Fire is multifunctional with its ability to either comfort or to destroy. When in controlled forms its company leads to enjoyment, the lack thereof leads to isolation, and its uncontrolled plentitude results in destruction. This essay will discuss how Charlotte Brontë employ fire both literally and figuratively in the Gateshead and the Thornfield sections in her novel “Jane Eyre”.
In the Gateshead section, where Jane Eyre spends her early years, Charlotte Brontë uses fire imagery to show the protagonist’s emotions.
From the first chapter, she is excluded from the rest of her adoptive family and the warmth of the fireside. When Jane, who is also the narrator, portrays the Reed family, she remarks that Mrs. Reed likes to “lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with her darlings about her”. Jane is too malicious, in their eyes, to enjoy this privilege “intended only for contented, happy, little children”. Literally, the fire here represents the enjoyment, warmth, and comfort of home.
Furthermore, it represents the sense of belonging somewhere, which Jane is deprived of. Fire is figuratively employed to illustrate Jane’s rage at her maltreatment by her aunt, Mrs. Reed. In the incident, that leads to her being locked up in the red-room, Jane is exploding with fury at her cousin John Reed and calls him “‘Wicked and cruel boy!’ I said. ‘You are like a murderer — you are like a slave-driver — you are like the Roman emperors!’” Due to her gender and class, the manner in which she rebels against him is frowned upon by English society.
Bessie and Miss Abbot state that she is “a picture of passion” and exclaim that she must have been in “a fury” to attack her cousin with such hatred. This quote shows the passion and anger Jane feels at Gateshead Hall, but it also mirrors the view of passion in society, especially if you were female and poor. Furthermore, Jane’s anger culminates in an outburst against her aunt, before being sent off to Lowood School. Even though she learns how to manage this fiery nature of hers, the theme of rage against inequity and how it is expressed through fire, remains throughout the narrative.
The Thornfield section, which is probably the most important part of Jane’s life, is full of love and emotion between her and Mr. Rochester, which is illustrated by figurative fire imagery. During almost every encounter between them, they are in front of a fire or around candles. “Two wax candles stood lighted on the table, and two on the mantelpiece; basking in the light and heat of a superb fire…”. This quote exemplifies Thornfield Hall as a fiery manor that represents the passion between Jane and Mr. Rochester. During their conversations, he recognizes the fire within Jane and not only does he tolerate it, but encourages and loves it.
This is exhibited in the quote where he entrusts to her that “to the soul made of fire…. I am ever tender and true”. Moreover, he is excited by the passion she has learned to control, choosing it over the “perspective of flatness, triviality, and perhaps imbecility”. The physical threat of fire, echoed in Bertha, the mad wife of Mr. Rochester, is a literal imagery of fire that is also used by Brontë in the Thornfield section. Bertha’s madness is expressed with fire, both when she attempts to set fire to Mr. Rochester’s bed, and when she burns down Thornfield Hall, and leads to desolation for both the manor and its owner. Luckily, this demolition of the past, allows a new beginning for Jane and Mr. Rochester.
In sum, fire is a remarkable symbol in “Jane Eyre”. Brontë cleverly employs fire imagery both figuratively and literally and with it illustrates the passionate personalities of the characters Jane and Mr. Rochester, and their emotions. She also illustrates the danger of letting the passions run wild, with no control, similar to physical fire.