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In the classic novel, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte tells the story of an orphaned governess and her romance with Edward Rochester. As Bronte develops the plot, she subtly uses symbolism to represent ideas. Throughout the book, Bronte includes objects and events that symbolize a deeper concept. Symbolism is a key literary device when Bronte describes the relationship between Mr. Rochester and Jane. In one instance, the chestnut tree under which Mr.
Rochester proposed is struck by lightning. “I faced the wreck of the chestnut-tree … split down the centre … The cloven halves were not broken from each other … the firm base and strong roots kept them unsundered below … they might be said to form one tree–a ruin, but an entire ruin” (282).
The wording could easily be overlooked, however, the tree represents the idea that the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester will suffer damage, yet remain intact.
Likewise, the circumstance involving Bertha Mason tearing the bridal veil in the middle of the night symbolizes an idea.
“It removed my veil … rent it in two parts … flinging both on the floor, trampled on them” (290). The veil, symbolizing Jane’s marriage, is torn in two, just as Jane’s marriage will also be cruelly ripped apart. Together, Bronte uses these two symbols as representations of the destruction soon to occur in Jane’s love life.
Bronte also applies symbolism to reveal the characters of Jane’s two love interests, Mr. Rochester and St. John Rivers. When referring to Mr. Rochester, the author uses terms relating to fire, such as when Rochester tries to win back Jane.
“He seemed to devour me with his flaming glance … powerless as stubble exposed to the draught and glow of a furnace” (325). Thus, Mr. Rochester is a fiery character, and fire is his symbol. In contrast, Bronte describes St. John Rivers with icy terms.
For example, when Jane is telling Rochester of Rivers’ flaws, she describes it this way: “He is good and great, but severe; and, for me, cold as an iceberg” (457). St. John Rivers is therefore represented by ice. These two symbols are used throughout the book. All in all, symbolism plays a role in developing the plot of Jane Eyre. It leads to foreshadowing, to contrast, and to characterization. Without symbols, the storyline would not be as vividly presented to the reader. Charlotte Bronte’s symbolism certainly adds depth to her impressive novel.
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