Week two of the Jane Eyre Read-Along is now behind us. With week three nearly over already, the hosts (A Night’s Dream of Books and Babbling Books) posted some questions regarding Chapters 6-10 that I have answered below. Please feel free to leave me your thoughts or link to your own responses for me to check out. I apologize in advance for any rambling bits.
1. What are your impressions of the way Helen Burns endures punishment and abuse?
I would first like to throw out a single line of lyrics by one of my favorite musicians, the great Billy Joel: “Only the good die young.”
Okay, okay, I realize Billy Joel wasn’t solely focusing on goodness in his song, and I realize that he came long after the writing of Jane Eyre, but there’s an overlap here. The overly good characters rarely live long once their purpose is served, especially if their death is part of said purpose. Jane needs people like Helen in order to accept that there is some goodness in the world among all the wickedness she endures. It also helps Jane accept that being good along isn’t enough. Helen endured so much abuse, but that didn’t save her from death’s door. More than anything I think this encourages Jane to remain true to herself. She loves Helen, but she knows she isn’t like her in many ways. Experiencing this terrible loss serves as an acceptance of who she is rather than encourage her to behave like Helen.
Along those lines, Helen is a damn saint, or at least it’s hard to think of her as anything else. That, or she’s brainwashed. She continues to recite scripture in the hours of her pain. Her beliefs never waiver and, like Jane, she remains true to herself until the very end of her life. Upon her death, Helen experiences peace rather than anger, and she tells Jane she’s going to heaven. She truly believes the pain is worth it because of where she ends up, and there is no focus on her pain. For a child, that’s pretty damn saint-like.
2. What are your impressions of the way that Jane sees punishment and abuse in comparison to Helen?
Helen is passionate about her faith, but Jane is passionate overall. Helen believes that she must deserve her punishments, whereas Jane knows she is being treated unfairly and argues the fact. I find myself viewing Jane’s reactions as more realistic, but then again there isn’t much that’s considered realistic about a saint when compared to the average person. I admire Jane’s passion and fierce defense of herself. She rejects the injustice and fights for her beliefs and freedoms. Jane can perhaps be too stubborn at times, but that’s to be expected with children. They still have a lot to learn, and considering how much abuse Jane endures I’m not surprised she behaves how she does. I feel that the two girls cover each end of the spectrum when it comes to their reactions.
3. Would Mr. Brocklehurst have been a more realistic and interesting character had he been less overtly fanatical, cruel and hypocritical, and just deeply flawed, instead?
I don’t think a single characteristic of Mr. Brocklehurst should be changed. Perhaps he doesn’t seem like a realistic character to some, but neither does Helen, yet I find her characteristics fitting for this novel. As such, Mr. Brocklehurst’s intense behavior serves a purpose. We’re meant to hate him. We’re meant to see nothing redeemable in him. We’re meant to feel sympathy for these poor girls. To suggest that he isn’t realistic is to put up blinders to the types of people existing in the world both in Bronte’s time and in the present. We may not want to think or believe that such people exist, but they do. He’s a villainous character for a reason. Him simply being flawed would take away from the purpose of his character.
4. Helen Burns exudes confidence and is sure of her personal beliefs. Do you find it realistic that a young person exhibits such traits?
I’m not sure I’d call Helen confident overall. She’s confident in her faith, yes, but she still accepts her faults. She’s sure of her personal beliefs in regard to faith, but she’s not sure of herself overall. I think she simply wants to please her superiors, god being the biggest superior of all. Because of this, I think Helen is more realistic than we give her credit for. She’s a bit extreme, perhaps, but when you end up somewhere with nothing it’s only natural to cling to something such as faith. Considering how much abuse she endures, it’s only natural to find solace somewhere. She’s going it at the best she can.
5. Miss Temple seems to influence Jane’s personality and outlook on life during her stay at Lowood. Would Jane have developed differently without her influence?
Jane found goodness in Helen, but that wasn’t enough. She needed to find the same in an adult, and she found that in Miss Temple. She meets adults who are (sometimes) kind to her, but she needs to see a kind and gentle adult with no malice or deceit. Miss Temple helps Jane accept that there is goodness in the world, and that there are people who don’t misuse Christianity and faith. Jane doesn’t completely forgive her negative upbringing, but Miss Temple helps her accept that not every adult in the world is evil. This will help her later on when it comes to trusting others.
6. Jane’s time at Lowood is marked in the narrative by the seasons and the description of weather. Does this have any significance?
Just as the weather is significant at the beginning of the novel, so too is it significant during Jane’s time at Lowood. Negative times cross with poor weather conditions such as Jane’s arrival. The season improves when Miss Temple appears. Generally speaking, the weather will foreshadow the overall mood of the scenes throughout the novel. Perhaps that’s Bronte’s way of saying, “It’s storming outside, so here comes a big one.”
And because I can’t help but include Harry Potter, here’s another meme in regard to weather/foreshadowing: