What are the meanings of Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre?
Because it is such a vast and complex work, there are many central concerns or meanings to Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre. Perhaps the central value being promulgated is the importance of steadfast adherence to moral values in making one's life choices.
One of the major parts of this has to do with religion. Brontë herself was the daughter of a clergyman, and in the novel we see two different models of Evangelical religion, the first a harsh and hypocritical one promulgated by Sarah Reed and the Lowood School, more concerned with judgment and punishment than with charity, and another kinder model exemplified by charity and self-sacrifice found in Helen Burns and the Rivers family. Jane herself struggles to find her own spiritual path, balancing her own temperament with her belief system and the models of religion that surround her.
The second issue that shapes much of the book is the proper role for women in society. While many career paths would have been open to an orphaned young man, a woman such as Jane (and Charlotte herself) of the middle or upper classes really only had a choice between teaching and marriage. Jane struggles to find a path that enables her to live within these constraints.
Finally, one of the more important meanings or points the reader is intended to take away from the book is what evangelicals call "the right and duty of private judgment" or the necessity of following one's own conscience, irrespective of the general opinions of society:
“If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”
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