Jane Eyre By Bronte Essay, Research Paper
Critics such as Adrienne Rich argue that Jane Eyre has to choose between the “temptation” of following the rule of passion by marrying Rochester, which would have made her dependent on him and not his equal, or of living a life of complete renunciation of all passions, by marrying St John Rivers. Fire and water imagery symbolises the two forces competing for dominance in Jane Eyre, both on a personal and metaphorical level. Throughout the novel, such imagery is used by Bront?, in keeping with her use of much poetic symbolism, to develop character, strengthen thematic detail and establish mood.
The general use of imagery requires mention. In most novels, imagery is commonly used to symbolize a certain idea or concept, such as the lightning imagery used in Wuthering Heights. Imagery can also be used to represent underlying themes of the novel, or to provide dramatic effect and mood. In Jane Eyre, fire imagery has a strong metaphorical significance, representing passion, sexual desire and the heat of emotion and feeling. On a very basic level, one can already note the underlying significance for Bront?’s use of fire imagery – fire, as is with the passions, can provide warmth and comfort, but can also burn. With water imagery, it is useful to consider that such imagery includes natural imagery of ice, sea and snow, all common features in the novel. Water, the antithesis of fire, represents the extreme point of cool reason, without any trace of passion. As we see Jane wander between these two points of temptation throughout the novel, the accompanying imagery of fire and water is most significant to our understanding of the themes and concerns of the novel.
Fire imagery is used by Bront? to develop Jane’s character throughout the novel. As the novel progresses, the corresponding imagery changes to show different aspects of Jane’s character. We see Jane’s overly passionate nature through her punishment at Gateshead. She is unable to control her passions and strikes John Reed when he physically bullied her by grasping her hair and shoulders. As her punishment, Jane is locked up in the red-room. The colour red is significant here – red, the colour of fire and heat, represents passion and fury, as fire embodies this. Here, fire imagery, in the form of the red-room with its pillars of mahogany” and “curtains of deep red damask”, is used to represent, through physical manifestation, Jane’s overly passionate nature. Most significant also, is the direct use of fire imagery in this instance. It is stated that “the room was chill, because it seldom had a fire”; this shows that Jane’s punishment for being overly passionate is a chill, a coldness of emotion that seeks to temper this rash passion. One could perhaps also argue that the chill of the red-room represents the futility of Jane’s passion at this stage in her life. She may be angry and passionate, but the response of Mrs Reed to this, as would be the response of society to Jane, is to lock out that warm passion, leaving a cold chill, or a being in keeping with strict social tenets instead. By putting Jane in the red-room without a fire, Mrs Reed has effectively shown the social limitations which weigh heavily against Jane in her search for expression of that passion and self.
Water imagery is also commonly used to show what Jane’s values are in the novel. Mr Rochester’s attention to her three paintings soon after they meet, in fact, tell us much about Jane’s values and concerns through the rich sense of imagery in them. The “green water” in the first painting, for example, represents death by drowning, as the woman is drowning in the water and the ship is capsizing. The image of “a swollen sea” carries with it expressions and expectations of impending danger. Jane, because of her passionate nature, sees water, representing a locking out of passion and emotion, as death itself. This is significant to our understanding of the thematic structure of the novel, as Jane must necessarily come to realise that while total reason without passion, as embodied in the water imagery described above, is undesirable, unregulated passion must be avoided as well. Bront? uses the water imagery at this stage in the novel to show us the probability that Jane will succumb to the temptations of romantic love by listening only to her passions, in believing that she can marry Rochester as an equal. A character which puts such emphasis on the passions is likely to fall prey to this sort of trap.
Another central character whose character is well-developed by the use of water and fire imagery is Rochester. Rochester is represented by much fire imagery. When he first returns to Thornfield, it is stated that “a warm glow suffused both it and the lower steps of the oak staircase” and there was “a genial fire in the grate”. There is change in atmosphere in Thornfield – as Jane notes, “a fire was lit in the appartment upstairs” Immediately upon his return, the fire imagery and more significantly, this sense of fire and heat comes through. Rochester’s words in his first meeting with Jane, “Come to the fire”, could actually be seen as an invitation to indulge her passions and emotions. Bront? is careful to use such fire imagery and representation as this is a central point in the thematic pattern of the novel. To Jane, Rochester represents the temptation of passion over reason. Significant thematically, Rochester offers Jane the temptation of finding romantic love and releasing the passions within her : “You are cold, because you are alone; no contact strikes the fire from you that is in you”. These words, spoken to Jane while he was disguised as a gypsy lady, were spoken with the specific intention of drawing Jane out and…
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