Jane Eyre is a coming of age story about an orphan who, through her struggles, attempts to find her place in life despite the obstacles she encounters. Throughout the novel we are given insight to the development of her character as she balances her beliefs about religion, love, freedom, and her position in life. Charlotte Bronte’s Jayne Eyre addresses several important themes that high school students can relate to or may have experienced themselves. The novel incorporates themes of religion, class, and love that allow for a connection to real life situations, thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
Religion is a difficult subject that must be navigated carefully in a classroom setting. In the novel, Bronte incorporates religion as a theme, which aids in the development of Jane’s character but also, in my opinion, represents the choices we have as individuals. Her spiritual journey allows her to encounter several different types of religions and in the end allows her to develop her own beliefs and understanding of God. Bronte uses characters such as Mr. Brocklehurst, to represent Evangelicalism, and Helen, to represent Christianity, as symbols of religion that Jane encounters. Jane finds Mr. Brocklehurst hypocritical and Helen to passive and submissive and eventually finds her own spiritual balance and faith in God. Jane’s spiritual journey is one of choice and understanding that students can learn from.
Social class is also an important theme in Jane Eyre and Bronte sheds light on it through the ambiguous social class that she places on her protagonist. Jane is a governess and is educated, sophisticated, and cultured like her aristocrat counterparts, but is also an employee and looked upon as a servant. Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester displays the importance of social class at the time. Jane, in societies views, is capable of being Mr. Rochester’s intellectual equal but not his social equal due to her social class. Social class is an interesting theme that students can pull out of this book and question whether culture or wealth should define who we are as people.
The protagonist’s search for love and freedom in her life is a major reoccurring theme in the novel that many students can relate to. Throughout the novel Jane displays a strong desire to be loved and accepted, while at the same time displaying a longing for her freedom. Jane’s desire for belonging and love is a direct result of her childhood and the cruel treatment she suffered at the hands of her Aunt Reed and her cousins. Throughout her childhood she was alienated and exiled by her family, which left her lonely and created a desire for belonging and acceptance. Jane displays this feeling of wanting to be loved and accepted, at all cost, when she is sent to school at Lowood. She admits to her friend Helen that she would gladly accept physical pain if it came with acceptance and affection from her or Miss Temple. Jane also desires romantic love, but believes that acquiring it and getting married comes at the cost of sacrificing her freedom as an individual. Jane’s views of love are directly connected with her growth as a character and as she becomes self-sufficient she also learns to love and be loved without sacrifice.
Jane’s character develops and becomes more aware of thoughts, ideas, and feelings associated with the three themes of religion, class, and love. Jane learns who she is spiritually, understands her place in society through class, and learns to love and be loved without sacrificing herself. Life is a complicated thing for students to understand which includes these three themes of love, religion, and class. Understanding Jane’s struggle and growth with each theme, in my opinion, gives students not only an example of these three concepts but also explains how finding balance and understanding of love, religion, and class may help their own lives.