What is the significance of religion in Jane Eyre?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Often the truest Christian is not the person who ostensibly professes one's faith, but, rather, the one who quietly lives it.  Jane Eyre is such a character, quietly driven by her moral fiber, her truly Christian nature.  Thus, religion does move the chain of events, the plot.

In "Jane Eyre" Bronte presents a contrast between characters who believe in and practice what she considers a true Christianity and those who pervert religion to further their own ends.  In her preface, Miss Bronte states that 

narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.

Mr. Brocklehurst, whose cruelty to the girls is despicable, is a hypocritical Christian as he uses religion as a justification for punishment.  In contrast to him is poor Helen, who like a sainted martyr, turns the other cheek and loves those who hate her.  While Jane does not possess the selfless faith of Helen, she is religious in a less typical way:  She does pray and call upon God to assist her and protect Rochester. After learning of Rochester's marriage, Jane leaves because her moral character will not allow her to stay and live in sin with Rochester. 

Later, Bronte again portrays the hypocrisy of the declared Christians in the character of the clergyman St. John Rivers who only views Jane as a helpmate for his missionary work in India.

Atonement and forgiveness, tenets of Christianity, are in the resolution of the plot as Rochester pays for his sins through fire and loss of sight; Jane forgives him and marries him.