Sunday, 10 April 2011

Jane Eyre: Justified?

Can a child's behaviour be justified by her authority's actions?

Jane Eyre
is the story of a woman named Jane Eyre, as the title suggests. The first nine chapters of the book recount her childhood, beginning when she is 10 years old. Orphaned and living with her aunt, she is repeatedly pushed aside, verbally and sometimes physically abused by her aunt and cousins and regarded as less than a servant. She's often locked in a room by herself for long periods of time. By the time she's sent away to school, she has become bitter and resentful towards authority.

Jane expresses her misery early on in the book. "Why was I always suffering, always brow-beaten, always accused, for ever condemned? Why could I never please? Why was it useless to try to win anyone's favour?" On one occasion, she gathers up enough courage to confront her aunt and angrily expresses her feelings. After the argument, she feels triumphant, but the feeling quickly fades into deep remorse.

It's sad when a child, because of mistreatment, has grown so angry and resentful. Jane has come to believe that she must resist authority and instill fear in them. The question is this: is she justified? Is her behaviour justified by her authority's actions.

Now, before anything else is said, I must say that the way the book is written, we are made to pity Jane right from chapter one. As she recounts her experiences and mistreatment, we regard her more and more as a victim. The story stirs the reader emotionally, tugs at their heart, as they compare her life with their own personal experiences. To suggest that she's in the wrong doesn't seem fair and we quickly try to justify her attitude and behaviour. Naturally, we sympathize with the character and thus will respond to the situation with more tenderness.

The Bible is pretty clear on this. Although Jane is in the care of a benefactress, I think the words apply just the same.

Ephesians 6:1-3 (ESV)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land."

Christians love to preach this and it would all be good and well if every child lived in a loving Christian home (which they don't). Some, however, conveniently overlook the next verse that says "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (ESV) Also, Colossians 3:21 says "Father, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged" (KJV)

I looked up that last word "anger" in the Greek (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance) and found some strong words: "violent passion, (ire or [justifiable] abhorrence); by implication punishment:-- anger, indignation, vengeance, wrath."

We live in a society where child and teenage rebellion is prevalent and we're quick to blame the kids. But who's problem or fault is it really? In many cases, if you were to look beyond the child, you would find a dysfunctional home, void of proper love, care and instruction.

This is largely the case in Jane's situation. She isn't loved or made a part of the family. She's verbally abused, pushed aside, tormented by her cousins, etc. She's scolded when she does something wrong and harassed with the threat of hell for her deeds. It seems to me she's always being reprimanded for what she does wrong but nobody ever takes the time to teach her proper behaviour. Can she really be blamed for her misdeeds?

You can't vigorously shake a bottle of pop, often the cap and expect nothing to happen. The same goes for a child. If they are constantly mistreated and never loved, at some point they're going to react. All their feelings are eventually going to boil over and it's not going to be peachy when they do. Ultimately, it's the responsibility of the parent/guardian to demonstrate love and provide instruction to the children entrusted to their care. If they fail to that, bitterness and rebellion will ensue.

So is Jane justified? Perhaps. I'm not here to draw solid conclusions. No, her response isn't right, but it's what will naturally occur in her situation. The authority has the ultimate responsibility, and in this case, her aunt wasn't fulfilling hers. Jane's conscience convicted her so she knew what she did was wrong and I suppose this would make her responsible for her actions. She learned from venting her emotions that had been building for years. It was the only thing she knew to do. Also, people have been trying to blame their sins on others since the Garden of Eden, and God doesn't buy it.

Having considered some different sides I'm not sure if I can confidently say Yes or No, but here's my conclusion of the matter. Let's just stop blaming the kids all the time!

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