Loresa D. Matarazzo Response Paper, Question #3

Principles of Lit. Study 350:220 July 21, 2004

Moral Conscience vs. Church Doctrine

Contemporary readers would likely disagree with Elizabeth Rigby's assertion that Jane Eyre is an "anti-Christian composition;" however, in light of the prevailing religious doctrine of the Evangelical movement and turmoil regarding same during the mid-1800's, one can easily under-stand Ms. Rigby's reasoning for this indictment at the time.

There are at least three characters within the novel associated with Christianity; namely-Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen Burns and St. John Rivers, and it is made clear in the text that Jane refuses to pledge herself to the doctrine espoused by any of them. It is not difficult to object to Mr. Brocklehurst's hypocrisy and to find him detestable. With regard to Helen Burns, it is impossible not to develop fond feelings for her, but it is also not possible to ignore Jane's skepticism with regard to Helen's martyr-like religious doctrine. The character of St. John Rivers embodies another fundamental Christian view--that man must sacrifice on earth in order to reap his rewards in heaven; this view, Jane also eschews, as she is resolved to find happiness here on earth. She detests Mr. Brocklehurst, and, although she has warm feelings toward Helen as well as St. John, she clearly challenges their religious philosophies. In the interest of space, I will focus solely on Jane's opposition toward the doctrine held to by Mr. Brocklehurst.
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The character of Mr. Brocklehurst reveals Jane's attitude toward the extreme Evangelical religion. She advises the reader of her immediate critical impression of him as a cold, insensitive person: "I looked up at-a black pillar!...the grim face at the top was like a carved mask...and she introduced me to the stony stranger..." (Chapter IV, p. 26). Brocklehurst's ensuing dialogue with 10-year-old Jane seems more like an inquisition than a conversation, during which he seeks to instill fear: "Children younger than you die daily...It is to be feared the same could not be said of you, were you to ...

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