Passion and Principle

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Candles flicker and burn; ice freezes and melts. A thunderstorm brews over a mansion as lightning cleaves a chestnut tree in half; snow swallows a village whole. A bed is lit afire; a lost woman huddles alone in the cold. One man is as intense and volatile as a forest fire; another is as sharp and cruel as an icicle. One man finds happiness because the fire in his soul keeps the lost woman alive; another is abandoned because the ice in his soul has strangled his humanity. In Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the symbols of fire and ice extend beyond a simple metaphor to reveal the emotional depth within the characters.

Fire is a common symbol in literature, primarily because it serves a multitude of purposes. It positively represents passion, vitality, and intensity, but it negatively represents danger, violence, and destruction. Jane Eyre proves to be more unique in its use of this unpredictable life source, since some of the negative connotations of fire are used in a positive way. The character of Edward Rochester epitomizes fire’s beneficial powers, as well as its destructive powers. Though intense and passionate like fire, Rochester also exudes an aura of danger and violence, which often arises in his brooding, mysterious personality. Brontë makes the parallels between her Byronic hero and fire extremely clear.

Throughout the novel, fire literally surrounds Rochester. In the early part of Jane Eyre’s stay at Rochester’s home of Thornfield Hall, he is almost murdered by his lunatic wife, Bertha, when she sets his bed on fire in the dead of night. Later, near the story’s end, Bertha destroys Thornfield beyond repair by setting a massive fire. Rochester is as alive and vital as a fire; his eyes are described as “flaming and ...

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... not to attain a traditional or perfectly happy ending, to her own form of happiness with the man she loves. After all, Jane Eyre is no traditional woman, and no such conclusion could be as satisfying. Though beautiful, ice is fragile, brief, and will never be as sustaining and eternal as fire. By employing the prolific motif of fire and ice, Brontë uses simple symbols to create profound characters, and reveals her own authorial stance on the value of passion and principle in the overall scheme of life. Most importantly, Brontë skillfully crafts an elemental romance between two souls that refuse to have their flames blown out. “I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together” (523).

Works Cited
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
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