Throughout Jane Eyre, Brontë connects spirituality and religion to the principles of denial and suffering.  Often, for example, the students at Lowood eat disappointing, meager meals and suffer miserably as a result. Angered by the lack of substantial food for her students, Miss Temple confronts Mr. Brocklehurst.  Mr. Brocklehurst, who adopts the rhetoric of Evangelicalism, argues that denying his students bodily pleasures will make them more spiritual. He claims, in fact, that their empty stomachs will bring them closer to God and salvation  Miss Temple, however, adheres to more liberal ideals, providing Jane and Helen a generous afternoon tea.  Jane, a witness to these clashing beliefs, struggles with her own understanding of religion, wondering whether it is based upon obligations to the body or the soul.

"You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, self-denying.  Should an little accidental disappointment of the appetite occur, such as the spoiling of a meal, the under or the over dressing of a dish, the incident ought not to be neutralized by replacing with something more delicate the comfort lost; it ought to be improved to the spiritual edification of the pupils, by encouraging them to evince fortitude under the temporary privation...when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge into these children's mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!" [53]

We feasted that evening as on nectar and ambrosia . . . as we satisfied our famished appetites on the delicate fare she liberally supplied. [61]

Questions

By denying the luxury of a proper meal, are the girls obtaining a higher sort of knowledge? Is greater knowledge obtained when privileges (such as abundant food) are supplied? Is the connection between the physical and  the spiritual essential in worshipping God?

When Miss Temple gives Helen and Jane tea and toast, can this be considered an immoral action taken directly against God?  Does this reflect poorly on her character?  Does Mr. Brocklehurst's denial and Miss Temple's attempted "indulgence" reflect on the opposing nature of men and women as a whole?

Food is not the only area where the girls feel they are restricted or denied luxury or happiness. In what other areas are they denied certain privileges? Does this encourage a higher learning and spiritual understanding, or an undercurrent of revolt and revolution?


Victorian Overview Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre Discussion questions for Jane Eyre

Last updated 6 February 2004