In Jane Eyre, the Reed family is gathered around the fire; Jane is excluded. Is fire being used to symbolize feeling/emotional warmth or meaning?Symbols and theme

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mshargaden eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of isolation and being different and excluded runs throughout the novel.  Jane is isolated by the Reed family, who only took her in because Mr. Reed made his wife promise to take in Jane, his sister's orphaned daughter, as he lay on his deathbed.

This scene of exclusion sets up the entire plot of the first part of the book as well, since Jane retreats to an alcove in the library to comfort herself through reading, a favorite pastime.  Unfortunately, John bullies her and Mrs. Reed blames Jane for swinging at him in anger sending Jane to the "Red Room" where her uncle had died.  She is so terrified in the room as night falls that she has a breakdown and falls unconscious.

Because of this, the next day the family doctor advises that Jane be sent away to school.  She is, and thus begins her journey to the rest of her life.

So, the fire is used as a symbol of family togetherness, which Jane is excluded from, and it also serves as the catapult for the entire plot of the novel.

Fire, though, is a potent symbol that deserves to be explored in its own right.  It has been used for centuries, even since the dawn of humanity, as a symbol of creation and destruction, banishing the darkness and bringing people together on the one hand, but also getting out of control and destroying the old on the other hand.  It also symbolizes chaos, conflict, and war.

In Jane Eyre, it seems that the fire of the hearth serves many of these purposes at the beginning of the novel.