Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë Summary and Analysis Chapter 8

Summary

At five o'clock, school is dismissed for tea. The spell she has been under dissolves and Jane collapses on the floor in grief. She feels all of her successes at Lowood have now been destroyed by Brocklehurst's unfair accusations. Jane wonders how Helen can be friends with a girl that the world has branded a liar. Helen tells Jane she is exaggerating: Only eighty people of the hundreds of millions in the world heard Brocklehurst, and most of those people probably pity, rather than dislike Jane.

Miss Temple also befriends Jane, allowing her to present her side of the story. Miss Temple promises to write to Mr. Lloyd for verification of Jane's statements; if his reply agrees with Jane's, she will be publicly cleared. For Miss Temple, though, Jane is already clear. Jane and Helen share a sumptuous tea with their teacher; indeed, Jane declares the seed-cake Miss Temple offers is like "ambrosia." Miss Temple then turns her attention to Helen, and the two begin a conversation about French and Latin authors. Jane is amazed by the extent of Helen's knowledge.

Mr. Lloyd replies to Miss Temple's letter, corroborating Jane's statements, so Miss Temple assembles the entire school and vindicates Jane from all of the charges Brocklehurst had leveled against her. With this load off her mind, Jane returns diligently to work, quickly rising to a higher class. Soon she is learning French and drawing, and happier at Lowood than she ever was at Gateshead.

Analysis

While Jane, Miss Temple, and Helen Burns become closer friends in this chapter, the differences in their personalities also become more obvious. Helen, for example, is not afraid of solitude; therefore, she believes that even if all the world hated her, but she approved of herself, she would not be without friends. For Jane, this is not true; she declares, "if others don't love me, I would rather die than live — I cannot bear to be solitary and hated." The promise of love and glory in a distant heaven does not appease Jane; she also requires human warmth and affections during her time on earth. When Helen declares that Jane thinks too much of the love of human beings and too little of the "kingdom of spirits," Jane recognizes an implicit sadness in Helen's statements. In some sense, Helen's longing for the afterlife reveals an obsession with death. Helen coughs after speaking, foreshadowing her early death, but also providing insight on her focus on heaven: Believing she will die young, Helen is preparing herself by romanticizing the afterworld.

Again, Jane's description of Helen emphasizes her spiritual nature. For example, the beauty in her eyes is not attributed to their color or long eyelashes, but to meaning and radiance; "her soul sat on her lips, and language flowed . . . [with] pure, full, fervid eloquence." Indeed, the sophistication of Helen's understanding of life and literature are astonishing for a fourteen-year-old. Perhaps, Jane thinks, knowledge of her impending death is leading her to live within a brief span as much as many people live in a longer life; like a candle in the wind, Helen burns brightly. Through her relationship with Helen, Jane learns to look beyond appearance and discover people's inner nature.

Miss Temple's moderate language, together with Helen's instructions against the overindulgence of anger, are evidently altering Jane's character. Rejecting "gall and wormwood," Jane tells Miss Temple a moderate version of her life with the Reeds and believes that "[t]hus restrained and simplified, it sounded more credible." Through Helen's instruction, and Miss Temple's example, Jane is learning to tell a realistic and reasonable narrative, lessons that have probably fed into her autobiography. Hysteria and raw emotion don't reveal the truth as effectively as a subdued, but honest tale. But Jane will never fully achieve the moderation of either of her friends. Upon seeing the pasteboard with the word "slattern" hanging around Helen's neck, Jane, her soul burning in her body, rips is off and throws it into the fire. Perhaps resignation is not always appropriate. Even if Miss Temple's and Helen's mild tempers never rub off completely on Jane, their impressive knowledge of literature inspires her quest for education. One day, she will create an ideal life, one that combines Miss Temple's refinement and Helen's spirituality with a spark of Jane's passion.

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