One of the significant characters at the Lowood school is Helen Burns, a girl several years older than Jane Eyre. Her intellect, dedication to reading, and steady manner all impress Jane; however, her ability to remain graceful and calm even in the face of (what Jane believes to be) unwarranted punishment makes the greatest impression on the younger girl. During a period in which many of Lowood's students are ill or dying, Helen contracts consumption, which eventually takes her life. On the night of her death, Jane sneaks into Miss Temple's room where Helen sleeps, and the two girls discuss God and the idea of an afterlife during Helen's last waking moments. Their conversation contrasts greatly with what many adults in Jane's life have informed her, and contrasts with Jane's previous fears regarding ghosts, death, and the supernatural.
"Where is God? What is God?"
"My Maker and yours, who will never destroy what he created. I rely implicitly on his power, and confide wholly in his goodness: I count the hours till that eventful one arrives which shall restore me to him, reveal him to me."
"You are sure, then, Helen, that there is such a place as heaven; and that our souls can get to it when we die?"
"I am sure there is a future state; I believe God is good; I can resign my immortal part to him without any misgivings. God is my father; God is my friend: I love him; I believe he loves me."
"And shall I see you again, Helen, when I die?"
"You will come to the same region of happiness; be received by the same mighty, universal Parent, no doubt, dear Jane."
Again I questioned; but this time only in thought. "Where is that region? Does it exist?" And I clasped my arms closer around Helen; she seemed closer to me than ever; I felt as if I could not let her go; I lay with my face hidden on her neck. Presently she said in the sweetest tone,
"How comfortable I am! That last fit of coughing has tired me a little; I feel as if I could sleep: but don't leave me, Jane; I like to have you near me." "I'll stay with you, dear Helen: no one shall take me away."
"Are you warm, darling?"
She kissed me, and I her, and we both soon slumbered. [Page 58-59; end of chapter 9]
1. Why is Jane suddenly comfortable being literally next to death, a concept which she feared when she lived with the Reeds? Was her fear a fear of the unknown, which Helen has made more familiar? Was her fear of death and ghosts based more on her unhappiness in her living situation?
2. How is Helen's acceptance of her illness and her probable death similar to the way she conducted herself in life? How is that different from Jane? Does her certainty comfort not only herself, but also Jane?
3. Helen refers to God as many things: Maker, father, friend, universal Parent. What is the significance of God having many roles? How might these roles appeal to Jane, who lacks some of those individuals in her life?
4. Helen's interpretation of God is often based on duality. She speaks of the hour which will "restore me to him, reveal him to me" and states "I love him; I believe he loves me". How do these ideas of reciprocity and balance in a relationship apply or contrast to her life, her friendship with Jane (in this passage or in general), or Jane's life at the Reeds' house or at Lowood?
5. The girls discuss sleep in their dialogue, and Jane's narration refers to both falling asleep. Is this a euphemism for death? How are the two related in this text?
Last updated 2 February 2004