Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë Summary and Analysis Chapter 9

Summary

Spring arrives at Lowood, and the privations lessen. With new growth comes hope. Jane finds beauty in the natural world surrounding Lowood, a beauty that had been masked by winter's frosts. But within this pleasure, there is also pain. The forest dell that nurtures the school, the "low wood," also brings a pestilence bred by dampness — typhus. Combined with semi-starvation and neglected colds, the dampness causes forty-five of the eighty students to fall ill with this dangerous disease. The few who are well, including Jane, are allowed to play outside without supervision. Jane notes the contrast between the death within the school and the beauty of May outside its doors.

While Jane is enjoying nature's beauty with her new friend, Mary Ann Wilson, Helen Burns is slowly dying, not of typhus, but of consumption. Jane doesn't realize the seriousness of this disease until she learns from the nurse that Helen will soon die. Jane feels she must embrace Helen one last time before she dies and sneaks into Miss Temple's room, where Helen has been staying during her illness. During the two friends' final conversation, Helen insists she is happy, because she will escape great suffering by dying young. Helen dies in Jane's arms, while the two girls sleep. Fifteen years later, Jane marks Helen's grave with a gray marble tablet labeled "Resurgam."

Analysis

Like the previous few chapters, this one emphasizes the contrast between the spiritual and material worlds through the characters of Helen and Jane. The chapter opens with the brilliance of spring: The world becomes green and fertile, bursting with "wild primrose plants." While Jane and her new friend, Mary Ann Wilson, happily enjoy this luxurious natural world, Lowood School has become marked with pestilence: Typhus is quickly killing half the girls in the school. Jane vividly contrasts life and death, showing Lowood as the begetter both of May's brilliance and of typhus' deadliness. Pain and pleasure are necessarily twinned.

While Jane is innocently reveling in nature, her friend Helen Burns lies dying of consumption. Jane hasn't forgotten her old friend in her new pleasures. After spending a beautiful day outdoors, Jane suddenly imagines, for the first time, how sad lying on a sickbed would be, how awful to be in danger of dying; Jane finds the mundane world pleasant and isn't ready yet to die. This revelation leads her to recognize that the present is the only moment we have: Both the past and the future are "formless cloud and vacant depth." Following this revelation, Jane learns of Helen's imminent death, and her meditations provide her with understanding of what death means; for Jane, it means "tottering, and plunging amid that chaos." But death has a very different meaning for Helen.

The final conversation between the two girls emphasizes their different understanding of the world. While Jane finds pleasure and beauty in the natural world, Helen longs for the release of heaven. Helen assures Jane that her mind is peaceful, but her final words also contain a hint of sadness. Here we learn, for example, that Helen has no family to mourn her, because her father has recently married and will not miss her. Helen feels that an early death will save her from great suffering. Because she has no father in the earthly world to mourn her, Helen looks to God, the "mighty universal Parent" to comfort her. Jane, on the other hand, wonders, "Where is God? What is God?" Uncertain of spiritual salvation, Jane comforts her friend in the best way she can: by hugging her tight, providing corporeal comfort. Despite her courage, Helen seems to find comfort in Jane's arms, asking her friend to remain with her while she sleeps. The chapter gives insight into Helen's spiritual nature: She rejects an earthly world that offers her little love and few chances for a better future. While Helen's resignation allows her to die with dignity, Jane's courage leads her to face life with zest. The chapter emphasizes Jane's inability to put her faith completely in either God or his heaven. For Jane, heaven exists here on earth, in the beauties of a May day.

Glossary

Resurgam I will rise again.

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