Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Jane Eyre: Symbols, Themes, and Motifs

"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will"

Symbols

Fire

Fire is a frequent symbol in the novel that develops various meanings throughout. It represents passion, destruction, as well as comfort. Jane Eyre as a character is full of passions that she cannot always control and the fire helps represent this aspect of her identity. The destructive nature of this element is also explored when Bertha uses it to nearly kill Rochester as well as destroy his house. In addition to these two meanings of it, fire also represents comfort in the home and most often the lack of comfort. Jane frequently comments on the lack of or the inaccessibility of a fire while at Lowood. So that what she appears to long, for in noting the absence of a fire, is the comfort associated with it but also the freedom to express her innermost passions that she most often has to surpress. 

Ice

Primarily, seen in contrast to the fire symbolism, ice is often mentioned in the novel. It displays a lack of or suppression of passion and is especially seen in characters such as St John. The novel begins with Jane sequestered in the window seat reading about the Arctic showing the lack of warmth in the Reed's house. This symbolism of ice continues to Lowood where the water is described as freezing which marks it as another place that lacks warmth and comfort for Jane. 

The Red Room

The Red Room is a significant place within the novel and acts as a physical space representing the entrapment that Jane frequently feels. She feels the limitation of her position in society as the unwanted relation of a wealthy family so that having them literally lock her away displays their inability to accept her as well as that she is unable to occupy a comfortable space within their home. It also introduces the idea that the domestic is an unsafe and violent space that is later seen again at Thornfield Hall. Jane is also thirteen when she is taken into the red room so it has been read as a symbol of menstruation and her transition to womanhood. 

Madwoman 

The Madwoman, Bertha Mason, is sometimes viewed as the unexpressed emotions of Jane. She is seen as Jane's dark double in this way since she acts at times to express what Jane cannot. An instance of this is when she tears Jane's wedding veil making it so that Jane is then at liberty to wear the less extravagant veil she had preferred. But Bertha in this scene also embodies Jane's own anxieties about marriage by fighting against such as obvious symbol of it. Jane's worse fears about marriage are that it would limit her freedom and destroy her sense of identity. Thus when she encounters the Rochester's wife who is locked up in the attic, she acts as a fulfillment of all of Jane's fears. 

Additional Resource

Summary of Symbols/Themes

Themes

Bilgundsroman

Bilgundsroman is a literary term for a coming-of-age story. Jane Eyre has often been seen as this type of novel since it follows Jane's development starting with her childhood at Gateshead and ending with her married life at Ferndean. The novel traces her education and growing maturity as she moves from one significant location to the next. Each place that she lives in marks a new development in her character so that by the end of the novel she appears to have arrived at a sense of self and acceptance that she had been striving for this whole time. Beginning the novel as an unwanted orphan, Jane's progress to adulthood also culminates with her new found societal acceptance. 

Imprisonment

Both Jane and Bertha are physically imprisoned at different parts of the novel. Jane often uses a language of revolt when discussing her position and feelings such as when she states she behaved "like any rebel slave" and compares her cruel cousin to "a slave-driver" (Brontë 6). Slavery is frequently brought up in the novel as representing oppression and Brontë uses it to bring awareness to the position of white women in England as being similar to that of slaves in British colonies. This is further shown in the connection formed between Jane and Bertha. Though this is problematic in creating a connection between these different groups that faced very different forms of oppression, it does display slavery as a form of oppression and acknowledges the wrongs of the British empire. Imprisonment is thus explored not only in terms of gender but also of colonization. 

Gender/Class Discrimination

Jane is fully aware of her marginal position as a result of her gender as well as her class and she often articulates the limitations it places on her. As a governess she is neither part of the family of the house nor is she one of the servants since she is more educated than them. During Charlotte Brontë's time this was seen as a problem and caused many governesses to feel the type of isolation and discontentment that Jane expresses. Charlotte herself had worked as a governess and had not enjoyed it. The issue is both of gender and class since women had fewer career options available for them and yet not all women could afford not to work. Thus middle class women would be educated to the same level as the aristocracy but with the expectation that they would use this education to work as governesses.