Religion as a Tool – Alan, Grade 11

This commentary, based on a passage from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, is written by one of my grade 11 IB students. The writer focuses on Mr. Broklehurst’s level of hypocrisy, proving it by analysing the devices that Bronte has applied in the excerpt.  He has focused on three literary devices, namely irony, imagery, and allusion, to prove how hypocritical Mr. Broklehurst is.

Religion as a Tool

Prior to the 20th century, religion dominated every aspect of people’s lives, and it is only in recent times that the power of the Christian religion and doctrines has declined. Since religion is a relative concept from unknown authorship, its ideas are open to wild interpretations. People in power, for instance, often abuse the nebulous quality of religious instructions, bending religion to serve their selfish aims.  This corruption and abuse of faith can be seen in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, where Mr. Brocklehurst, the clergyman, headmaster, and treasurer of Lowood School, justifies his depravity and corruption in the name of religion. In the excerpt narrating Mr. Brocklehurst’s visit to the school, Charlotte Brontë uses situational irony, imagery, and allusion to show Mr. Brocklehurst’s hypocrisy and abuse of religion. 

Brontë uses situational irony in the excerpt to help convey the level of hypocrisy that Mr. Brocklehurst displays. During his conversation with Miss Temple, Mr. Brocklehurst is interrupted by the entrance of three ladies, who are his wife and two daughters. After hearing his “speech” about his mission  “to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel,” one expects his family to act as a good example of his so-called principles. Yet ironically, his family shows up in the most ostentatious way possible, which shows Mr. Brocklehurst’s level of hypocrisy. They are described as “splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs.” His daughters “[have] grey beaver hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plumes, and from under the brim of this graceful head-dress fell a profusion of light tresses, elaborately curled,” while his wife “[is] enveloped in a costly velvet shawl, trimmed with ermine, and she [wears] a false front of French curls.” He wants to see the girls live in what is essentially poverty, and he justifies his cause using religion, yet he does not wish himself to live this so-called “modest” life. The situational irony employed in this excerpt shows that Mr. Brocklehurst is extremely hypocritical and speaks of religion emptily.

Imagery is used by Charlotte Brontë to further disclose Mr. Brocklehurst’s hypocrisy. Brontë applies organic imagery to show the contradiction between Mr. Brocklehurt’s words and actions. Mr. Brocklehurst states that the girls should have related to “the sufferings of the primitive Christians; to the torments of martyrs; to the exhortations of our blessed Lord Himself, calling upon His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him; to His warnings that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” when they are given bread and cheese instead of the spoiled porridge. Mr. Brocklehurst tries to evoke early christians’ sufferings to make the girls feel like they are drowning in luxury of bread and cheese, which defies the principles of the school. However, his family’s actions contradict his words since he himself is drowned in sheer luxury, which can be seen from the appearance of his family. Not only this, he claims that Jane is sent to Lowood because Mrs. Reed is “fearful lest [Jane’s] vicious example should contaminate their purity: she has sent [Jane] [to Lowood] to be healed, even as the Jews of old sent their diseased to the troubled pool of Bethesda.” This evokes a visual imagery of Jane being seen as a type of disease, something that needs to be cured, and it depicts Lowood as a form of sanctuary where even the worst diseases can be cured. However, this is not the case, for Jane is not the evil child that he speaks of, nor is Lowood anything remotely close to being the sanctuary he depicts. As the headmaster, he should be “healing” Jane, yet he brands her as an outcast and isolates her. This shows extreme hypocrisy, since isolating Jane is the same as “neglecting her treatment.” Mr. Brocklehurst abuses religion to isolate Jane according to the will of Mrs. Reed, and his reasoning for punishing Jane Eyre is completely the opposite of his real intention, making him extremely hypocritical. 

Lastly, Brontë uses allusion to show Mr. Brocklehurst hypocrisy and abuse of religion. When Mr. Brocklehurst is conversing with Miss Temple, he stresses that “[he] [has] a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world,” which refers to God. By this statement, he implies that everything he is doing is the will of God. He justifies his willful actions by saying it is simply the will of God; which is not true, for God never asks for the suffering of these girls. The hypocrisy here is that as a clergyman he only serves God in name, while in truth he serves no one but himself. He does not care about the girls most slightly and is only using the name of God as an easy way to justify his corruption. When describing Jane, he calls her “worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut.” Brahma refers to the Hindu creation god. To the Christian-dominated society, Hinduism is often regarded as inferior and is no different than savages. He tries to isolate Jane in the wish of Mrs. Reed by calling her worse than non-believers of Christ. However, this is ironic, since he believes in Christ as much as the little heathens he speaks of. 

Brontë is successful in using situational irony, imagery and allusion to portray Mr. Brocklehurst as a hypocritical character because to the audience Mr. Brocklehurst comes across as a wicked liar, whose intentions are nothing similar to his words. Mr. Brocklehurst’s hypocrisy shows how easy it is for people to abuse religion. Despite acting completely against religion, no one can oppose him, due to his position as a clergyman. Although this seems like a phenomenon of the past, the abuse of religion is still happening to this day. World shocking events such as the September 11 attacks are the results of terrorist groups abusing religion as a way to justify their cause. More than half of the current major armed conflicts in the world are due to religious reasons, and the Former United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher once stated that “terrorist that acts in the name of religion and ethnic identity have become ‘one of the most important security challenges we face in the wake of the Cold War.’” To prevent these disastrous events from happening in the future, It is important for people to identify abuse of religion and hypocrisy in order not to be manipulated by deceitful clerics.