Helen Burns Jane Eyre
Helen Burns is one of the girls studying at the charity institution known as Lowood School. Jane becomes acquainted with Helen Burns on the very day of her admission to the school. It is from Helen Burns that Jane comes to know that Lowood Institution is partly a charity-school, and that all the girls studying here and living in the boarding-house are charity-children Helen Burns also informs Jane that all the girls here have lost either one or both of their parents, and that this institution is meant for the purpose of education orphans, though every pupil here has to pay fifteen pounds a year. Helen Burns also supplies some more information to Jane about this school superintendent, and its teachers.
Helen’s Quiet Endurance of Punishment
On the day of her admission to the school, Jane also finds that Helen Burns has been made to stand in the middle of the school-room by Miss Scatcherd, the history teacher, as punishment for some offence which she has committed. Jane feels that the punishment given to Helen Burns is in a high degree disgraceful, especially for a girl who is thirteen years old or perhaps more. But Helen Burns has shown no signs of distress or shame, and she has neither wept nor blushed. Helen remains composed as she stands in the middle of the class-room, the central mark of all eyes. Jane wonders how this girl can bear such treatment so quietly.
A True Follower of Christ’s Teachings
Helen Burns spends much of her leisure in reading books. One book, Dr. Johnson’s novel Rasselas, has particularly interested her. On being asked by Jane why Miss Scatcherd is so cruel to her, Helen Burns replies that Miss Scatcherd is not at all “cruel” but only “severe”, and that Miss Scatcherd simply dislikes her (Helen’s) faults. Helen Burns further says that the Bible urges human beings to return good for evil. And she then urges Jane also to develop such an attitude to life. She advises Jane to read the New Testament and derive instruction from what Christ had preached “Love your enemies, Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you,” says Helen Burns, quoting from the New Testament.
Her Death, a Poignant Event
Later we learn that Helen Burns is suffering from consumption; and subsequently she dies a premature death at the school. Jane had developed a good deal of intimacy with Helen Burns: and it is almost in Jane’s arms that Helen Burns dies. Her death is a very poignant and moving event in the novel. The event contributes much to the pathos which is the dominant atmosphere of this novel.
Role of Helen Burns
Apart from contributing to the pathos of the novel, Helen Burns serves to convey to us, and to emphasize. Jesus Christ’s message to mankind. Helen Burns is an embodiment of piety and humility, and humility is one of the principal virtues which the New Testament preaches. Helen Burns is one of the most important subsidiary characters in this novel; and what is particularly noteworthy is the fact that she was modelled on Charlotte Bronte’s own sister, Maria, who had died a premature death, and had died of consumption.
Thus there is a marked autobiographical element in Charlotte Bronte’s portrayal of Helen Burns. Some critics have found fault with this portrayal; but we strongly disagree with their criticism. In our opinion, this portrayal is one of the best and finest ingredients of the novel Jane Eyre.
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