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Use of Elemental Imagery in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

Use of Elemental Imagery in Jane Eyre

The use of elemental imagery in Jane Eyre, sustained throughout the novel both metaphorically and literally, is one of Charlotte Brontë’s major stylistic devices. The natural opposition of the two elements of water and fire (“the war of the earthly elements”, as Jane puts it) highlights the need for the titular heroine to find equilibrium between points identified as extremes. However, as David Lodge notes, “we should be mistaken in looking for a rigidly schematic system of elemental imagery and reference in Jane Eyre”. Fire and water images in the novel have their shifting associations, which reflect on the characters of Jane, Rochester and St John Rivers. The broad suitability of the images shows that they can be both destructive forces and agents of renewal. Using them as both allows Brontë to show how far the characters have learnt to reconcile the Romantic desire for passion with the need for restraint, for it is only in that way that true personal selfhood can be realised. And this search for a personal selfhood, where one is judged on one’s own character, not society’s usual manner of judgment based on title, money or beauty, can be said to be the focus in the novel.

It is instructive to note that fire, used metaphorically, is almost solely used to describe Jane and Rochester. Fire is associated with passion, and it is imperative for the characters to learn that while passion is a valuable quality, without which any relationship would be a cold and dead one, it is not the only component of a relationship; other qualities like mutual respect and honesty must be present. “Fire is a good servant, but a bad master”, as the old saying goes. The fire within both parties creates t…

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Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Dodd, Mead

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

“I found him very patient, very forbearing, and yet an exacting master: he expected me to do a great deal; and when I fulfilled his expectations, he, in his own way, fully testified his approbation. By degrees, he acquired a certain influence over me that took away my liberty of mind: his praise and notice were more restraining than his indifference. I could no longer talk or laugh freely when he was by; because a tiresomely importunate instinct reminded me that vivacity (at least in me) was distasteful to him. I was so aware that only serious moods and occupations were acceptable, that in is presence every effort to sustain or follow any other became vain: I fell under a freezing spell. When he said “go,” I went! “come,” I came; do this,” I did it. But I did not love my servitude: I wished, many a time, he had continued to neglect me” (Bronte 404-5).

In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the mental and physical imprisonment of Jane epitomizes the role of women. St. John Rivers, Eyre’s only living relative, strives to serve as her “master” portraying the domineering influence of men over women. In this particular quote, Jane explains what is, and what isn’t acceptable to St. John. She could not “talk or laugh freely” because Rivers ultimately “took away [her] liberty of mind.” Bronte suggests that Jane “fell under a freezing spell” implying that St. John’s actions seemed to restrict her from all parts of life. This controlling behavior of men was typical of the Victorian time period, because women were considered to be of lower status than men, and just be caretakers (which didn’t require much thought). Bronte uses words such as “exacting,” “influence,” “importunate,” and “servitude” to describe how much of an influence Rivers had …

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…life. Adams’ points out that Rochester believed he had “made” Jane a woman; she was not a woman in her own right. Without Rochester’s presence looming over her, she is simply a child. These roles are reversed, and Jane feels in control when Rochester is blinded by the fire set off by Bertha. Jane’s “nurturing custodianship” of him makes her feel equivalent to him, thus leading them to get married.
Consequently, Jane’s desire to have St. John “neglect” her takes a different turn. Instead of the dominating men leaving her, she builds up the autonomy through several hardships, and abandons them herself. She makes the decisions herself, and comes back to Rochester when she knows they will be viewed as equivalents.

Works Cited

Adams, Maurianne. “`Jane Eyre’: Woman’s Estate.” DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resources in Context. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.

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