Jane Eyre - Fire and Water


In the novel Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte recounts the story of Jane and her lovers, Mr. Rochester and St. John Rivers. Critics such as Adrienne Rich and Eric Solomon argue that Jane Eyre has to choose between the "temptation" of following the rule of passion by marrying Rochester, or of living a life of complete renunciation of all passions by marrying St. John Rivers. Fire and water imagery symbolizes these two forces competing for dominance in Jane Eyre, both on a personal and metaphorical level. Throughout the novel, this imagery of fire and water is used by Brontë, in keeping with her use of poetic symbolism, to develop character, strengthen thematic detail, and establish mood. In Jane Eyre, fire imagery has a strong metaphorical significance, representing passion, sexual desire and the heat of emotion and feeling. Brontë's use of fire imagery is very appropriate in that fire, as is with the passions, can provide warmth and comfort, but can also burn. Water, the antithesis of fire, represents the extreme point of cool reason, without any trace of passion. Eric Solomon writes, "The fire is in Jane?s spirit and in Rochester?s eyes?St. John Rivers contains the icy waters that would put out fire, destroy passion" (Solomon, 73). As Jane wanders between these two points of temptation throughout the novel, the accompanying imagery of fire and water is most significant to the understanding of the themes and concerns of the novel. Bronte uses fire imagery to develop Jane?s character throughout the novel. As the novel progresses, the corresponding imagery changes to show different aspects of Jane?s nature. In the beginning, Jane?s overly passionate nature is shown through her punishment at Gateshead. After being physically bullied by John Reed, her cousin, Jane shows her uncontrollable passion by striking him. As her punishment, Jane is locked up in the red- room. Here, fire imagery, in the form of the red-room with its "pillars of mahogany"(20) and "curtains of deep red damask"(20) is used to represent Jane?s overly passionate nature. Bronte makes a direct reference to fire when she writes "the room was chill because it seldom had a fire"(21), representing the chill of the red-room as the futility of Jane?s passion at this stage. Later, fire imagery is used to show Jane?s feelings for Rochester. She builds a fiery passion for him that is later threatened by numerous circumstances. This fire imagery is used to define Jane?s overly passionate character. The water imagery is commonly used to show what Jane?s values are in the novel. Mr. Rochester?s attention to her three paintings soon after they meet tells much about her values and concerns. The images of water are shown in her painting of "clouds low and livid, rolling over a swollen sea" (142) and "the pinnacle of an iceberg"(143). These images carry expressions and expectations of impending danger. Jane sees water as a locking out of passion and emotion, much like the feeling she gets when St. John asks her to marry her later on in the novel. This is significant in the understanding of the thematic structure of the novel also in the fact that unregulated passion must be avoided. The water imagery, later incorporated into St. John?s character represents the passion that Jane is not interested in. Rochester is also represented by fire imagery throughout the novel. When he first returns to Thornfield, "a warm glow suffused both it and the lower steps of the oak staircase"(133) and there was "a genial fire in the grate"(133). There is a change in atmosphere in Thornfield upon his return. In his first meeting with Jane, Rochester tells her to "come to the fire"(138). This can actually be seen as an invitation to indulge her passions and emotions. Bronte 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. Adrienne Rich writes, "?he is certainly that which culture sees as Jane?s fate, but he is not the fate she has been seeking" (Rich, 79). Rochester?s character is all-fire. He offers Jane the temptation of finding romantic love and releasing the passions within her. When disguised as a gypsy, Rochester tells Jane "You are cold, because you are alone: no contact strikes the fire from you that is