Memento Mori

Through the reading of Jane Eyre, the way Jane envisages her own death caught my attention. Her thoughts about it evolve in the course of her life, and we are able to witness it. In the early years of her existence, Jane didn’t really wonder what is death. She knows it exists, but it only when she has to face it that she starts to realize the cruelty of it (p.67) : “it entered in my mind as it has never done before : “How sad to be lying now on  sick bed, and to be in danger of dying! This world is pleasant, it would be dreary to be called from it, and to have to go who knows where?”.

Thanks or because of the education she receives in Lowood, Jane dreads death but imagines it as a part of her Christian life. It is interesting to see how her convictions are challenged when she sees her death coming. On chapter XXVIII, p 281, Jane has been wandering for two days and her strength have abandoned her. She is starving, exhausted and sick; but the way she envisages death changes fast when she is on the verge to die :

“My strength is quite failing me,” I said in a soliloquy. “I feel I cannot go much farther. Shall I be an outcast again this night? While the rain descends so, must I lay my head on the cold, drenched ground? I fear I cannot do otherwise: for who will receive me? But it will be very dreadful, with this feeling of hunger, faintness, chill, and this sense of desolation—this total prostration of hope. In all likelihood, though, I should die before morning. And why cannot I reconcile myself to the prospect of death? Why do I struggle to retain a valueless life? Because I know, or believe, Mr. Rochester is living: and then, to die of want and cold is a fate to which nature cannot submit passively. Oh, Providence! sustain me a little longer! Aid!—direct me!”


Suddently, she realizes she wants to live, and the rigid moral she applied to herself during her whole life doesn’t appear in this passage. Jane has seen Helen and Mrs. Reed dying and always acted with cold-blood and standing back, but when it comes to her, she finally starts to act humanly, and to me, this passage is quite the only one showing another side of Jane. It also reminds me of a short novel by Tolstoï, called The death of Ivan Illitch. Ivan is a Russian lawyer very selfish and harsh with the people around him. He becomes ill and realizes he has no way out but death. When he is agonizing, he, like Jane, acts humanly and fears the next minutes of his life, because it might mean the end for him. In the following passage, we can notice the exclamations like in Jane Eyre, and the way Ivan uses his last strength (moral and physical) to survive. Here is the excerpt :

“From that moment the screaming began that continued for three days, and was so terrible that one could not hear it through two closed doors without horror. At the moment he answered his wife realized that he was lost, that there was no return, that the end had come, the very end, and his doubts were still unsolved and remained doubts. “Oh! Oh! Oh!” he cried in various intonations. He had begun by screaming, “I won’t!” and continued screaming on the letter “O.” For three whole days, during which time did not exist for him, he struggled in that black sack into which he was being thrust by an invisible, resistless force. He struggled as a man condemned to death struggles in the hands of the executioner, knowing that he cannot save himself. And every moment he felt that despite all his efforts he was drawing nearer and nearer to what terrified him. He felt that his agony was due to his being thrust into that black hole and still more to his not being able to get right into it. He was hindered from getting into it by his conviction that his life had been a good one. That very justification of his life held him fast and prevented his moving forward, and it caused him most torment of all.”

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4 thoughts on “Memento Mori

  1. Kevin Frazelis

    I do not think Jane is cold blooded in the slightest at all. I think Jane exhibits the nature of anyone in her position towards death and its mysteries because of the religious doctrine she has learned. Death is not seen as some unfortunate end in this point in time, but more so a beginning with God. A person such as Jane who has faced so many moments of heartbreak and pain at such an early age and as an adult, is more likely to have a different reaction to death than most. I think her response to Helen was probably the most touching thing I have read in a while. I think Jane’s encounters with Death are overly didactic. These experiences are almost there to remind the reader to forgive as well as cherish the death in their time of exit.

  2. Jason Tougaw

    In many ways, Jane is a gothic figure. She’s not as extreme as Bertha, but Bronte does depict some similarities between them: rebelliousness, passion, dark complexions. Bertha even dons Jane’s veil. Those moments when Jane imagines her own death are fascinating. They’re both morbid and pious–a combination that’s pretty strange if you think about it. As a character, Jane is more outlandish than most people remember.

  3. Sunjida Ema

    I do no agree with the idea that Jane is a “cold-blooded” person regarding death or someone dying in her presence. I think Jane’s lack of knowledge and understanding of death and religion gives the illusion of her being “cold-blooded”, especially when she was 10 years old. When Helen talks about death, God, and what will happen after death we as readers are in little Jane’s mind and see her asking questions to herself, even when Helen gives some explanations. She tries to understand Helen, but cannot, so instead she just listens. This reaction might be seen as her being distant and indifferent towards death. Jane reacts the same way in other situations when Helen talks to Jane about religion and God because Jane understands her world differently compared to Helen.

  4. davidginsberg

    I don’t necessarily think Jane was standing back when it came to the deaths of Mrs. Reed and especially Helen.
    She snuck into Miss Temple’s room, although she was forbidden, to say good-bye and even slept with Helen the night that she died.
    As for Mrs. Reed, I give Jane credit for even returning to Gateshead to see her off considering how she was treated (in her eyes at least).
    It’s impossible to grasp death without being in the throes of it like Jane was. I think it just struck her how terrible it is.

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