29 January 2013
Reading Response: Jane Eyre Vol. III
Religion plays a prominent role in the life of Jane Eyre, and arguably the two most religious characters she encounters are Helen Burns and St. John Rivers. Both play similar—if slightly different—parts in Jane’s own personal faith. Both portray a noble and self-sacrificial Catholicism. But while Jane may admire these characters and try to emulate the qualities they possess, she ultimately bends toward her own style of faith—one that is self-affirming rather than self-denying; one more Protestant than Catholic.
If not for Helen Burns, Jane Eyre may have never been much attracted to Christianity. But Helen exemplified an almost otherworldly faith that stood strong in the midst of all types of trials and tribulations. At first, Jane could not comprehend how Helen could bear to humbly accept the injustices committed against her. But over time, Jane learned to face the evils of the world with grace and dignity. Even though Jane has a natural inclination toward reckless rebellion, as shown by her lashing out against John Reed, it was Helen who taught her the ability to control these impulses.
Helen influenced Jane by showing her a noble face that flourishes under hardship. Because of this, St. John Rivers sees in her “a soul that reveled in the flame and excitement of sacrifice” (Bronte 403). Rivers notices a strong sense of duty in Jane, despite her vivacity and passion, and seeks to cultivate it by teaching her Hindostanee. At a climactic moment, Jane almost gives in to St. John’s marriage proposal when she “put love out of the question, and thought only of duty” (Bronte 419). But in the end, she reverts to thinking of Mr. Rochester. The thirst for his love overpowers any heavenly duty she feels to be a missionary’s wife in India. Her turn away from St. John is a key moment in the novel because it is here that she returns decisively to trusting the instincts of her own heart. “It...