Jane embarks on her journey to Lowood School, still smarting from her visit to the Red Room and hopeful for more nurturing adult caretakers. Unfortunately, she finds herself once again disappointed when Mr. Brocklehurst falsely tells the entire school that she is a liar. Although her arrival at school promises a change in others' opinion of her character, Mr. Brocklehurst, who is a friend of Mrs Reed, attempts to stifle this transformation. As others step in Jane's place and identify her for their own needs — in Mr. Brocklehurst's case, as a cautionary tale of morality — Jane finds herself briefly doomed to passivity once again as she is left out of her own life story.
Interestingly enough, the frustrated Jane befriends fellow classmate Helen Burns, a quiet student who, in fact, has many thoughts of her own. In an unusual bout of talkativeness, Helen shares her impressions:
"Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrong. We are and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies; when debasement and sin will fall from us with the cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark of the spirit will remain, — the impalapable principles of life and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature: when it came it will return; perhaps again to be communicated to some being higher than man--perhaps to pass through gradations of glory, from the pale human soul to brighten to the seraph! Surely it will never, on the contrary, be suffered to degenerate from man to fiend? No; I cannot believe that: I hold another creed; which no one ever taught me, and which I seldom mention; but in which I delight, and to which I cling; for it extends hope to all: it makes Eternity a rest — a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss. Besides, with this creed, I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last: with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustive never crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking to the end."
Helen's head, always drooping, sank a little lower as she finished this sentence. I saw by her look she wished no longer to talk to me, but rather to converse with her own thoughts (120-1).
With a dialogue bristling with semicolons and dashes, Brontë characterizes Helen's outpouring as a kind of insanity — whether it is a sickening child's stream of consciousness or a saint's revelation from God. Although Helen criticizes Jane's passionate search for individuality, she herself seems equally passionate in these paragraphs for just the opposite — a denial of her person. This heretofore angelic personality rages on with her personal philosophy and nevertheless succeeds in inspiring the unpersuaded Jane.
1. Why does Jane have respect for Helen if only to reject her ideas in the end?
2. How is Helen's uncommon eloquence similar to or different in form from Mr. Brocklehurst's polished speeches on morality?
3. Like the Mr. Shap in the "Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap" Helen Burns comes from a lower social class and does not have much hope of living a better future. How does this knowledge of social class color their thoughts of alternate worlds or alternate futures? How does Jane's ambiguous social class affect her desire for personal growth, individuality, and freedom?
4.hJane considers her friend Helen Burns an angelic presence who thinks of Heaven as her goal. When Mr. Rochester meets Jane later in the novel, he describes her as a supernatural being who might have been a fairy in a previous life. How are these two supernatural characterizations similar or different?
Last modified 29 January 2009