Charlotte Bronte makes frequent use of symbolism in Jane Eyre. A number of repeated images are utilized, partially as a means to bring together a narrative of immense generic variety. The following analysis focuses on Bronte’s use of fire and ice imagery, exploring the symbolic attributes of these images, and how they are employed in several scenes throughout the text. The excerpts are from the Oxford World’s Classics 2000 edition of the novel.
There is a dichotomy in the narrative between narrative analysis the representations of fire and ice. Fire is frequently associated with passion and rebellion, evident in the following extract, where the young protagonist reflects on the state of her mind after she has railed against her aunt’s mistreatment: “A ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring, would have been a meet emblem of my mind when I accused and menaced Mrs. Reed” (1, 4, p.37). Yet when the fire has died down, the same ridge is described as being “black and blasted after the flames are dead” (1, 4, pp.37-8). Coldness is often associated with isolation and desolation in the text.
Jane feels angry towards her aunt due to the woman’s unjust treatment of her. From the first chapter she is shown to be isolated from the Reed household. Images of fire and ice are invoked in this scene where the protagonist sits alone at her casement window. She is excluded from the rest of her adoptive family and the warmth of the fireside. Bronte describes only panes of glass “protecting, but not separating” (1,1, p.8) her heroine from the cold and windy November afternoon.
The ‘death-white realms’ depicted in the illustrations of Bewick’s History of British Birds, of which Jane is reading, further serve to exemplify the icy imagery and elaborate on the coldness theme. These pictures are also significant in that they foreshadow certain events much later in the story, including Jane’s lonely wanderings around the Yorkshire moors after her flight from Thornfield. The “forlorn regions of dreary space” (1, 1, p.8) amplify the protagonist’s own sense of desolation and her desire for a home which accepts her.
Whereas ice imagery is used to symbolize Jane’s own inner sense of loneliness and desolation, fire is figuratively employed to illustrate the heroine’s rage at her maltreatment. When she is locked in the red-room, Jane observes how the room is chilly due to its fireplace being seldom used. She describes herself growing “by degrees cold as a stone” (1, 2, p.16). When she awakens in the nursery at the beginning of the next chapter, she relates “a terrible red glare, crossed with thick black bars” (1, 3, p.18) to the reader. Although it transpires that this is only the nursery fire, when this section is viewed alongside the previous scene, where the protagonist brooded on her situation within the Reed household, it becomes apparent that this is an early instance of Bronte using images of fire to portray her heroine’s anger.