If Helen Burns is such an important character in the first part of Jane Eyre why does Charlotte Bronte have her fall ill and die?Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Modeled after her sister Emily, who died of tuberculosis in 1825, Helen Burns provides both the reader and Jane Eyre a model of saintliness.  While Jane is somewhat hardened by the world, in Chapter 5 after she meets Helen, Jane is taught the virtues of forebearance, patience, charity, humility, and love and forgiveness.  For instance, when Jane tells Helen,

But I feel this, Helen: I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved.”

Helen instructs Jane,

“Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine; but Christians and civilized nations disown it.”

“How? I don't understand.”

Helen teaches Jane the precepts found in the New Testament of the Bible, explaining to her new friend that hatred will only harm Jane.  In short, Helen is Jane's religious instructor, but just as Jane has learned from her dear friend, poor Helen passes away.  Nevertheless, some of the goodness from Helen has been imparted to little Jane Eyre, and she is the better for it. Always, Jane carries the memory of the charitable Helen within her; and, perhaps, because Helen dies, Jane remembers these lessons all the more.