Importance of Nature Imagery in Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte makes extensive use of nature imagery in her novel, Jane Eyre, commenting on both the human relationship with the outdoors and with human nature. The Oxford Reference Dictionary defines "nature" as "1. the phenomena of the physical world as a whole . . . 2. a thing's essential qualities; a person's or animal's innate character . . . 4. vital force, functions, or needs." Bronte speaks to each of these definitions throughout Jane Eyre.
Several natural themes run throughout the novel, one of which is the image of a stormy sea. After Jane saves Rochester's life, she gives 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.
The gale represents all the forces that prevent Jane's union with Rochester. Later, Brontë conjures up the image of a buoyant sea when Rochester says of Jane: "Your habitual expression in those days, Jane, was . . . not buoyant." In fact, it is this buoyancy of Jane's relationship with Rochester that keeps Jane afloat at her time of crisis in the heath: "Why do I struggle to retain a valueless life? Because I know, or believe, Mr. Rochester is living."
Another recurrent image is Brontë's treatment of Birds. We first witness Jane's fascination with them as 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. We quickly see how Jane identifies with the bird. For her it is a form of escape; she delights in the idea of flying above the toils of every day life. Several times the narrator talks of feeding birds crumbs. Perhaps Brontë 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 Brontë adumbrates poor nutrition at Lowood through a bird who is described as "a little hungry robin."
Brontë 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 the 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 Brontë sees him as the sea bird. As we...