Symbols in Jane Eyre
The symbolism in Jane Eyre demonstrates the characters’ inner turmoil and is used to reveal their deeper emotions or motivations. A specific example of this is the Red Room, which reappears in Jane’s memory whenever she is punished or feeling alone and symbolizes Jane’s emotional insecurity and childhood trauma. Names are also symbolic and used to reflect the personalities of some of the characters. For example, Miss Scratcherd, from Lowood, is as abrasive as her name implies. Another example follows a dramatic reveal from Mr. Rochester: a nearby tree is struck by lightning, which hints at upcoming challenges.
Symbols Examples in Jane Eyre:
Chapter I 1
"Bewick's “History of British Birds:”..." See in text (Chapter I)
The need for freedom and the instinct to migrate are two concepts associated with birds. Jane reads this book because birds are symbolic of her desire for freedom from her current, stifling situation.
Chapter II 1
"Gateshead Hall..." See in text (Chapter II)
Brontë begins Jane’s story at Gateshead. Note the significance and slight wordplay here, as a gate suggests an entrance and this is the head of Jane’s journey. The names of other places Jane visits will have similar symbolism and foreshadow the experiences she’ll have at each one.
Chapter XVII 1
"a flock of white plumy birds..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
Throughout the story, Brontë uses bird metaphors as a symbol to represent Jane’s desire for freedom from the social constraints that being a woman entails. Despite their wealth, beauty, and luxury goods, the women here are also compared to birds, suggesting that a woman will be metaphorically caged no matter her social standing.
Chapter XXIX 1
"Marsh End..." See in text (Chapter XXIX)
Brontë continues to give significance to place names. A marsh is soft, waterlogged land that can be difficult to traverse. “Marsh End” suggests Jane will find herself on firmer footing here, just as the ground at the end of a marsh would be more solid; it marks the symbolic end of Jane’s journey.
Chapter XXXVI 1
"The fire broke out at dead of night..." See in text (Chapter XXXVI)
Brontë has used fire as a symbol for passion throughout the novel. She most often associates Rochester and Bertha Mason with fire to comment on their darker personalities, backgrounds, and their tendencies to make decisions based on emotion rather than reason. This huge fire near the end of the novel is a culmination of the passion and the tension that’s been building between Jane, Rochester, and Bertha.