Essay, Research Paper: Jane Eyre

Literature: Jane Eyre

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Analysis of Nature Charlotte Bronte makes use of nature imagery throughout
"Jane Eyre," and comments on both the human relationship with the
outdoors and human nature. The following are examples from the novel that
exhibit the importance of nature during that time period. 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"(Brontė 159). The gale is all the forces that prevent Jane's union
with Rochester. Brontė implies that Jane's feelings about the sea driving her
back remind her of her heart felt emotions of a rocky relationship with
Rochester and still being drawn back to him. Another recurrent image is Brontė'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. One can 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 Brontė 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 Brontė
adumbrates poor nutrition at Lowood through a bird who is described as a little
hungry robin. Brontė 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 Brontė 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"(Brontė
340). 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"(Brontė 340). 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; the crag protected my head: the sky was over that" (Brontė
340). It is the moon part of nature that sends Jane away from Thornfield. Jane
believes that birds are faithful to their mates. Seeing herself as unfaithful,
Jane is seeking an existence in nature where everything is simpler. Brontė was
surely not aware of the large number of species of bird that practice polygamy.
While this fact is intrinsically wholly irrelevant to the novel, it makes one
ponder whether nature is really so simple and perfect. The concept of nature in
"Jane Eyre" is reminiscent of the majority's view of the world: the
instantiation of God. "The Lord is My Rock" is a popular Christian
saying. A rock implies a sense of strength, of support. Yet a rock is also cold,
inflexible, and unfeeling. Nature is an essential quality and a sense of
inflexibility. Jane's granite crag protects her without caring; the wild cattle
that she fears are also part of nature. The hard strength of a rock is the very
thing that makes it inflexible. Similarly, the precipitation that makes Jane
happy as she leaves Thornfield, and the rain that is the life-force of
everything in the heath, is the same precipitation that led her to narrate this
passage: "But my night was wretched, my rest broken: the ground was damp .
. . towards morning it rained; the whole of the following day was
wet"(Brontė 347). Just like a benevolent God, nature will accept Jane no
matter what: "Nature seemed to me benign and good; I thought she loved me,
outcast as I was"(Brontė 341). Praying in the heather on her knees, Jane
realizes that God is great: "Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He
had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish, nor one of the
souls it treasured"(Brontė 342). Unsurprisingly, given Brontė's strongly
anti-Church of England stance, Jane realizes at some level that this reliance on
God is unsubstantiated: "But next day, Want came to me, pale and
bare"(Brontė 342). Nature and God have protected her from harm, providing
meager shelter, warding off bulls and hunters, and giving her enough sustenance
in the form of wild berries to keep her alive. It is Jane's "nature,"
defined above as "vital force, functions, or needs," that drives her
out of the heath. In the end, it is towards humanity that she must turn. Nature
is an unsatisfactory solution to Jane's travails. It is neither kind nor unkind,
just nor unjust. Nature does not care about Jane. She was attracted to the heath
because it would not turn her away; it was strong enough to keep her without
needing anything in return. But this isn't enough, and Jane is forced to seek
sustenance in the town. Here she encounters a different sort of nature: human
nature. As the shopkeeper and others coldly turn her away, we discover that
human nature is weaker than nature. However, there is one crucial advantage in
human nature: it is flexible. It is St. John and his sisters that finally
provide the charity Jane so desperately needs. They have bent what is
established as human nature to help her. Making this claim raises the issue of
the nature of St. John-has he a human nature, or is he so close to God that his
nature is God-like? The answer is a bit of both. St. John is filled with the
same dispassionate caring that God's nature provided Jane in the heath: he will
provide, a little, but he doesn't really care for her. We get the feeling on the
heath, as Jane stares into the vastness of space, that she is just one small
part of nature, and that God will not pay attention to that level of detail. St.
John exhibits definitely human characteristics, most obvious being the way he
treats Jane after she refuses to marry him. He claims he does not treat her
badly, but he's lying to himself. That night, after he had kissed his sisters,
he shrugged Jane off in a cold manner by leaving the room without speaking to
her. What is important here is that St. John is more human than God, and thus he
and his sisters are able to help Jane. From the womb, Jane is reborn. She takes
a new name, Jane Elliott. With a new family, new friends, and a new job, she is
a new person. And the changes go deeper than that. The time she spent in the
heath and the moors purged her, both physically and mentally. Jane needed to
purge, to destroy the old foundations before she could build anew. It is
necessary to examine these scenes of nature in the context of the early to mid
nineteenth-century. A significant aspect of nineteenth-century England relevant
to nature in "Jane Eyre" was the debate over evolution versus
Creationism. The evolutionary theory was being developed while people were
questioning higher powers and this provided opposition for the Creationists of
the first half of the nineteenth century. One of evolution's principles is
"survival of the fittest," and this is exactly what happens to Jane in
the heath. Her old self is not strong enough, and must die. The new Jane she is
forging is a product of natural selection. In fact, Jane is echoing the victory
of evolution over Creation by the fact that it is humans who save her, and not
God.
Bibliography
Page Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Oxford World Classics. Oxford New York,
1998.

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