Mr. Brocklehurst: “What must you do to avoid [going to hell]?”
Jane: I deliberated a moment; my answer, when it did come, was objectionable: “I must keep in good health, and not die.”
This is often the first laugh line in every Jane Eyre adaptation it comes up in - audiences love Jane’s child logic and her sassy response to Brocklehurst’s alarming question. Because let’s not forget this question was asked of a child. I get Brocklehurst’s intention of instilling a fear of God, and a moral code thereby, but maybe it would be better to ramp up to talking about burning in eternity, instead of confronting a ten year old with that within minutes of meeting her. I could write a whole other post of helpful tips for Mr. Brocklehurst however.
The gorgeousness of Jane’s answer though is that she knows it’s wrong. She’s barely met this imposing, grim pillar of a man, who apparently wants to make her feel guilty and afraid, but in answer to the question he no doubt thought would be a slam dunk in making his point, he gets a reply that highlights a foolish question deserves a foolish answer. Jane doesn’t give him the submissive shame that he wants. Child logic for the win!
Jane: “When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.”
Peace, tolerance, and understanding are all noble goals to attain. Every single person can make this world a better place by adhering to these principles. Unfortunately we are not a perfect species, and there’s just something so basic and satisfying in seeing that if someone treats you terribly, there will be repercussions. Can I be as forgiving as adult Jane is at the bedside of her dying, still hateful aunt? I’m not sure if I’m there yet, I hope I will be, but for now young Jane’s words resonate with me, even if maturity tells me I should be more forgiving.
I love that she makes a distinction too about being struck at “without a reason.” Jane has a pretty firm moral code already at her young age, and it doesn’t accept irrational and undeserved punishment. There’s no understanding for the ignorance or the prejudice that led to it, there’s only the need to make sure the other person knows it is not acceptable. Swift justice from little Judge Jane.
Jane: “No; I know I should think well of myself; but that is not enough: if others don’t love me I would rather die than live—I cannot bear to be solitary and hated, Helen.”
First, round of applause for Charlotte Bronte on her perfect foreshadowing for Jane’s character development. Young Jane can’t imagine thinking well of herself will be enough for her; older Jane clings to that completely in making her difficult decision to leave Mr. Rochester.
So, really, how many of us could be as strong as adult Jane today? Our culture is overflowing with our need to be validated and loved by family, friends, and strangers. How could you bear being alone and hated? Adult Jane espouses the ideal, but young Jane is the reality. It would just suck to not be loved by anyone. While, wonderfully, our culture also supports the fact that loving ourselves is important and leads to happier and healthier lives, young Jane’s plaintive need to be loved is something everyone feels. It’s something we might not want to verbally admit to, but young Jane’s filter is off, and she is dropping truth.