The Reconciliation of Fire, Ice, and Eyre
In the novel Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte explores a patriarchal Victorian society, where Nature clashes with monotheist Christianity, and passion clashes with reason. As Jane develops, conflicted with these polarized binaries, Bronte examines the dichotomy between the fire of passion and emotion and the ice of spirituality and rationality. Through Jane’s internal conflict with Rochester and Bertha, Bronte employs a recurring fire motif to delineate the vulnerabilities of an unrestrained burning passion, with emotions overpowering the ability to reason and think. Through Jane’s internal struggle with St. John, Bronte uses iterations of the ice motif to suggest that the extreme renunciation of self-desires and the embrace of rationality and spirituality shroud corporeal passions that would otherwise kindle warmth and individuality in a frigidly stratified society. By coupling these antithesis elemental motifs with the influences of Rochester, Bertha, and St. John, Brontë explores the balance of passion and rationality as catalysis for the development of identity and ultimately its impetus for the augmentation of humanity and its condition.
Bronte uses a fire motif to portray the burning unrestrained passions of Jane and her conflict with Rochester and Bertha in order to explore how unbridled passion, in the absence of rationality, clouds the perception of spiritual and societal morality. Despite Rochester’s “callous” appearance, Jane is attracted by his “pleasurable and genial…face…his presence more cheering than the brightest fire” (Brontë 146).By dichotomizing Jane’s enamor of Rochester’s “pleasurable and genial face” with his physical “callous” features, Bronte accentuates the extent to which Jane is entranced with her passion of love and blind to his flaws, his “callous[ness].”Rochester is not just her “bright fire” but “the brightest fire.” Through Jane’s superlative proclamation and fire motif, Bronte also adumbrates at the protagonist’s naivety of her “brightest fire” passion. Without fully rationalizing Rochester’s special treatment towards her or his subsequent seduction in the garden, Jane continues to “lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength,” listening more to her flaming emotions than her logic, the need to “keep to your caste” (162). Likewise, Brontë uses the “brightest fire” motif to show that Jane’s inexperience with passionate love obscures her rational judgment of questioning Rochester’s motives, smoldering her ability to reason under a conflagration of feelings.
Ultimately, as Jane learns about Rochester’s manipulation and secret wife,rationality emerges, and the flames of her passionate love waver. She asserts that “him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped: and I must renounce love and idol. One drear word comprised of my duty – ‘Depart!’” (315). Jane understands that although she “love[s] him,” it is logical to “depart,” her “duty” to still retain her moral principles of society by not joining in Rochester’s immoral corruption. Her “duty” of empowered rationality allows her to logically “renounce” the enslaving power that Rochester asserts and seek a different lifestyle without stifling either passion or moral. Thus, Bronte uses Jane’s reentrance of reason in her internal conflict of passion to suggest that rationality instills clear judgment and helps pave way for a more moral, spiritual life.
Additionally, through Bertha, Brontë utilizes the wild fire motif to depict the dangers of an extreme uncontrollable burning passion – Bertha’s violent rage against the stifling constraints of a patriarchal society –that obstruct rationality and the moral boundaries.“Gurgl[ing] and moan[ing],” Bertha lights Rochester’s bed on fire, “tongues of flame darted round…in the midst of blaze” (148). The wildness of the “tongues of flame” and “blaze” illustrates the magnitude of Bertha’s madness and her emblematic rage against societal confinement and feminist oppression. Coupled with the blazing fire motif, her “gurgles” and “moans” depict her as an animal, through which Brontë suggests that her state of mind has gone beyond rationality and morality.
Due to this extreme unbalance of passionate ire and rationality, Bertha’s savagery literally induces dangers, such as the attempt of burning Rochester alive or the mangle of Mason. Thus, through her blazing incarceration, Brontë underscores these physical dangers as additional extreme vulnerabilities of an unreconciled infernal passion with cold reason.Yet, Bertha’s animalistic qualities do not solely pertain to herself; they also reflect Jane’s internal features. As Gilbert suggests, “the imprisoned Bertha…is the ‘bad animal’ who was ten-year-old Jane…emblematic of her mind in its rebellion against society” (5).With Bertha as Jane’s darkest double, Bronte portrays an extreme example of the unbalanced unbridled passion, “rebellion against society,” and absent rationality to reinforce the idea of the need to reconcile passion with reason.
Through Jane’s internal struggle with St. John, Bronte utilizes an ice motif to examine the surrender of passion to cold rational piety and the consequential unhealthy depravity of the individual’s condition.Observing St. John, Jane notes the “cold cumbrous” aurathat he possesses yet strongly asserts that he is “a good man,” doing “what was good and great, certainly” (393). Through passionate judgment, Jane recognizes the “cumbrous” coldness that underlies St. John’s character. However, her reason, influenced and almost inculcated by St. John, overpowers her emotional examination. She rationally yet too simply connects that St. John’s unwavering Christian devotion makes him “a good man,” and thus concludes that he is only capable of doing the “good and great,” the moral.Through Jane’s early disregard of her instinctual passion of fire and embrace of logic and – unknowingly – rhetorical fallacy, Brontë utilizes the initial “cold cumbrous” imagery of ice to foreshadow the impending snowstorm of anguish that Jane obliviously enters.
As Jane endures St. John’s tasks of learning Hindustani and rationally obeys, she experiences “icy kisses…freezing spells” and ignores the turbulent passion that inwardly shouts of the inequities of “disowning half my nature, stifling half my faculties” (397-398). By employing the ice motifs of “icy kisses” and “freezing spells” that “[stifle] half [of Jane’s] faculties,” Bronte evokes a sense of arctic frigidity that barricades and internally pains Jane in an icy prison of control. Brontë further suggests that without passion, “half my nature,” Jane is semi-aware of the patriarchal dominance that St. John exerts through his “spell” of control and Divine Providence.His freezing spells “appear to cloud and obscure [Eyre’s] judgment” (La Monaca 3).Subduing emotional passion for the logical follow of St. John and thus God’s will, Jane continues to wish to please him, but eventually “[awakes]…trembling and quivering…the convulsion of despair” (Brontë 367) and exclaiming that “to burn inwardly…would be unendurable!” (408). Through Jane’s “convulsion of despair,” Bronte uses her boiling anguish right after the usage of the ice motif to illuminate the extreme degree of Jane’s depravity and highlight the unhealthiness of an unbalance between passionate self-indulgence and cold rational self-restraint. Additionally, Jane’s suppressed passion “awakes,” empowering her to emotionally melt the “unendurable” dehumanizing ice of frigid female oppression imposed by St. John. Thus, Bronte uses the ice motif and Jane’s internal boiling conflict with St. John to examine that passion rekindles the flames of spiritual healthiness and ultimately feminism strength.
As Jane returns to the debilitated Rochester as a new enlightened woman, Bronte uses Jane’s strengthened individuality of independence and compassion to lastly exemplify reconciliation of blazing passion and frozen rationality as an enhancement to the human identity. Blind and crippled, Rochester is moved by Jane’s “affectionate heart and generous spirit…[of] sacrifices” and more than ever attracted to his little “fairy” and her newfound “independence” (434-435). Emerging from her various previous internal conflicts, Jane has learned to balance the “heart” or passion with “spirit of sacrifices” or principled rationality, metaphorically transforming into Rochester’s true “fairy.”As a “fairy,” Jane symbolically carries wings of freedom. As Gilbert suggests, Jane is freed from the chains of Rochester and St. John, no longer the “slave of passion” or the oppressed under the “iron shroud of principle” (6). It is through the reconciliation of elemental passion of fire and rationality of ice that Jane breaks the confinements of St. John’s and Rochester’s patriarchal control and ultimately discovers“independence” and compassion without losing spiritual morality, unlike Bertha. Yet, despite Jane’s retained autonomy and her decision to remain with Rochester, ambiguities of their relationship continue to pervade even at the ending. By choosing Rochester and her overly sentimental pleasure for him, Jane leans more to passion than rationality, and as Jane reads St. John’s letter, she cries “human tears…filled with “Divine joy” (452). Brontë uses Jane’s tears to show that dissonance in Jane’s ‘balance’ between the Byronic fire Rochester and “Divine” ice St. John still continues. However, even so, Bronte utilizes Jane’s unity with Rochester to show the empowerment of a balance between passion and reason, even though not entirely perfect.
Thus, Bronte uses a dichotomy of fire and ice motifs to not only portray the internal conflicts that Jane faces with Rochester, Bertha, and St. John but also further explore Jane’s ultimate development of her psyche through the reconciliation of passion and rationality. Through Jane’s convergence of rationality and passion into a healthy but not completely perfect balance, Bronte examines the overarching equilibrium of the two as an enhancement for the human condition, where passion instills compassion, and rationality unfolds spiritual morality. Jane Eyre’s ultimate development of individuality and identity illuminates humanity’s possible path of empowerment through the balanced preservation of passion and rationality.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975. Print.
Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. “A Dialogue of Self and Soul: Plain Jane’s Progress.”
The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976. Print.
Lamonaca, Maria. “Jane’s Crown of Thorns: Feminism and Christianity in Jane Eyre.” Studies in the Novel. 34.3 (2002): 245-263.
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