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Imagery in Jane Eyre

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1721 words Published: 15th Aug 2017

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Much of the imagery of Jane Eyre is obvious-the chestnut tree, the grim landscapes, the red room that is like Hell. But two images are so pervasive that they serve as a substructure for the entire novel: fire and water-and their extremes, the flames of lust and the ice of indifference. The fire is in Jane’s spirit and in Rochester’s eyes. Jane desires “life, fire, feeling” (p. 105); Rochester has “strange fire in his look” (p. 145). If these two are fire, St. John Rivers (note the last name) contains the icy waters that would put out fire, destroy passion. His nature is frozen over with an “ice of reserve” (p. 334); when he tells Jane, “I am cold: no fervour infects me,” her reply is, “Whereas I am hot, and fire dissolves ice” (p. 364). From the start of the novel, Charlotte Bronta’s fire and water imagery indicates the essential idea. The fiery passion of Jane, and, later, Rochester, must be quenched by the cold waters of self-control-but not destroyed by the ice of repression. If their bodies burn, their minds must dampen the fires. Jane warns herself that secret love might “kindle” within her life an “ignis fatuus” (p. 153). Yet it is Rochester who is all-fire: when, disguised as a gypsy, he has his interview with Jane, she feels his powerful attraction and says, “Don’t keep me long; the fire scorches me.” Rochester, for his part, realizes Jane’s double quality; she has the fire of bodily love, “The flame flickers in the eye,” but also the cool control of the soul, “the eye shines like dew” (p. 190). Earlier, Rochester insists that Jane is cold because she is alone: “no contact strikes the fire from you that is within you” (p. 187). When Bertha, Rochester’s old passionate flame, sets his bed on fire, Jane saves him by dousing the bed with water. Miss BrontE’s imagery is precise and explains the relationship between the central characters. Bertha represents the flames of hellfire that have already scorched Rochester. Jane, fiery though she is, has sufficient control to water down these fires. Jane “brought my own water jug, baptized the couch afresh, and, by God’s aid, succeeded in extinguishing the flames which were devouring it” (p. 142). She will save them both from hellfire by refusing the passionate advances of Rochester. After she learns of his previous marriage, she finally gains release from her burning agony and imagines herself laid down in the dried-up bed of a great river, and “I heard a flood loosened in remote mountains, and felt the torrent come .. . .” (p. 281). Religiontrue religion, not the frigid religion that will characterize Rivers-is described in terms of water: “‘the waters came into my soul . . . I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me”‘ (p. 282). And this water in Jane’s spirit enables her to withstand what Rochester calls the “pure, powerful flame” (p. 299) that fuses them. Despite the “hand of fiery iron [that] grasped my vitals” (p. 299), despite her “veins running fire,” despite Rochester’s “flaming glance” which is likened to the “glow of a furnace” (p. 301), Jane flees to the “wet turf” and sheds “stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears” (p. 305). This content downloaded on Tue, 5 Mar 2013 10:00:58 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ROUND TABLE 217 Although Jane is soaked with rain in her wanderings, her emotional fires still burn, ready to be re-awakened when the dangers of Rochester’s appeals have passed. Rochester alone must be purged by the fires he long ago lit between himself and Bertha. This time there is no Jane to keep him from the searing, mutilating flames that destroy Bertha and Thornfield, and, ironically, put out the fiery gleam in his eyes. But Jane, meanwhile, is guarding her own flame from the freezing heartlessness of St. John Rivers. His “ice kisses” cannot reach her. She cannot forever “keep the fires of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital” (p. 417). She escapes from Rivers’ chilling grasp and returns to the scorched ruin of Rochester where she can “kindle the lustre” of his “lamp” which has been “quenched” (p. 417). Soon she re-awakens the glow of their love, and their two natures join in a steady flame that burns neither as wildly as the lightning that destroyed the chestnut, nor as dimly as the setting sun of St. John Rivers’ religious dream. The fire-water image underscores the basic idea of Jane Eyre: just as love must find a middle way between the flames of passion and the waters of pure reason, so Jane must find a golden mean between egocentric rage and Christlike submission, between Aunt Reed and Helen Burns, between the wild, Byronic Rochester and the tempered, controlled Rivers. Jane Eyre achieves this successful median in her own character and in her future life with the chastened Rochester. Image and idea join in a novel that not only shows the wildly passionate appeal of romantic art but also operates under the concept of formal control.

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This novel revolves round Bakha who is a sweeper boy. The author has chosen a conspicuous day from his life and through the presentation of the situation occurring on that particular day, he has drawn our attention towards the plight of low caste people. First situation is the pollution through touch of a caste Hindu. It creates a catastrophe. As Bakha walks along the road eating ‘Jalebi’ and recalling the arrangement he has made for learning English, his gaze is drawn to a woman sitting in a window. He is so deeply lost in his thoughts that he has accidently touched someone passing by. Suddenly he hears,

“keep to the side of the road, o he low-caste vermin… why don’t you call, you swine and announce your approach: Do you know you have touched me and defiled me, you cock- eyed son of a bow- legged scorpion: now I will have to go and take a bath to purify myself.”

Bakha is apparently seized with fear, humility and servility. Of course he was aware of his ‘status’ in life but it was a sudden shock. At this moment Bakha realizes for the first time that the society which condemns and humiliates him forms a moral barrier which he alone is unable to break down. This awareness of his own status is “like a ray of light shooting through darkness.” (P:59) in this regard, Alastair Niven in his book The yoke of Pity: A study in the fictional writing of Mulk Raj Anand comments that this revelation is,

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“as instantaneous as light and as profound as darkness. He is doomed to be an untouchable in the eyes of humanity forever, and his dreams of attaining some sort of individual dignity are pretentions and naïve.”
The second major situation in the novel is when Bakha’s sister Sohini is molested by the priest. The irony in this situation, Anand makes us realizes, is that hue and cry is raised against the molested and not the molester. Thus we see that the holy men who appear in Anand’s fiction are corrupt to the core and in their eyes; the lowest of low are quite touchable for the purpose of satisfying their lust.For example, the ascetic in Coolie- he appears as Pandit Surajbhan in ‘The Road’ seduces a childless woman under the pretext of turning her fertile. Here in Untouchable also, though the holy priest makes unsuccessful attempts to seduce Bakha’s sister, the author has exposed the contradiction in the thinking of the so called high- caste people, while a mere touch of the clothes of an untouchable is thought to pollute a higher caste, sexual union is non- objectionable. Sohini raises an alarm to save herself from being molested by the priest Kali Nath but the priest is very clever and extricates himself from the difficult situation by shouting, “Polluted, Polluted”. The writer here draws our attention towards the unjust and condemnable behaviour of the so called high caste people who can easily go scotfree by turning the blame on to the suffering, sexually exploited girl. There seems to be a possibility of protest and revenge. But Anand underlines the fact that revolt in such cases is impotent and ineffective. Bakha knows the truth of the whole thing that he finds himself incapable of taking revenge. He returns home crestfallen and shout against the indignities, brutalities heaped by high caste people upon them.The hero’s immediate impulse is to avenge the insult but he fails to act. It is here typical treatment of the underdog as given by Anand is projected. The burden of the past, the attitude of the ruling class, and their longing for pity and sympathy crush the will to act. The oppressed underdog in the hero continues and devours him like a monster. He is a total picture of a dog crouching at the door of a banquet hall.

When Gandhi calls upon the untouchables to purify their lives, cultivate the habits of cleanliness, and rid themselves of the evil habits like drinking liquor and eating carrion Bakha feels confused and cannot agree with him. But soon he feels lifted up when Gandhi calls upon them not to accept from caste Hindus leavings from their plates, and receive from them only good grain if it is courteously offered. The Mahatma implies that the untouchables should not compromise their self-respect; he also points to the caste people to be more charitable and kind to the untouchable. At the close of his speech he censures the caste Hindus for their ignorance of their religion and urges them to declare open all public wells, temples, roads, schools, sanatoriums to the untouchables, and carry on propaganda against untouchability. To drive home his point to the gathering, apparently to show how serious a matter is untouchability, he lectures on this social evil and the urgent need to root it out.


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