are Bertha Mason, St. John, and Mr. Rochester. A pivotal character in Jane’s life is Bertha Mason. Bertha is the only thing that stands in the way of Jane’s marriage to Rochester, both in her actions taken against Jane and in the spiritual sense. Bertha Mason is the one that “tears the veil and destroys Jane’s illusory romance with Rochester. It is she who shows Jane the danger of losing touch with reality, of inhabiting a world of fantasy” (Berg 83). The fact that there is an already existing Mrs. Rochester ruins Jane’s chance of a legitimate marriage with Rochester. Though she has gone insane from being with Rochester, Bertha does her best to keep Jane from making the same mistake. This revelation gave Jane the ability to rationalize and remove herself from the situation. For the first time since being at Lowood Jane has reached stability in her life at Marsh End. However, Jane must struggle again as St. John asks her to give up her desires, her autonomy, and all her goals she has ever had to partake in a “loveless existence” as a missionary. St. John’s constant beratement caused Jane to nearly relent, but it would have been a betrayal of her beliefs and at that point she heard her God call out to her. Despite how he comes to feel for Jane, Mr. Rochester is sometimes just another oppressor in her life since he is used to getting his way and spinning people around on the tip of his finger, as he does to Mrs. Faifax by always making her keep the house fully prepared for guests since he will go and come as he pleases with no warning. However, Mr. Rochester does find Jane intoxicating since she is unique compared to the others, she does not service his needs and even speaks to him on common ground. Jane does, however, wish to be “respectful and polite” to Mr. Rochester despite her roughness around the edges due to her lack of experience. Jane’s role as governess is also her first challenge at being autonomous. Despite his oppressive nature, Jane also grows very fond of Mr. Rochester, in her naivety, and niceness turns into romantic interest, which she must beware. Jane was able to keep her emotions in check, not wavering when Mr. Rochester expressed his supposed interest in Blanche Ingram. However, once he had revealed his true passion, Jane gave her love “whole heartedly” and Mr. Rochester became her everything, essentially making him an idol.
Jane has grown up with Christian beliefs and knows idolization to be a sin. When Jane’s union with Mr. Rochester gets broken off, she has a choice to make, run away and face great despair: a despair amplified by Mr. Rochester’s anguish and the possibility of what he might do because of his loneliness, or to let idolatry triumph. Jane chooses to keep what is right in God’s Law. This is the first test of Jane’s faith as a young adult and she chooses to trust in God by running away from Mr. Rochester and allowing God to take care of her daily needs. Later, when Jane is about to relent to St. John and start a life as a loveless missionary, she hears Mr. Rochester calling out to her, and breaks her enchantment, it was the ‘work of nature. ’ When she tracks down Mr. Rochester, now blind and crippled, yet knowing that God is good, he had become a proper husband for Jane. Jane realizes the honor and glory that can be accomplished as a missionary, yet when she hears Mr. Rochester’s voice in the wind, she recognizes that “God has an existence that transcends the New Testament as interpreted by males. God also created Nature, and the world”. Jane knew nothing of the fire that had killed the only impediment to her marriage with Rochester nor of his injuries, but trusted in God, and with those circumstances found Jane was finally allowed peace and happiness. Through Jane’s experiences with Bertha Mason, St. John, and Mr. Rochester she was able to learn what part of her beliefs were most important to her and eventually that led to her own independence.
Symbolism in Jane’s early adulthood includes Thornfield and Marsh End. Jane’s existence at Thornfield causes her to: sacrifice herself, like Christ, with a crown of thorns, rather than trade worldly pleasures and comforts for her integrity. “Marsh End” should be the “end” of her journey because it offers her a life of integrity and only integrity, but at the same time it is a “marsh”. Rather than give in to lust and idolatry, Jane leaves with nothing but the clothes on her back and little else, suffering just as Jesus Christ did and being forced to beg once she arrives at Marsh End. Jane eventually finds meaningful work and is offered to do God’s work as a missionary, a possibly fulfilling end to her journey, but the “marsh” means that she will have to give up everything she is to have that future. Character’s whose names are symbolic include St. John, Diana, and Mary. St. John is symbolic of the apostle John or even John the Baptist, as they both denied themselves. Diana and Mary could also “symbolize the virgin goddess of the hunt Diana and the Virgin Mother, both powerful female deities”. While the names of Thornfield and Marsh End emphasize how Jane struggled for her identity but ultimately chose to believe in her own faith at those locations, while the names of other characters show how faith is involved throughout her life.
Charlotte Bronte’s use of locations gave an instantaneous view point of how Jane journeyed through life, like Lowood was a low point. While Bronte’s use of characters evolved Jane’s spiritual understanding and forced her to take a stance in ideology, exemplified by Bertha Mason giving her a shock to reality and Jane having to choose over idolatry or integrity. Jane eventually arrives at tranquility in a little cottage at Ferndean with Rochester as a result of the spiritual journey she undertook.
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