Jane Eyre Themes
The main themes in Jane Eyre are Christian morality, the search for home, and passion and love.
- Christianity and Morality: Jane encounters various perspectives on Christianity and morality, eventually realizing that her own principles lie somewhere between the moral extremes demonstrated by Mr. Rochester and St. John.
- The Search for Home: Jane longs for a family and a home above all, and after enduring many hardships, she ultimately finds both with Mr. Rochester.
- Passion and Love: Jane and Mr. Rochester are passionate characters, whose strong convictions contrast with the moderation and practicality of other characters like St. John and Blanche Ingram.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1266
Christianity and Morality
Throughout the novel, the titular Jane Eyre is drawn to characters whom she feels embody the true virtues of Christianity and live moral lives. Her relationship with Helen Burns—a deep friendship that parallels her later passion for Rochester, albeit in a different way—stems largely from Jane’s belief that Helen is a godly and morally upright individual. Jane views Helen as entirely beautiful, because here, as elsewhere, she equates physical beauty with morality. When Jane dismisses her own appearance as “Quakerish” and looking like a “governess,” there is a suggestion that she does not dare to identify any physical beauty in herself because she cannot believe she is morally worthy of displaying such beauty. On the contrary, Janes believes that her primary outward quality is that she looks like a governess—that is, she has learning. This may partly explain why Jane, unconvinced of her own moral worth, places so great an emphasis on learning and education: she views them as a means of attainable self-improvement.
Helen Burns’s moral goodness is placed in sharp contrast to the cruel and hypocritical Christianity of Mr. Brocklehurst, who runs Lowood School. He quotes from the Bible, but misuses the testaments to convince his employees to neglect the girls under their care, depriving the students of food, heat, and basic comforts—all in the name of avoiding the sin of overindulgence. He argues that there can be no Christianity without punishment of the “vile bodies” of his human charges, as if this harsh treatment will help them to achieve a state of moral purity. However, the young Jane rightfully identifies that he is not truly a Christian at all.
When Jane abandons Mr. Rochester, she does so largely because she believes him to be immoral, having discovered that he sought to marry Jane even though his wife, Bertha Mason, is still alive. Jane is unconvinced by Mr. Rochester’s irreligious moral argument that his marriage to Bertha, who suffers from insanity, is no longer a true marriage and that he should no longer be expected to live as if it were. Though Jane pities Mr. Rochester’s situation, she refuses to compromise her own Christian integrity and leaves Thornfield instead. After fleeing Mr. Rochester, Jane finds herself in the home of St. John, a highly religious, moral, and disciplined man who functions as a foil to Mr. Rochester. While Jane deeply admires and likes St. John, she cannot marry him as he asks. She realizes that St. John’s morality and Christian goodness alone are insufficient for Jane to live on, for she does not love him nor feel passion for him. Ultimately, Jane finds that her own spiritual path lies somewhere between St. John’s uncompromising and cold Christianity and Mr. Rochester’s passionate irreverence.
The Search for Home
Throughout Jane Eyre, the reader is shown a succession of different places, in all of which Jane is looking for a home. Orphaned at a young age and never having experienced a true family, what Jane yearns for most of all is a place to belong. The first "home" Jane knows is Gateshead Hall, where she lives in a terrible situation with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her cousins. These are Jane's blood relations, but Jane finds no affection or love here. Her cousins torment her, Mrs. Reed despises her, and Jane is convinced that the house is haunted. Unwilling to tolerate Jane’s presence any longer, Mrs. Reed eventually sends Jane away, introducing Jane’s second "home": Lowood school. At Lowood, Jane finds a true friend in Helen Burns—the first person who could conceivably be a form of family for Jane—only to lose her to consumption. Like the other pupils at Lowood, Jane is also forced to endure the hypocritical and cruel behavior of the tyrant, Mr. Brocklehurst, who runs the school. Though conditions at Lowood improve over the years, Jane ultimately realizes that it is not a permanent home for her.
Determined to leave Lowood, Jane decides to utilize the few virtues she feels she possesses—her brain and education—in order to take up a job as a governess. This is what brings her to Thornfield, the home of Mr. Rochester. At first, Thornfield seems uncanny and unwelcoming. Mysterious sounds and occurrences convince Jane that the building is haunted, mirroring her previous experience at Gateshead. Despite this, Jane experiences temporary bliss at Thornfield when she realizes she is in love with Mr. Rochester and he professes love for her too, even proposing. However, Jane’s dreams of finally finding a loving home are shattered when she discovers the truth about the woman in the attic.
In fleeing Thornfield, Jane lands in yet another home, that of the Rivers family at Moor House. This is a home which is filled with the very things Jane believes she values most: education and religious morality. However, she finds that despite the shared values between herself and the inhabitants of Moor House, she is not sustained by her life there. She eventually returns to Thornfield, only to find it burned to the ground and Mr. Rochester maimed. In the end, Jane finds a real place to belong when she is forced to create it herself from ashes, forging a new home and family with Mr. Rochester after she nurses him back to health.
Passion and Love
Jane Eyre is an unusual work for its time in that it emphasized so strongly the idea that passion is an important, even crucial, part of a marriage. Marriage is a social and religious construct, and at the time, somebody like St. John Rivers would have been viewed as a perfect match for a girl like Jane. Both are intelligent, independent, morally upright and selfless; they enjoy each other’s company and are perfectly respectable. In these respects, St. John’s proposition to Jane is a very reasonable one. What is interesting is that Jane rejects this perfectly reasonable proposition because she wants something else out of life and marriage—namely, love and passion.
Jane does feel passion for Mr. Rochester, which is why she returns to him, even after he has broken her heart with the revelation that he has a living wife. Such a revelation would have been scandalous at the time of the work’s publication, and yet more scandalous still is Mr. Rochester’s insistence to Jane that he and his wife, Bertha, should not be considered truly or morally married because of her madness and the fact that he was tricked into marrying her. Mr. Rochester is here suggesting that marriage cannot be real if conducted for money, status, or any of the other perfectly sound reasons that were often given for marriage before the twentieth century. Instead, he is proposing a new morality based on love. Though she values passion, Jane is unwilling to sacrifice her dignity by rejecting the moral and social norms of the period. She rejects Mr. Rochester’s liberal approach to morality, keenly aware that no matter how he justifies it, the relationship he proposes leaves Jane in the position of a mistress. This tension between passion and integrity is ultimately resolved when Bertha dies in the fire, granting Jane and Mr. Rochester the ability to pursue a passionate yet lawful and Christian relationship. However, it is clear that in the choice between a passionless relationship with St. John and no certain alternative, Jane would have defied the expectations of the time and chosen uncertainty, demonstrating a remarkable strength of character and deep sense of self awareness.