Charlotte Bronte\'s Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte makes use of nature imagery throughout "Jane
Eyre," and comments on both the human relationship with the outdoors and
human nature. The Oxford Reference Dictionary defines "nature" as "1. the
phenomena of the physical world as a whole . . . 2. a thing\'s essential
qualities; a person\'s or animal\'s innate character . . . 4. vital force,
functions, or needs." We will see how "Jane Eyre" comments on all of
Several natural themes run through the novel, one of which is the
image of a stormy sea. After Jane saves Rochester\'s life, she gives us the
following metaphor of their relationship: "Till morning dawned I was tossed
on a buoyant but unquiet sea . . . I thought sometimes I saw beyond its
wild waters a shore . . . now and then a freshening gale, wakened by hope,
bore my spirit triumphantly towards the bourne: but . . . a counteracting
breeze blew off land, and continually drove me back." The gale is all the
forces that prevent Jane\'s union with Rochester. Later, Bront‰, whether it
be intentional or not, conjures up the image of a buoyant sea when
Rochester says of Jane: "Your habitual expression in those days, Jane, was
. . . not buoyant." In fact, it is this buoyancy of Jane\'s relationship
with Rochester that keeps Jane afloat at her time of crisis in the heath:
"Why do I struggle to
retain a valueless life? Because I know, or believe, Mr. Rochester
is living."
Another recurrent image is Bront‰\'s treatment of Birds. We first
witness Jane\'s fascination when she reads Bewick\'s History of British Birds
as a child. She reads of "death-white realms" and "\'the solitary rocks and
promontories\'" of sea-fowl. We quickly see how Jane identifies with the
bird. For her it is a form of escape, the idea of flying above the toils
of every day life. Several times the narrator talks of feeding birds
crumbs. Perhaps Bront‰ is telling us that this idea of escape is no more
than a fantasy -- one cannot escape when one must return for basic
sustenance. The link between Jane and birds is strengthened by the way
Bront‰ adumbrates poor nutrition at Lowood through a bird who is described
as "a little hungry robin."
Bront‰ brings the buoyant sea theme and the bird theme together in
the passage describing the first painting of Jane\'s that Rochester
examines. This painting depicts a turbulent sea with a sunken ship, and on
the mast perches a cormorant with a gold bracelet in its mouth, apparently
taken from a drowning body. While the imagery is perhaps too imprecise to
afford an exact interpretation, a possible explanation can be derived from
the context of previous treatments of these themes. The sea is surely a
metaphor for Rochester and Jane\'s relationship, as we have already seen.
Rochester is often described as a "dark" and dangerous man, which fits the
likeness of a cormorant; it is therefore likely that Bront‰ sees him as the
sea bird. As we shall see later, Jane goes through a sort of symbolic
death, so it makes sense for her to represent the drowned corpse. The gold
bracelet can be the purity and innocence of the old Jane that Rochester
managed to capture before she left him.
Having established some of the nature themes in "Jane Eyre," we can
now look at the natural cornerstone of the novel: the passage between her
flight from Thornfield and her acceptance into Morton.
In leaving Thornfield, Jane has severed all her connections; she
has cut through any umbilical cord. She narrates: "Not a tie holds me to
human society at this moment." After only taking a small parcel with her
from Thornfield, she leaves even that in the coach she rents. Gone are all
references to Rochester, or even her past life. A "sensible" heroine might
have gone to find her uncle, but Jane needed to leave her old life behind.
Jane is seeking a return to the womb of mother nature: "I have no
relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek her breast and ask
repose." We see how she seeks protection as she searches for a resting
place: "I struck straight into the heath; I held on to a hollow I saw
deeply furrowing the brown moorside; I waded knee-deep in its dark growth;
I turned with its turnings, and finding a moss-blackened granite crag in a
hidden angle, I sat down under it. High banks of moor were about me;