Nature In Jane Eyre By Emily Bronte

Essay, Research Paper

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

Nature in Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte makes use of nature imagery throughout “Jane

Eyre,” and comments on both the human relationship with the outdoors and

human nature. The Oxford Reference Dictionary defines “nature” as “1. the

phenomena of the physical world as a whole . . . 2. a thing’s essential

qualities; a person’s or animal’s innate character . . . 4. vital force,

functions, or needs.” We will see how “Jane Eyre” comments on all of


Several natural themes run through the novel, one of which is the

image of a stormy sea. After Jane saves Rochester’s life, she gives us the

following metaphor of their relationship: “Till morning dawned I was tossed

on a buoyant but unquiet sea . . . I thought sometimes I saw beyond its

wild waters a shore . . . now and then a freshening gale, wakened by hope,

bore my spirit triumphantly towards the bourne: but . . . a counteracting

breeze blew off land, and continually drove me back.” The gale is all the

forces that prevent Jane’s union with Rochester. Later, Bronte, whether it

be intentional or not, conjures up the image of a buoyant sea when

Rochester says of Jane: “Your habitual expression in those days, Jane, was

. . . not buoyant.” In fact, it is this buoyancy of Jane’s relationship

with Rochester that keeps Jane afloat at her time of crisis in the heath:

“Why do I struggle to

retain a valueless life? Because I know, or believe, Mr. Rochester

is living.”

Another recurrent image is Bronte’s treatment of Birds. We first

witness Jane’s fascination when she reads Bewick’s History of British Birds

as a child. She reads of “death-white realms” and “‘the solitary rocks and

promontories’” of sea-fowl. We quickly see how Jane identifies with the

bird. For her it is a form of escape, the idea of flying above the toils

of every day life. Several times the narrator talks of feeding birds

crumbs. Perhaps Bronte is telling us that this idea of escape is no more

than a fantasy — one cannot escape when one must return for basic

sustenance. The link between Jane and birds is strengthened by the way

Bronte adumbrates poor nutrition at Lowood through a bird who is described

as “a little hungry robin.”

Bronte brings the buoyant sea theme and the bird theme together in

the passage describing the first painting of Jane’s that Rochester

examines. This painting depicts a turbulent sea with a sunken ship, and on

the mast perches a cormorant with a gold bracelet in its mouth, apparently

taken from a drowning body. While the imagery is perhaps too imprecise to

afford an exact interpretation, a possible explanation can be derived from

the context of previous treatments of these themes. The sea is surely a

metaphor for Rochester and Jane’s relationship, as we have already seen.

Rochester is often described as a “dark” and dangerous man, which fits the

likeness of a cormorant; it is therefore likely that Bronte sees him as the

sea bird. As we shall see later, Jane goes through a sort of symbolic

death, so it makes sense for her to represent the drowned corpse. The gold

bracelet can be the purity and innocence of the old Jane that Rochester

managed to capture before she left him.

Having established some of the nature themes in “Jane Eyre,” we can

now look at the natural cornerstone of the novel: the passage between her

flight from Thornfield and her acceptance into Morton.

In leaving Thornfield, Jane has severed all her connections; she

has cut through any umbilical cord. She narrates: “Not a tie holds me to

human society at this moment.” After only taking a small parcel with her

from Thornfield, she leaves even that in the coach she rents. Gone are all

references to Rochester, or even her past life. A “sensible” heroine might

have gone to find her uncle, but Jane needed to leave her old life behind.

Jane is seeking a return to the womb of mother nature: “I have no

relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek her breast and ask

repose.” We see how she seeks protection as she searches for a resting

place: “I struck straight into the heath; I held on to a hollow I saw

deeply furrowing the brown moorside; I waded knee-deep in its dark growth;

I turned with its turnings, and finding a moss-blackened granite crag in a

hidden angle, I sat down under it. High banks of moor were about me; the

crag protected my head: the sky was over that.” In fact, the entire

countryside around Whitecross is a sort of encompassing womb: “a

north-midland shire . . . ridged with mountain: this I see. There are

great moors behind and on each hand of me; there are waves of mountains far

beyond that deep valley at my feet.”

It is the moon, part of nature, that sends Jane away from Thornfield.

Jane narrates: “birds were faithful to their mates.” Seeing

herself as unfaithful, Jane is seeking an existence in nature where

everything is simpler. Bronte was surely not aware of the large number of

species of bird that practice polygamy. While this fact is intrinsically

wholly irrelevant to the novel, it makes one ponder whether nature is

really so simple and perfect.

The concept of nature in “Jane Eyre” is reminiscent of Hegel’s view

of the world: the instantiation of God. “The Lord is My Rock” is a popular

Christian saying. A rock implies a sense of strength, of support. Yet a

rock is also cold, inflexible, and unfeeling. The second definition listed

above for “nature” mentions a thing’s “essential qualities,” and this very

definition implies a sense of inflexibility. Jane’s granite crag protects

her without caring; the…

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