Wide Sargasso Sea

Fire: Destruction and Creation

Scorching flames, conflagration, burning. The imagery of fire has long been linked to power and passion. Fire can enact complete obliteration, and yet can also forge a new beginning where only scattered ashes of the past remain. The symbolic motif of fire figures prominently in many works of great literature, including Charlotte Brontë’s canonical Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’s revised Wide Sargasso Sea. Fire actually functions conversely in these two novels, representing creation in Jane Eyre and symbolizing destruction in Wide Sargasso Sea. In this paper, I will analyze the fire set in Mr. Rochester’s bed in Jane Eyre and the burning of Coulibri in Wide Sargasso Sea, two key scenes centered schematically around the framework of fire. Despite serving seemingly opposing metaphorical capacities, both of these moments reveal key symbolic themes central to their respective plots.

Jane’s rescue of Rochester from his flaming bed contrasts supernatural, evil forces with the holy will of God, and highlights an interpretation of Jane as the sacred rescuer of Rochester from his tainted past. Rochester first views Jane as an elf, an otherworldly creature, represented here when his first response to her presence is to call her ‘witch, sorceress...

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