Jane Eyre: Imagery And Symbols In A Novel
In the gothic romance novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, there are many references to the imagery of both fire and ice in the plot. The images of fire and ice provide positive and negative implications and connotations alternatively. For instance, those implies depend on a character’s mood, the state of situations, and their actions. Through the development of Jane’s character, Bronte maintains the right balance between those images while preserving the character’s thoughts. Bronte’s use of the imagery of the fire and ice does describe not only Jane’s emotions but also the correlation of society.
The imagery of fire creates multiple nuances in this novel. Some readers often relate fire to passion, rebellion, and anger, while others view it as the warmth and comfort of home. Bronte uses outstanding fire imagery through the development of Jane. This symbolism begins at the house of Mrs. Reed, in Gateshead. Jane first describes Mrs. Reed, who is her aunt, and her family. The Reed family gathers around the fireplace, and then she even describes them as perfectly happy. However, Jane is isolated from the rest of the family and the warmth of the fireside, “…she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with her darlings about her”(7). Also, the Reed family considers Jane too spiteful to enjoy the privilege: “she really must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy, little children”(7). Bronte describes the panes of glass as “protecting, but not separating…”(8). This winter landscape and the Reed family portray the cold, emotionless views from society.
Whereas fire is figuratively involved in illustrating the rage towards her mistreatment, ice imagery is used to symbolize loneliness and desolation. Other relevant images of fire and ice are invoked in the scene where Jane is locked in the red room. The red room is described as deep red and crimson, which are known colors of fire and heat. Jane describes the red room as being very cold by saying, “I grew by degrees cold as stone”(16). When Mrs. Reed locks Jane in the red room, she is also locking Jane’s passionate nature in with the cold emotion that tempers Jane’s rage: “My heartbeat thick, my head grew hot: a sound filled my ears…“(17). Society wants people to act “normal,” and anyone who thinks outside of the box is considered “abnormal.” The room portrays Jane’s passion and symbolizes how Jane’s fiery personality sets them apart from society. Jane believes that if she were to follow the norms of society by acting unemotional and cold, it would destroy her passion. Thus, this scene exemplifies the way society thinks about how people should behave.
Throughout the story, Bronte develops physical evidence that symbolizes Jane’s struggle of balancing the fire and ice in order to survive because the fiery nature that keeps Jane’s passion is portrayed as repulsive in society. The first evidence is Mr.Rochester, who embodies the fire, which has the potential to burn and destroy Jane’s life. After her first meeting with Mr.Rochester, numerous fire imagery appears: “… should have shunned them as one would fire, lightning, or anything else that is bright but antipathetic”(113). Rochester is not only the fire that creates warmth but also represented as temptation. Although Jane realizes the fire that burns within her, she refuses Rochester to achieve maturity. However, Rochester encourages Jane’s passion by choosing it over the “perspective of flatness, triviality, and perhaps imbecility, coarseness, and ill-temper”(260). Inconceivably, this is the first time anyone other than Jane herself accepts and appreciates the fire.
On the contrary, the character of St. John is represented as ice. He is both physically and emotionally lacks warmth and passion. Jane describes his physical features as pale and icy “…his high forehead, colorless as ivory”(345). St.John is rational, does not let any feelings and passion affect his thoughts and decisions. Bronte uses the imagery of ice, which keeps Jane away from St.John, “I am cold: no fervor infects me”(383). Jane does not want her passion taken away by him; thus, she refuses him by saying, “Whereas I am hot, and fire dissolves ice”(383). Jane wants to keep her passion and fire within her to make her feel alive in society.
Bronte demonstrates the danger of uncontrolled passion by introducing the character of Bertha, who is Rochester’s first wife. The physical threat of fire is represented when Bertha sets fire, and it leads to the demolition of both Thornfield and Mr.Rochester. Bertha vividly shows how unruled and untamed passion can be destructive. The destruction of Thornfield allows Jane to manage and control the fire and passion within Rochester.
By making fire and ice a prominent symbol in Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte correlates with its meaning with society. The lack of fire and light causes loneliness and desolation. The imagery of fire can be a comforting yet passionate force that gives Jane a reason to be alive even if it separates her from society. Though uncontrolled fire can be destructive, it enables Jane to start a new life with Rochester. Through the development of the characters, Bronte shows the need for the balance of both warmth and coldness within society.
- Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. Edited by Margaret M. Smith and Sally Shuttleworth, Oxford University Press, 2008.