Friday, November 19, 2010
What is Your Moral Compass?
What do you use as your moral compass? When you make decisions, what is your standard to help you make the right choice? And when you read a book, how do you judge the characters’ choices?
When I was thirteen years old, I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte for the first time.
It became one of my favorite novels and I still re-read it occasionally. The first time I read it, I wanted the hero and heroine to get married. They seemed made for each other. They were good for each other, and they loved each other. But Jane, the heroine, was convinced that it would be wrong to married Mr. Rochester.
Mr. Rochester tried to hide the truth from her, and when that failed, he simply told her it was all right. Yes, he was technically still married to his first wife, but it was all right. She was completely mad, so that made it okay. Also, no one would know. But Jane would not be persuaded. She would not commit a sin to please the man she loved, so she ran away from him, at great peril to herself, and also to Mr. Rochester, who she knew would be so distraught that he might do harm to himself.
The first time I read it, when I was only thirteen, I couldn’t understand why Jane didn’t just marry Mr. Rochester. He had explained to her why it was all right. Why didn’t she just marry him? I even went to my mother and told her the situation and asked her why it wouldn’t be all right for them to marry. She told me it wouldn’t be all right because the Bible said no one should have more than one wife. It was against God’s law—and man’s law—for Jane to marry Mr. Rochester.
I was a little shocked that I had let Mr. Rochester persuade me, if not Jane.
By the Bible’s standards, which was what Jane was following, Jane had done the right thing. By the world’s standards, as I read in a recent review of Jane Eyre on Goodreads, Jane did not do the right thing. She was following some outdated, overbearing religious law. She should have stayed with Mr. Rochester. To that reviewer, the standard was feelings. They both felt love for each other, so if they stayed together as man and wife, it was right.
What is the standard you follow? Do you apply it to story characters when you read a book?
I recently read a book that is marketed to teens as a Young Adult book. In it the “hero” does many things that violate the Bible’s standards, both in the beginning before he becomes “good,” and at the end, when he has changed and is considered “good.” What makes him good, you might ask? Well, now he is much kinder to people. And now he knows that it’s only okay to sleep with your girlfriend if you love her.
Wow, that’s a big departure from Jane Eyre. When you read a book, what is the “Truth,” or standard, that you judge it by? That modern novel I read was entertaining, but I cringe to think that some people who read it will mistake it for Truth. It isn’t okay to sleep with someone you’re not married to, even if you think you “love” them. What is love anyway? Love is a sacrificial thing, not just an emotion. If the person who says they “love” you isn’t willing to commit to you, to sacrifice for you, and marry you, then maybe that isn’t love at all.
But if you have no solid standard to go by, you won’t know what is good and what is harmful. And if you can’t judge right and wrong in a novel, how will you judge it in your own life?
Just some thoughts I wanted to throw out there! Would love to hear your thoughts and comments.