Though Helen Burns is a short- lived character, her appearance in the book is significant on a symbolic level. In the novel, Helen epitomizes religious devotion and Christian principles, with the idea of ‘love your enemies’ summarizing her beliefs.
Helen’s religious beliefs define her character and are referenced to help demonstrate the missing relationships in her and Jane’s life, as a result of being orphaned. Her religious conduct provides a comfort to her, and later on a comfort to Jane when confronted with her dying friend.
The friendship formed with Helen greatly affects Jane and teaches her a lot, including how to mask her passion. Helen is the first person we see Jane form a friendly and intimate relationship with, increasing the impact and significance of Helen’s death scene; which can be viewed as a pivotal moment in Jane’s life, and a possible symbol of the death of her passion. Helen’s references to religious teaching can be used in the novel to demonstrate missing relationship dynamics in the girl’s life and help explore the friendship that they form.
For example, Helen refers to God as ‘maker, father, friend, universal parent. ’ It is significant that God has these roles, as they are foundation figures in life that the girl’s have fallen short of. It is possible that part of the appeal of God to Helena, and soon to Jane, is because these individuals are not present in their life.
This would demonstrate and explain the importance of religion in Helen’s life and the comfort God brings to her. Similarly, Helen suggests that one of the appeals to God and religion is the opportunity it provides to create a relationship.
When Helen tells Jane ‘I love him, I believe he loves me,’ she is presenting ides of reciprocity and balance in a relationship. These ideas are contrasted in the relationships Jane and Helen have experienced in Mrs Reed’s house, the orphanage and at Lowood.
However, this can be a reminder to us that these ideas are seen with in the relationship between Helen and Jane; emphasizing the importance of their friendship to each other and further increasing the heartbreak of her death for Jane. Helen represents a model of Christianity that stresses tolerance and acceptance.
Helen’s compliant attitude to life is center to her character and is significant in the story as it has a great impact on Jane. Helen Burns is a character incapable of anger or vengeance. This can be seen through the bullying of Helen by Mrs. Scratcherd.
As Jane observes Mrs. Sctratcherd continually ‘make her an object of constant notice’ she finally lashes out at Helen for not having cleaned her nails. Helen ‘without being told, unloosened her pinafore,’ and Mrs Scratcheard striked her a dozen times. Helen is unresponsive.
Jane is confused by Helena’s patient response to mistreatment and later tells Helen that ‘If I were in your place, I should dislike her, I should resist her. ’ However, her ability to remain graceful and calm even in the face of (what Jane Sees as) unjustified punishment makes a great impression on Jane who ‘heard her with wonder’ as Helen explained the way she conducts herself. It is possibly through Helen Burn’s example that Jane learns to ‘mask’ her passion. As well as being an ideal for the Christian ethos, it could be said that the character of Helen Burns possesses Christ like characteristics.
Helen’s suffering of rejection at Lowood can be compared to Jesus’ suffering of persecution. Furthermore, her response to suffering can be said to mirror those of Jesus. The idea of ‘Love your neighbor,’ summarizes Helen’s beliefs; she never passes judgment or rebels, and she seeks to forgive those who hurt her.
This view of Helen should be noted as it links to and can emphasize the idea of Helen being a ‘teacher’ to Jane, and the large impact that Helen will make on Jane’s life. While Jane and Helen are very dieeferent character’s, Jane very much feels she can relate to Helen and learns from her influence.
Like Jane, Helen is an orphan who longs for a home. In the scene before her death, Helen tells Jane she is ‘going to my long home- my last home. ’ This is one example of the difference in the two girls beliefs. Helen believes that she will find her home in heaven rather than England.
This conversation about life after death contrasts what adult’s in Jane’s life have taught her and similarly goes against Jane’s previous fears regarding ghosts, death and the supernatural. In this moment, however, we as the reader see Jane is comfortable literally next to death, a concept she feared when living with the reads.
This is the first intimate moment we see Jane experiencing- Jane is nestled in close to her friend, whose arm is around her. In this moment we feel Jane is contempt and comfortable. It is possible that Jane’s attitude to death was a fear of the unknown, which now Helen has made more familiar, therefor providing her with the strength to cope so close to death. Helen’s death can be seen symbolically on many levels.
One interpretation of Helen’s death is that it symbolizes the death of Jane’s passion. The name ‘Helen Burns’ itself implies destruction, fire and burning. Fire is a recurring theme throughout the beginning of the book, which is referred to to represent the fiery and passionate nature of Jane’s character.
As well as this, during the short friendship between Helen and Jane, we can notice the awe in which Jane has for the levelheaded attitude that Helena carries. Therefore, on both a literary and symbolic term, the death of Helen burns suggests death or destruction to Jane’s passion.
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