The use of elemental imagery in Jane Eyre, revealed throughout the novel both literally and metaphorically, is one of Charlotte Bronte s key stylistic devices. The opposition of the two elements, fire and water, highlights the need for the characters to find equilibrium between the two. Fire can describe passion and warmth, but it can also burn. Water can describe coolness and comfort, but it can also chill. Because of Charlotte Bronte s use of elemental imagery in her book, Jane Eyre, the reader can better comprehend what the characters of Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester, St.
John Rivers, and Bertha Mason are feeling and thinking. Fire imagery helps the reader understand the strong feeling of passion in the character of Jane Eyre. At Gateshead, Jane is unable to control her passions and hits John Reed after he bullies her. As her punishment, Jane is locked up in the red-room. Fire imagery here, in the form of the red room, is Bronte s way of representing Jane s passion and fury. A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask (20) is used by Bronte to represent, through physical manifestation, Jane s overly passionate nature.
Also very significant is the direct use of fire. This room was chill, because it seldom had a fire (20) is Bronte s way of saying that Jane is the fire in the room. There was not a fire until Jane inhabited the room. This key symbolism generates a horrific image in the reader s mind of what Jane looks like and is acting like in this scene due to Bronte s significant use of elemental imagery. Another instance of fire describing Jane is when she sees Mr. Rochester s bed torched. It is ironic that Jane happens to find Rochester s bed torched. The reason, illustrated by Bronte, is because they share passion with each other.
They have feelings for each other in a way that Bronte can only describe with the fire imagery. The scene s sheer coincidence makes that hard not to believe. Because Bronte used fire to describe Jane s passion in that scene, the reader can really grasp how Jane is feeling. On the contrary, that scene extinguishes the fire, thus the passion. Later in that scene, Jane extinguishes the fire in Rochester s room with water. The water that Jane uses to put out the passion flame in that scene is metaphorically telling the reader that she needs to relinquish her passion.
The flame between Jane and Rochester is too hot. They need to find equilibrium. The reader can see the amount of passion that Jane feels, and the amount needed to extinguish her passion. Another instance of water imagery describing Jane s feelings is when Jane shows Rochester one of her paintings. This painting tells the reader much about Jane s concerns and values through the rich sense of imagery in them. The first painting is described as having a drowned corpse in its swollen seas of green water (143).
Jane, because of her passionate nature, sees water, representing a locking out of passion and emotion, as death itself. Given that Jane has hot, fiery passion, water imagery is used by Bronte to show the reader how and equilibrium needs to be reached between the two. Another character, Mr. Rochester, shows extreme passion in his multifaceted and intricate feelings. Thornfield is usually considered a gloomy house like a grey hollow filled with rayless cells, (133) but when Rochester enters, Jane sees a warm glow in the oak staircase and a genial fire lit in the grate (133).
Immediately upon Rochester s return to Thornfield, fire imagery is used more by Bronte. Come to the fire, (152) said by Rochester to Jane is seen as an invitation to indulge Rochester s passion. Bronte portrays Rochester as fire itself. His purpose is to offer passionate and romantic love to Jane. Rochester, viewed as fire, makes the passion swelling in him more obvious to the reader. St. John Rivers does not feel much passion in his life. Therefore, he can be described as cold and icy.
The first and foremost evidence of this is exemplified just by reading his name, Rivers. When Jane sees St. John for the first time, she says, “I have never seen that handsome face of his look more like chiseled marble as he put aside his snow wet hair from his forehead” (386). Bronte writes that St. John was “at the fireside a cold, cumbrous column, gloomy and out of place” (393), hinting the incompatibility of Jane and St. John. Jane s nature is passionate while St. John s is not. Bronte again uses water imagery to describe the strange marriage proposal of St.
John s. She compares him with imagery of cold, running water when Jane says “he has no more a husband s heart for me than that frowning giant of a rock, down which the stream is foaming in yonder gorge” (459). St. John Rivers feelings are better illustrated from this use of water imagery. Bronte uses fire to describe Bertha Mason. Through Bronte s use of this imagery, the reader can see the potential dangers of allowing passion to rule uncontrolled. Bertha represents unleashed, untamed passion, without any control or reason.
This can be observed when she torches his bed curtains. The imagery, such as the lit candlestick on its side lying on the hallway floor, symbolizes destructive passion that Bertha possesses. Notice that the candlestick is on its side, not upright in a safe position. When Bertha torches Thornfield, she is described as having hair streaming against the flames (476). This description signifies that Bertha has almost a satanic nature bearing a head full of fire. These two scenes are designed to make the reader appreciate the grave danger of uncontrolled passion.
In Charlotte Bronte s Jane Eyre, the reader understands better what Jane, Mr. Rochester, St. John Rivers, and Bertha Mason are feeling and thinking due to Bronte s use of elemental imagery. As a result of this, the reader appreciates these characters even more. Without the use of fire and water imagery to show the characters feelings, comprehending what the characters are thinking would be difficult. Basically, Bronte s use of fire and water imagery signifies her relentless pursuit to show the reader what her characters in Jane Eyre are feeling.