Monday, 18 April 2011

Jane Eyre: Discipline

I have now finally completed Volume 1 of Jane Eyre. This post will focus around Chapter 6, and I would encourage you to read it if you have the book. It contains one of my favourite and most thought-provoking conversations of the book so far. It's also an important continuation of my last post on authority.

In this chapter, we learn a bit more of Jane first friend she makes at Lowood, the school she's been sent to. Her name is Helen Burns, probably about four years older than Jane (making her 14) and her character is very different from Jane's. Whereas Jane is proud, bitter and resists authority, Helen is humble, willfully acknowledges her faults and submits herself authority and discipline.

Discipline is largely the issue discussed in this chapter. Early on, Helen is flogged with a bunch of twigs for her behaviour that her teacher, Miss Scatcherd dislikes. Jane believes that Helen should never submit herself to such harsh treatment. She believes it's cruel and would resist it. Helen disagrees. She believes the teacher is simply severe and dislikes her faults.

Helen says "it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear." Of course, Jane really has to wonder at her response and endurance and although she disagrees with her stance, she thinks the girl may be right. "Still I felt that Helen Burns considered things by a light invisible to my eyes. I suspected she might be right and I wrong; but I would not ponder the matter deeply: like Felix, I put it off to a more convenient season."

Although Helen is honest about her own faults, she will not say anything negative about Miss Scatcherd. She takes responsibility for her own actions. The discussion turns to another teacher, Miss Temple, who is loving, gently tells Helen her faults and showers her with praise. Although Jane thinks this approach is better, Helen says that it's not effective. It doesn't cure her faults and even her praise doesn't motivate her to be good. Although Jane thinks Helen is good with Miss Temple, she says she's good in a passive way. She makes no effort and doesn't believe there to be any merit in such goodness.

This comparison of discipline methods reminded me of parents and God. I'm not going to determine what kind of discipline is right or wrong here. I'm not the person to do that but I will say that discipline can easily turn to abuse, and I have a massive problem with that.

You see in this conversation a harsh method that uses the rod, and a gentle one that uses only a gentle tongue. In this story, it seems that the rod is definitely the more effective method, as the character admits. Although love and gentleness are good, they didn't produce the same results. They may have on the outside, but it didn't come from the heart.

When I read the Bible, I see these two sides of God. I see the one that chastens, pours out His wrath and drives merchants out of the temple with a whip. I also see the one that cares for His creation, loves, gives His Son's life for His children, and gathers little children into His arms. Parents can be the same way. A lot of parents emphasize one over the other. They discipline harshly or are all love and leniency. Both can result in problems and rebellion.

Also, Christians often over-emphasize one attribute of God. They preach a God of wrath who stands by to punish all who sin and cast them into hell, or on the flip-side, they preach a God who's all love and mercy so you can do whatever you want and He'll forgive you, always standing ready with big open arms. Both sides, when overdone, result in bad theology.

The conversation in the book continues and Jane maintains that when we are wronged, we must strike back or wicked people will always have their way. She believes they must be stopped by force and it's all as natural as loving someone who loves you. Helen however explains how Jesus taught us in the New Testament to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. She encourages Jane to read it and make Christ her example.

This is a new idea to Jane, as she's always been threatened with hell for her wrong deeds. Of course she believes it's impossible. Helen wonders at how Jane can describe Mrs. Reed's mistreatment with the finest details and tells Jane that she harbours no such feelings. "Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs." I might also add that few children will respond as Helen does. Not many will tolerate such harsh treatment. Helen continues in speaking of great things about Eternity and forgiveness that even I have a hard time understanding and the discussion ends there.

I think this post balances off my last one a little. I've also realized that by the end of the book, my initial ideas and opinions may change. As the plot develops, characters grow and change, as we see Jane beginning to in this chapter with the help of a friend. Up until this point, the book was a little dreary and depressing, even if very engaging. By the end of this chapter, my heart felt refreshed!

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