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.
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...
(The entire section is 1,263 words.)