Jane Eyre: Symbols
Symbols are shown in red text whenever they are discussed, so you can easily track them through the work.
The red-room symbolizes how society traps Jane by limiting her freedom due to her class, gender, and independent streak.
Fire and Ice
Fire is a symbol of emotion in the novel. Mr. Rochester has a fiery personality, while St. John is associated with ice and snow, symbolizing his dispassionate character. Jane draws arctic scenes in her portfolio that symbolize death. She wants the vitality that fire brings, but also to keep it under control. On the other hand, Bertha Mason, who has no control over her feelings, is a pyromaniac. The inferno at Thornfield illustrates the danger of letting the passions run wild.
The eyes are the windows to the soul in Jane Eyre. Jane is especially attracted to Mr. Rochester's black and brilliant eyes, which symbolize his temper and power. After Mr. Rochester loses his eyesight in the fire, Jane becomes his eyes: metaphorically, Jane now holds the position of mastery. Bertha has bloodshot eyes that match her violent nature. The novel also emphasizes the mind's eye—an active imagination.
In Jane Eyre, food symbolizes generosity, nourishment, and bounty, and hunger symbolizes cruelty and a lack of nourishment. Brontë uses food and hunger to reveal how people treat each other—who is charitable, and who isn't. For instance, the lack of food at Lowood reveals the school's cruelty and religious hypocrisy. Ms. Temple, on the other hand, provides food and is compassionate and generous. Food has religious significance in the novel as well—physical hunger represents a deeper spiritual craving.
Portraits and Pictures
Through dreams and drawings, Jane visualizes her deepest feelings. Jane's portfolio contains pictures that symbolize her life. Portraits can also stand in for people's characters. Jane compares her portraits of herself and Blanche Ingram, which mirror the differences in the two women's personalities and social class. Jane's portrait of Rosamond Oliver is the closest that St. John ever gets to happiness on earth. In each case, the visual picture takes on a new reality. Brontë, making her own picture of society in Jane Eyre, likewise wanted to give her novel real relevance.