Use of Elemental Imagery in Jane Eyre
The use of elemental imagery in Jane Eyre, sustained throughout the novel both metaphorically and literally, is one of Charlotte Brontë's major stylistic devices. The natural opposition of the two elements of water and fire ("the war of the earthly elements", as Jane puts it) highlights the need for the titular heroine to find equilibrium between points identified as extremes. However, as David Lodge notes, "we should be mistaken in looking for a rigidly schematic system of elemental imagery and reference in Jane Eyre". Fire and water images in the novel have their shifting associations, which reflect on the characters of Jane, Rochester and St John Rivers. The broad suitability of the images shows that they can be both destructive forces and agents of renewal. Using them as both allows Brontë to show how far the characters have learnt to reconcile the Romantic desire for passion with the need for restraint, for it is only in that way that true personal selfhood can be realised. And this search for a personal selfhood, where one is judged on one's own character, not society's usual manner of judgment based on title, money or beauty, can be said to be the focus in the novel.
It is instructive to note that fire, used metaphorically, is almost solely used to describe Jane and Rochester. Fire is associated with passion, and it is imperative for the characters to learn that while passion is a valuable quality, without which any relationship would be a cold and dead one, it is not the only component of a relationship; other qualities like mutual respect and honesty must be present. "Fire is a good servant, but a bad master", as the old saying goes. The fire within both parties creates the possibility of a fulfilling relationship of the heart (not one dominated by reason, as offered by St John Rivers), but it also points to attendant dangers, and the potential for mutual destruction. So Jane and Rochester must learn to control their passions if they are to attain a true form of self-fulfilment. This is particularly so for Jane, who is of a low social position (being an orphan, without money, and of the wrong gender in a chauvinist society). If she follows her desires and marries Rochester on his first request, she would be his "mistress: to say otherwise is sophistical", as she realises. This would entail losing the one thing she does possess: strength of character.
Jane is, by nature, passionate, and will not allow injustice to prevail. This is established from the outset by her behaviour at Gateshead Hall, for example her fight with John Reed. Mrs Reed comments that "you are passionate, Jane, that you must allows", and she does not deny it. She learns the exhilaration of releasing this passion, too, when she bursts out at Mrs Reed ("You are deceitful"). All this is highlighted in Jane's chosen metaphor, based tellingly on fire, to describe her outburst -- "A ridge of lighted heath, alive,...