Mind Map Mind map as many symbols and motifs from the novel as you can.
Learning Objectives • Understand the role of symbols & motifs in the novel ‘Jane Eyre’ (AO2). • Read critically (AO3). • Link to historical context (AO4).
Symbols & Motifs • Fire & Ice • Birds • Painting • Eyes
Ice • The “death-white realms” of the arctic that Bewick describes in his History of British Birds parallel Jane’s physical and spiritual isolation at Gateshead (Ch1). • Lowood’s freezing temperatures—for example, the frozen pitchers of water that greet the girls each morning—mirror Jane’s sense of psychological exile. • After the interrupted wedding to Rochester, Jane describes her state of mind: “A Christmas frost had come at mid-summer: a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hay-field and corn-field lay a frozen shroud . . . and the woods, which twelve hours since waved leafy and fragrant as groves between the tropics, now spread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests in wintry Norway. My hopes were all dead. . . .” (Chapter 26). • Finally, at Moor House, St. John’s frigidity and stiffness are established through comparisons with ice and cold rock. Jane writes: “By degrees, he acquired a certain influence over me that took away my liberty of mind. . . . I fell under a freezing spell” (Chapter 34).
Fire • Fire represents Jane’s passions, anger, and spirit. • Fire is also a metaphor for Jane, as the narrative repeatedly associates her with images of fire, brightness, and warmth. • In Chapter 4, she likens her mind to “a ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring.” • We can recognize Jane’s kindred spirits by their similar links to fire; thus we read of Rochester’s “flaming and flashing” eyes (Chapter 26). • After he has been blinded, his face is compared to “a lamp quenched, waiting to be re-lit” (Chapter 37). • When St. John proposes marriage to Jane, she concludes that “[a]s his curate, his comrade, all would be right. . . . But as his wife—at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked—forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital—this would be unendurable” (Chapter 34).
S. Gilbert & S. Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. Yale University Press, 2000. “As many critics have commented, Charlotte Bronte consistently uses the opposed properties of ice and fire to characterise Jane’s experiences, and her technique is immediately evident within these opening passages. For while the world outside Gateshead is almost unbearably wintry, the world within is claustrophobic, fiery, like ten year old Jane’s own mind.”
Birds Link these quotations to the role of women at the time (AO4). “I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close-set bars of a cage: A vivid, restless captive is there; were it but free, it would soar cloud-high” (152). Rochester’s use of the ‘bird’ metaphor, may be regarded as derogatory. “I am no bird and no net ensnare me. I am a free human being with an independent will.” Jane wishes to be Rochester’s “equal” but as long as his “bride…stands between” them, knows that their “paradise of union” cannot be (269). She refuses to be submissive to Rochester. “there was ever in Mr. Rochester…such a wealth of the power of communicating happiness, that to taste but of the crumbs he scattered to stray and stranger birds like me, was to feast genially.” (261) Jane believes that she is “nothing” to Rochester & craves his attention. “I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer, but…a jay in borrowed plumes. I would soon see you, Mr Rochester, tricked out in stage-trappings, as myself clad in a court–lady’s robe” (275). Jane refuses to allow Rochester to dress her, asserting her independence. Such is the necessity for equality.
Learning Check Fact about the significance of the ice in the novel. Roles that fire plays. Ways that Bronte uses the bird metaphor.
Painting • Jane’s ability to capture likenesses of herself and those around her reminds us of her flair for narrative description and for penetrating analyses of the people she knows. • In the plot of the novel, Jane may be sketching actual portraits – but in the text of the novel, she sketches those portraits, too, just in a more active sense. • Jane’s artistic skill reminds us of her storytelling abilities and of the careful crafting that goes into her tale. Whose portraits does Jane draw in the novel? There are 4!
Read (A03) • Read and highlight the main points in the essay, ‘Jane the Artist: Paintings and Drawings in Jane Eyre’.
Eyes • The eyes are ‘the windows to the soul’. • Jane is especially attracted to Mr.Rochester’s black and brilliant eyes, which symbolize his temper and power. • After Mr. Rochester loses his eyesight in the fire, Jane becomes his eyes: metaphorically, Jane now holds the position of mastery. • Bertha has bloodshot eyes that match her violent nature. The novel also emphasizes the mind’s eye—an active imagination.
Meditate • Listen to the music and write down everything you have learnt today.