At the beginning of Brontë's novel Jane Eyre, Jane is ignorant of much of the teachings of Christianity and wishes vengeance on her cruel aunt and cousins, whom she lives with. But when she is sent away to Lowood, a school for orphaned girls, she not only encounters moral teaching but makes friends with Helen, a girl who is facing death and teaches Jane in ways of forgiveness. In one of their first discussions on the subject, Jane declares:
"But I feel this, Helen: I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved." . . . "It is not violence that best overcomes hate — nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury."
"Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how he acts; make his word your rule, and his conduct your example."
"What does he say?"
"Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you." [p. 49]
Jane's change from a rash, angry young girl to a level-headed young woman is remarkable. By the time she is positioned as a governess at Thornfield Hall, she is able to make religious arguments over morals with her master, Mr. Rochester.
Only one thing I know: you said you were not as good as you should like to be, and that you regretted your own imperfection; — one thing I can comprehend: you intimated that to have a sullied memory was a perpetual bane. It seems to me, that if you tried hard, you would in time find it possible to become what you yourself would approve; and that if from this day you began with resolution to correct your thoughts and actions, you would in a few years have laid up a new and stainless store of recollections, to which you might revert with pleasure.'
"Justly thought; rightly said, Miss Eyre; and at this moment, I am paving hell with energy.' [pp. 117-18]
1. What changes is Helen able to bring about in Jane's character and life? What is the significance of both their friendship and Helen's consequent death to Jane? Why does Brontë have Helen die?
2. Many religious allusions are made throughout this novel, both in the narration of the text and in the dialogue. What is the role of religion is Jane's life? What purpose does it serve in the novel as a whole?
3. Governesses have a precarious role in the household they work in, balancing somewhere between a servant and part of the family. How does this play itself out in her relationship to Mr. Rochester? What significance to this relationship are these discussions of morals, which occur often between Jane and him?
4. How does the idea of revenge play a part in this story? In what ways do we see it manifest itself? What is the significance of the contrast between Jane's desire for it and Mr. Rochester's?
Last updated 2 February 2004