The Reconciliation of Fire, Ice, and Eyre
Character Analysis and Symbolism of St. John Rivers with Jane Eyre in the novel Jane Eyre
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.
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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