The basic idea of any novel is from the mind of the author. Without the author’s perceptions, prejudices, and preconceptions, the novel would not exist. It is developed from these thoughts and sees its creation as a result of the author exploring his or her feelings and assigning symbols to meaning in order to tell a story they believe people should want to read. Therefore context of the author’s situation is relevant to understanding why an author chooses to include, omit, distort, embellish and/or lay bare any idea presented in a novel. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is a prime example of this.
At the time of its publishing, England was in one of its greatest religious debates. There was a query from the Utilitarian movement as to whether "all institutions, in the light of human reason . . . were useful [and furthermore] was religious belief useful for the needs of a reasonable person?" (Stillinger 896). Brontë feels this is an important question so she uses religion to frame her protagonist’s search for happiness, presenting the ideas in which God influences and doesn’t influence and how he is represented by assigning descriptive stereotypical names to help the reader better keep track of her characters. To emphasize this religious search, Brontë symbolizes her opinion of these issues through the names of her characters.
The first person Jane admires is Miss Temple. Her name is a word easily identifiable as a place of worship and Brontë describes her as always having “something of serenity in her air” (Brontë 61). Historically these buildings are made of stone, survived for centuries and because of this, they may have an air of serenity themselves: at the very least a calming feature. Brontë symbolizes this by having Jane become a model student under the teacher—she respects Miss Temple’s authority. Under the influence of Miss Temple, Jane sees herself ‘imbibed from her something of her nature and…more harmonious thoughts” (Brontë 71). Jane believes she was content and “appeared disciplined” even appearing to others as a “subdued character” (Brontë 71). Just like the ancient buildings of her namesake, Miss Temple represents what religion was supposed to be: a solid place of security for the spiritual well being. She treats the students with respect and compassion without being preachy.
Just as it is the ministers of religion in Brontë’s world, it is also clergyman who disrupts this relationship with the “temple” for Jane. Symbolized by Miss Temple’s marriage, Jane looses her temple because it has changed: Rev. Mr. Nasmyth has taken her temple away from her and she must look for a new structure to worship in. But before she can find her way back to the serenity she has lost, she must investigate all the ways God affects us in the world.
Through the course of her ”autobiography,” Jane struggles to find the right balance between moral duty and earthly pleasure, between obligation to her spirit and attention to her body, between dedication to God...