Discuss the images in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are lots of images or motifs in Jane Eyre. I will discuss one of the central set of images and how it relates to the novel as a whole.

You would do well to re-read the novel and note how often fire and ice are referred to as central images. These two images are fundamentally related to the theme of the novel. Fire represents the passion and anger of Jane, while ice represents the forces of duty, submission and other characters that are trying to suppress and oppress Jane's character. In the novel at various points fire is used as a kind of metaphor for Jane, to describe her spirit and vitality. For example, before she leaves Gateshead, she compares her way of thinking to “a ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring.” Likewise fire is used to indicate to readers who Jane can relate to. For example, Rochester is described as having “flaming and flashing” eyes.

Ice and cold are used in the novel to symbolise isolation, loneliness and abandonment. The first mention we have of this is the book that Jane reads in Chapter 1, depicting the "death-white realms” of the arctic. This landscape of course mirrors Jane's state during her time at Gateshead - she is abandoned and isolated both physically and spiritually. This is continued in Lowood through reference to the freezing conditions and the ice that has to be broken each morning for the girls to wash. Most interesting is the way that images of ice and cold are welded to the figure of St. John Rivers. He is compared at various points to "marble" and a "glacier". He is of course a force that tries to oppress Jane and stamp our her independence of spirit or her "flame". Consider Jane's comment on his impact on her: “By degrees, he acquired a certain influence over me that took away my liberty of mind. . . . I fell under a freezing spell”.

These are just some examples of how these two key images run through the novel as a whole - try and look for some others in the novel.

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