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.”