In Jane Eyre, fire is a recurring motif used as a metaphor for Jane, displaying her passion and strong-heartedness. When Jane lived with Mrs. Reed, she described her passion and anger for her to be similar to fire. “A ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring, would have been a meet emblem of my mind when I accused and menaced Mrs. Reed” (45). Being considered an improper, deceitful child by Mrs. Reed, Jane was easily angered at her because she wanted to send her away. Later in the novel when Jane met Mr. Rochester for the first time, she compared him to fire, similar to the comparison of herself to fire. “I should have known instinctively that they neither had nor could have sympathy with anything in me, and should have shunned them as one would fire, lightning, or anything else that is bright but antipathetic” (134). Jane was reluctant to let Mr. Rochester draw her in because she saw fire in him, but she did so any way because of her passion and curiosity. Because both characters were passionate and symbolized fire, a romance was inevitable.
Throughout Jane Eyre, there are countless uses of the natural elements ( i.e. water, earth, fire, air, wood, metal ) as symbolic representations of character traits, important events in Jane’s life, and how her current environment effects her.
One of the most common uses of these references to the elements is via the names of people and titles of places in which Jane inhabits. The first example of this connection is at the Reed’s house, Gateshead. The family name, Reed, is an indicator to the element wood, which is susceptible to the searing tongues of flame. Eventually, the reeds are caught ablaze with Jane’s passion, for which fire is a common symbol of. This is also the first time that Jane’s “wild side” is truly conveyed. She recalls, “ I resisted all the way: a new thing for me…” ( Brontë 15 ) whilst she is being dragged along the halls of the Reeds to the Red Room. Without the hostile, yet flammable, environment of the Reeds, Jane’s inner flame would never have had the chance to ignite. A similar circumstance is experienced whilst Jane is at Lowood ( note another reference to the element in the name ). During her time at the girl’s school is the first time the emotion of love is awakened within her. Within a place of wood, Jane’s flame of affection for Helen Burns is fed into a roar. Her sudden change in character is made clear in her determination to remain by Helen’s side upon her deathbed. Jane’s declaration of faith to Helen, “I’ll stay with you, dear Helen: no one shall take me away” ( Brontë 97 ), marks this great changing point in the story, when Jane learns of love and how to care for another being.
The elements have also been used to show contrast between Jane and the characters that inhabit her world. One of the most prominent is the distinction between the person of Jane and that of Grace Poole. The maid’s last name, Poole, is a direct reference to the element of water, a substance that quenches flames and in doing so would clash with the vibrant, air-powered, fires of Jane’s personality. The instability and spontaneity of water is also personified in Grace, as Jane describes only moments after observing the constant insane laughter of Poole; “ I made some attempts to draw her into conversation, but she seemed a person of few words: a monosyllabic reply usually cut short every effort of that sort” ( Brontë 130 ). It is apparent that Grace Poole has no reason nor rhyme to her character and that she is indeed as unpredictable and as hazardous as water. This contrast of elemental personification, however, is not the only type of comparison that is made between characters with the aid of elemental symbolism. During their first meeting, there is a direct linking of Mr. Rochester’s eerie personage and Jane’s surname. Mr. Rochester’s hasty disappearance is described as thus; “ The wild winds whirl away” ( Brontë 136 ). This depiction of the whirling wind is an immediate contact to Jane’s last name Eyre ( which represents the element of air ) and its description of being wild only adds to the obvious foreshadowing of the two’s similarities in character. Once again, the author finds a way to connect the names of the characters to provide symbolic evidence of the effect of the environment and other people on Jane’s life.
In Jane Eyre, the image of walls and hills represent her desire for freedom. The garden at Lowood was “surrounded with walls”, showing how Jane felt trapped in her new school (58). The walls “exclude” Jane from the rest of the world, trapping her in and keeping life out (58). Jane longs for the freedom to do as she pleases, and this longing for freedom and change is a major driving force for Jane, inspiring her to leave Lowood and seek other employment. At Thornfield, Jane notes the “sunk fence” and “hills” that are smaller than those at Lowood “but still quiet and lonely” (118). The fence and hills show that even though Jane has more freedom than at Lowood she still feels restless. This could be foreshadowing that she is not yet satisfied, and will leave Thornfield farther in the book to seek the freedom she craves.
Although Jane encounters a lot of difficulties, there is usually a cheerful fire waiting for her and gives her strength. After Mr. Brocklehurst claims that Jane is a liar and punishes her, Miss Temple settles Jane at her side in her room with “a good, cheerful fire” (83). She tells Jane that “[she is] clear now” (85), kisses Jane and gives her some seed-cake after listening to Jane’s true story. Feeling Miss Temple’s trust and love, Jane has no more sorrow and “derives a child’s pleasure” (85). The conversation, “the refreshing meal, and the brilliant fire” (86) relieves Jane, and she is able to calm down and regain her reputation. The motif of fire also appears in the “snug, small room” (113) where Jane first meets Ms. Fairfax after her long, exhausting journey. Although Jane is exciting about starting a new life, “the throb of fear disturbs the charm of adventure and the glow of pride”, and Jane “prays God Mrs. Fairfax may not turn out a second Mrs. Reed” (112) during the transportation. She knows nothing about Mrs. Fairfax and her new student, and fear and anxious predominated her and nibbled her heart. When Jane enters Mrs. Fairfax’s room, “the double illumination of fire and candle dazzles her” and sweeps away “the darkness to which her eyes has been for two hours inured” (113), creating “a more reassuring introduction for a new governess could scarcely be conceived” (114). The fire expels all the negative feelings and comforts her, and Jane is satisfied with her new situation.
Fire represent Jane’s personality and her “burning,” passionate, quest to find more for herself in life.
“I could not help it: the restlessness was in [my] nature… to let my heart… open my inward ear to a tale was never ended- a tale my imagination created,and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence” (104).
“‘Do you know where the wicked go after death?’
‘They go to hell,’ was my ready and orthodox answer.
‘And what is hell Can you tell me that?’
‘A pit full of fire’
… ‘What must you do to avoid it?’
I deliberated a moment; my answer, when it did come, was objectionable: “I must keep in good health, and not die.”
The use of the motif of fire symbolize Jane’s passion and spirit. In the first quote, Jane describes her restlessness to move on in life as “a tale my imagination created… quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence” (104). This shows that Jane sees fire as spirit, passion and verve in life. In the second quote, Jane discusses what she perceives as hell with Mr. Brocklehurst, describing it as “‘a pit full of fire’” (26). When she is asked how to avoid going to hell, she uses sarcasm as she says, “I must keep in good health, and not die” (26). The way Jane uses fire and her sarcasm in the same conversation show how fire represents Jane spirit and cheekiness. This motif of fire connects both quotes to Jane’s passion and spirit.
Nature is brought up many times to describe Jane’s mood in a single scene of symbolic imagery. On the first page, the afternoon is described as “chilly” and “dreadful,” with “leafless shrubber[ies]” and “a [penetrating] rain” (9). These reflect how miserable she was with the Reeds, though it is only revealed later in the chapter. Nature appears many other times, examined in detail to convey how Jane is or some idea that is bothering her. One such instance is when she is getting used to life at Lowood. “The frosts of winter had ceased; its snows had melted, its cutting winds ameliorated,” and as winter turns to spring Jane begins to feel the warmth of those around her (90). As flowers begin to bloom, it altogether sounds happier than the dreary fall/winter of her time at Gateshead. Likewwise, Jane is enjoying herself and making friends, rather than avoiding the Reeds at any cost out of fear.
Religion has been symbolic in Jane’s life in many undecided ways. In Lowood, Mr. Brocklehurst portrayed religion in a very negative way. When he ruled over the children and hypocritically told them that “all [their] top-knots must be cut off,” he was displaying the wrong image of what religion really is, which confused Jane.(78) She later relies on religion as a way of proving to Mr. Rochester of his immoral actions. She tries to convince him that he “should not arrogate a power with which the divine and perfect alone can be safely entrusted.” (162) Jane mentions religion even after her negative encounters which proves the influence of faith, even if she is still unsure whether it is a positive or negative influence.
The cross represents how Christianity plays an important role in Jane’s life. She encounters two religious figures in her life — Helen Burns and Mr. Brocklehurst. She ultimately rejects their ideas as she begins to form her own ideas about faith and principle. Jane explains to Helen ”if people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way.” She believes that people should only be kind to those who are good to them. She believes that, “when we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back” (68). She will not stand for such unjust and cruel treatment. Helen believes quite the contrary. She tells Jane that violence is in no way the best way to resolve a conflict. She suggests that Jane read the bible and hold God’s word as her rule and follow his conduct. She gives her advice on how to act and live her life. She tells her to love her enemies; “bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you” (69). Despite all the sins that man may commit, God loves them nonetheless. In other words, he has unrequited love for all of his “children.” Jane completely rejects this idea. It is impossible for her to love Mrs. Reed when she been so cruel and unjust to her. Helen’s approach to people who subject others to cruelty is too passive for Jane’s tastes.
Mr. Brocklehurst’s model of Christian behavior is stark in contrast to Helen’s model; he practices evangelicalism. He preaches a doctrine of poverty and privation to the girls at Lowood. For example, he orders one of the girls’ hair to be cut off. He strongly urges them to dress modestly. His mission is to “mortify in these girls the lusts of flesh to teach them to clothe themselves with shamefacedness and sobriety” (76). His thinking is corrupt and radical, illustrating the dangers of evangelicalism. Jane rejects both Helen’s Brocklehursts’ models of Christianity as she sorts out her opinions and ideas on this subject.
The motif of fire is used to express Jane’s fervent and passionate feelings throughout the story. When Miss Scatcherd makes Helen Burns wear a sign with the word “Slattern” on her forehead, Jane is so enraged that she “ran to Helen, tore it off, and thrust it into the fire”(87-88). This shows that Jane is so upset by the sign that she wants it to burn to ashes so that it will never be put back together or seen again. The “fury of which [Helen] was incapable had been burning in [Jane’s] soul all day” which displays how passionate she feels about Helen’s situation.(88) The use of the word burning to describe her fury shows how extreme her emotions, in this case anger, are. When Jane walks into Mr. Rochester’s room and sees “tongues of flame [darting] round the bed” and “the curtains on fire” she is filled with fear(174). The “strange fire in his look” could be foreshadowing of romantic feelings Jane has for Mr. Rochester later in the book(177).
At Thornfield, Jane starts a new stage of her life. Throughout the course of her woeful childhood, she has lead a very sheltered life. When Mr. Rochester asks her one evening if she’s “seen much of society,” she replies,” None but the pupils and teachers of Lowood, and now the inmates of Thornfield.” She is optimistic about what her future life at Thornfield entails. She gazes upon the lawn on which Thornfield stands and observes her surroundings,” The early sun shone serenely on embrowned groves… and still green fields.”