Helen Burns in Jane Eyre: Character Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:00 An Example for Jane
  • 0:38 The Opposite of Jane
  • 2:07 Helen Burns Quotes
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson, we will discuss Helen Burns from Charlotte Bronte's ''Jane Eyre.'' We will learn the important role that Helen plays in the story and in Jane's life, even though Helen is only part of a small section of the book.

An Example for Jane

We all admire Mother Theresa for her charity and kindness. We know Florence Nightingale for her unwavering dedication to helping others. People such as these are great examples to each of us. Frequently, we not only admire these people, we strive to be more like them. This is the role that Helen Burns plays for Jane Eyre. Helen is Jane's example of goodness, forgiveness, humility, and strength. Although Helen is only a part of the story for four chapters, the influence she has on Jane can be seen for the rest of the book.

The Opposite of Jane

Helen is a foil to Jane. A foil is a character that has opposing characteristics to highlight specific characteristics in another character. Where Helen trusts in happiness and a home in her next life, Jane needs that happiness to be fulfilled now. Where Helen is submissive, Jane is headstrong. Where Helen is self-negating, Jane is frequently self-absorbed.

Helen easily forgives, while Jane holds onto grudges for long periods of time. Jane recognizes her own characteristics better next to Helen's. After accidentally breaking her slate, Jane is called to the front of the room and punished. Jane knows the punishment is unfair. We have previously seen Helen take unjust punishments and never think harshly of the one giving the punishment. Jane, however, immediately feels 'an impulse of fury,' and realizes that she is 'no Helen Burns.'

Helen seems to be a nearly perfect character, yet she frequently points out her 'flaws': 'I am … slatternly; I seldom put, and never keep, things, in order; I am careless; I forget rules; I read when I should learn my lessons; I have no method.'

In comparison to the humility and grace that Helen carries herself with, however, these flaws seem very minor. Helen is meant to be nearly saint-like, to be a foil for Jane, and to be an example for Jane. If Helen has any true flaw, it is her self-deprecating attitude.

Helen Burns Quotes

Although Helen is self-deprecating while Jane is self-absorbed, Helen is able to walk with greater confidence in herself than Jane is. Jane needs and yearns for the admiration of others. After the school is, falsely, told that Jane is a liar, Jane fears that everyone will think poorly of her and won't be her friend. Helen comforts her by saying, 'If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.'

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