Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre successfully illustrates the conflicted spirit of a young woman. As a child, Jane underwent trials that forced her to grow beyond her years. She was restricted from indulging in typically childish behavior but managed to foster a passionate nature despite the dampening, abusive influence of many of the adult figures in her life. Brontë uses extensive imagery that reflects Jane's early internal struggle between her wishes and her supposed duty.
I was left there alone — winner of the field. It was the hardest battle I had fought, and the first victory I had gained: I stood awhile on the rug, where Mr. Brocklehurst had stood, and I enjoyed my conqueror's solitude. First, I smiled to myself and felt elate; but this fierce pleasure subsided in me as fast as did the accelerated throb of my pulses. A child cannot quarrel with its elders, as I had done; cannot give its furious feelings uncontrolled play, as I had given mine, without experiencing afterwards the pang of remorse and the chill of reaction. A ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring, would have been a meet emblem of my mind when I accused and menaced Mrs. Reed: the same ridge, black and blasted after the flames are dead, would have represented as meetly my subsequent condition, when half-an-hour's silence and reflection had shown me the madness of my conduct, and the dreariness of my hated and hating position.
Something of vengeance I had tasted for the first time; as aromatic wine it seemed, on swallowing, warm and racy: its after-flavour, metallic and corroding, gave me a sensation as if I had been poisoned. Willingly would I now have gone and asked Mrs. Reed's pardon; but I knew, partly from experience and partly from instinct, that was the way to make her repulse me with double scorn, thereby re-exciting every turbulent impulse of my nature. [Page 97]
There is a marked contrast between her instinctive response and what Jane has been taught is appropriate. Her initial reaction is described as being "warm and racy", whereas the emotion that follows is said to be "the pang of remorse and the chill of reaction." Throughout the whole novel the contrast between hot versus cold is quite evident. Jane's childhood is defined by a pervading chill that never seems to dissipate, whereas her brief show of passion towards Mrs. Reed is compared to flames and the heat of victory. Another aspect of her character that is revealed in this passage is her tendency to temper her natural, passionate responses with rational thinking that generally contributes to a sense of guilt and inferiority.
1. Why does Brontë employ hot and cold imagery so liberally throughout the novel?
2. Why does Jane suffer from such guilt when her aunt has treated her with nothing but scorn since the day Mr. Reed died?
3. Does the language that Jane uses to describe this scene depict her in an unfavorable light?
4. The story of Jane's childhood is told in retrospect by the elder Jane. Do you think this alters how the reader perceives the events of her earlier life?
Last modified 25 January 2009