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Discuss the archetypes present in the novel and how they represent the characters, the journey, and the symbolic nature of the novel.
Archetypes represent specific roles, or typical areas of growth and decay in the development of a character, to represent universal patterns of human nature.
These roles are important to develop the plot of the novel and to establish a theme that appeals to human reason and decision-making. Common roles maintain a novel’s cultural relevance by appealing to human nature and experiences.
Relation to Novel
Jane Eyre relies on archetypal scenarios and characters to communicate the themes of passion versus self control and the importance of equality in relationships. As Jane’s story progresses, she can be seen at different points in her internal battle of passion and self control. This battle affects her relationship with Mr. Rochester as she must choose between wild emotion or sensibility.
Character Archetype – The Good Christian
Throughout the novel, Jane struggles with finding a proper balance between her moral duties and her earthly experience. In her time at Lowood, Jane becomes suddenly desperate for a very human idea of liberty.
“I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing” (77).
Outside of Lowood, Jane is one extreme of the spectrum; she is modest, simple, and selfless in comparison to the normal world around her.
“He stopped, ran his eye over my dress, which as usual, was quite simple—a black merino cloak, a black beaver bonnet; neither of them half as fine enough for a lady’s-maid” (106).
In her time at Thornfield, Jane becomes more invested in earthly matters of interpersonal relationships, jealousy, and suspicion.
“Miss Ingram took a book, leant back in her chair, and so declined further conversation. I watched her for nearly half an hour” (180).
Character Archetype – The Good Christian
While on this path, Jane must also determine which path of faith best resonates with herself between the two examples of Christianity that she has been shown, Mr. Brocklehurst and Helen Burns.
While Brocklehurst’s version of faith represents the hypocrisy, greed, and pride within the church, Helen Burns’ version is much too passive and meek for Jane’s fiery spirit.
“Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted; three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs”( 57).
“‘It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you; and, besides, the Bible bids us return good for evil’” (48).
Symbolic Archetype – Fire and Ice
Fire represents Jane’s character, passions, and spirit, while Ice represents oppressive forces attempting to extinguish Jane’s vitality, including her own trained sensibility and reason.
Both Jane and Rochester are often described in a likening to fire and heat, showing their common passionate and “fiery” nature.
“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
my subsequent condition” (28).
“I wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did—so bent up to a purpose, so grimly resolute; or who, under such steadfast brows ever revealed such flaming and flashing eyes” ( 273).
“You have lived the life of a nun: no doubt you are well drilled in religious forms” (114).
This use of metaphor best applies to the prompt because archetypes rely on a common understanding of human nature, and are more easily communicated through a well known object or circumstance. In this instance, Jane is being compared to a nun in order to express her past and personality in an easily recognizable and understandable figure.
“St. John’s eyes, though clear enough in a literal sense, in a figurative one were difficult to fathom. He seemed to use them rather as instruments to search other people’s thoughts, than as agents to reveal his own” (330).
Similar to the use of metaphors, similes establish a relatable source of information that draws upon commonly known ideas and situations. This specific use, however, really parallels an example utilized in the symbolic Fire and Ice archetype of Jane and Mr. Rochester’s eyes. While the couple’s eyes are fiery and passionate, St. John’s communicate a lack of character or a silencing of emotions.
“The caged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished, might look as looked that sightless Samson” (412).
In this Allusion, both the caged eagle and the story of Samson are tales of objects of immense power and respect, crippled by the blindness that Mr. Rochester now faces. While Mr. Rochester’s eyes weren’t gouged out by his Philistine enemies, his blindness similarly disables and humbles him. Allusions oftentimes help communicate the premise for a character type, if not being one themselves.
(Fun connection: Samson’s lover Delilah is the cause of his blindness, similar to how Bertha is responsible for Mr. Rochester’s)
A recurring theme in literature is the classic war between passion and responsibility. For instance, a personal cause, a love, a desire for revenge, a determination to redress a wrong, or some other emotion or drive may conflict with moral duty. Choose a character who confronts the demands of a private passion that conflicts with his or her responsibilities. Show the nature of the conflict, its effects upon the character, and its significance to the work as a whole.
This prompt directly relates to the two examples of archetypes given, Fire and Ice and The Good Christian, where the duality of human nature can be seen in an internal battle with oneself.
Pivotal Moment – Death of Helen Burns
Helen Burns represented the archetype The Platonic Ideal in the novel. When she passes, Jane has lost her first ever friend and inspiration. However, the death of Helen Burns also signifies the end of the importance of her character archetype in furthering the character development of Jane. Helen has helped Jane grow as a person, to experience love, and to be strong and courageous under scrutiny. However, there is no more that her character can accomplish, and she meets her literal and figurative end.
“I was asleep, and Helen was—dead” (74).
Pivotal Moment – Jane decides to leave Fairfax
In this scene, Jane is truly wrestling with the ideas of moral duty versus passion and emotion. Jane’s development as The Good Christian becomes clear in her debate between her training and her feelings. In this moment, she chooses the moral high ground cemented in her during her time at Lowood rather than the fantasy of a relationship.
“I wrestled with my own resolution: I wanted to be weak that I might avoid the awful passage of further suffering I saw laid out for me; and Conscience, turned tyrant, held Passion by the throat, told her tauntingly, she had yet but dipped her dainty foot in the slough, and swore that with that arm of iron he would thrust her down to unsounded depths of agony” (282).