The Motifs of Fire and Ice in Jane Eyre
In literature, a foil is defined as a character whose attributes and personality directly contrasts that of another character. Such characters are often depicted by the author through their physical attributes, their behaviors, and their way of thinking. Charlotte Bronte, however, portrays characters Edward Fairfax Rochester and St.
John Rivers from the novel “Jane Eyre” through the use of two motifs, fire and ice, respectively, when showcasing their personalities and the way they conduct their lives. Rochester’s lack of moral control and total subjugation to his passion is characteristic of the unquenchable fire that resides within him, which directly contrasts St. John’s total defiance to his passion and his complete submission to his morals that is characteristic of his icy cold soul and total self-restriction.
To begin, fire, in literature, typically symbolizes a dynamic personality, rapid change, and passionate rage. Often, fire also symbolizes free will and a lack of guidance and control, much like fires in the real world that are extremely difficult to contain and control when gone out of hand. When a fire spreads, it does not spread in a certain direction, but rather randomly where the fuel and wind direction takes it, and therefore it is hard to predict the direction it moves and spreads. Rochester embodies this motif perfectly in the novel, Jane Eyre, as he allows his dynamic and fiery passion to guide and rule his life. Upon engaging in his first conversation with Jane in Chapter 14 of the novel, Rochester mentions that he “[has] a right to get pleasure out of life: and [he] will get it, cost what it may” (Bronte, 129). Rochester makes it very clear that his goal and ambition in life is to get pleasure through whatever means necessary, suggesting that he is ready to allow his passion to take control of his will in order to achieve immediate gratification, regardless of the consequences. This is characteristic of a wildfire, as Rochester tends to make impulsive decisions without factoring the moral implications. Bronte also utilizes the motif of fire to describe Rochester’s actions, further depicting the fire in his character and demeanor. “He seemed to devour me with his flaming glance: physically, I felt…powerless as stubble exposed to the draught and glow of a furnace” (Bronte, 297). By using words such as “flaming” and “furnace,” Bronte further associates Rochester’s passion and fury with heat and fire directly, signaling to the reader that Rochester seeks instant gratification and is unable to control his impulsive desires. This is the main reason why Jane refuses to marry Rochester, as he is practically a “loose cannon” lacking a sense of aim and control.
To continue, ice, in literature, typically symbolizes a static personality, stubbornness to change, and immovable stance and opinions. Ice in the real world is solid and frozen, difficult to break, and is immobile. Unlike fire, it is contained and controlled, as the particles are bonded by a strong interparticulate force that is difficult to break without the use of a large amount of energy. Ice, therefore, represents containment, restriction and total lack of free will. In the novel, Jane Eyre, St. John perfectly embodies this motif. Within the first few months of interaction, Jane noted that St. John was very reserved and anti-social with her. She found it especially difficult to conduct conversation with him, “for it is at all times difficult to break the ice of reserve glassing over such natures as his” (Bronte, 330). Bronte characterizes his reservation using the word “ice,” demonstrating that there is an unbreakable barrier between Jane and St. John that prevents them from having a more social interaction. It is also made evident later in the novel that St. John loves another woman named Rosamond Oliver but due to his unwavering ambition and submission to his religion and duty, he refuses to engage in a relationship with her and marry her. He admits that “it is strange…that while [he] love[s] Rosamond Oliver so wildly…that she would not make [him] a good wife; that she is not the partner suited to [him]” (Bronte, 350).
He refuses to leave his vocation and his work as a missionary and he believes that love with Rosamond Oliver would be a distraction. Like solid ice, he lacks the warmth of love and passion, and his negative stance on love-based marriage is as immobile as cold stone. Furthermore, Bronte characterizes St. John’s physical appearance and personality to associate him with the motif of ice. In the novel, Jane Eyre notes that “he said he was hard and cold…he lived only to aspire – after what was good and great.” This statement depicts St. John’s solid and unwavering devotion towards his ambition and aspirations, and thus his total rejection of passion. In summation, Bronte uses the motifs of fire and ice to depict the stark contrasts between Rochester’s uncontrollable passion and lack of moral guidance to St. John’s religious leash and completely reserved passion respectively. Rochester’s impulsiveness and his belief that he has a right to happiness at all costs makes the uncontrollable fury of fire an accurate representation of his character, and Bronte successfully takes advantage of the unpredictable and dangerous characteristics of fire that ultimately determines Rochester’s state of mind and behavior. St. John’s reservation and total submission to God and religious duty on the other hand, makes the solid, cold and contained nature of ice a perfect representation of his personality, and Bronte exploits this cold and stone-hard characteristic of ice to guide St. John’s interaction with other characters in the novel as well as create his static mindset regarding his duty and rejection of true love and passion. These conflicting ideals are ultimately what further emphasize the difference between the foils of fiery and dynamic Rochester and icy and static St. John.
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