In a conventional sense, Rochester does seem like he almost has complete power over Jane with his social status, his wealth, gender, age and experience. But I would like to argue that with Jane, Rochester’s demanding demeanor and his so-called power not only doesn’t intimidate or weaken her but encourages her to be an equal to him. I am not arguing that their relationship is not affected by their various differences, but that these differences doesn’t affect their power dynamic because Jane is the way she is, and Rochester is aware of it.
The discourse between the two of them in chapter 14 is very telling about their dynamic. Rochester observes that Jane is examining his appearance, he then demands “what fault do you find with me …… Criticize me: does my forehead not please you” (138). Jane being not at all intimidated or ashamed, replies that she does not find him handsome. Rochester instills no fear in Jane because she doesn’t feel pressured by his status and wealth. Jane also selects the topics or questions she wants to respond to, and she excuses Rochester for being drunk and very talkative. When asked to talk about herself, Jane remains silent and thinks “If he expects me to talk for the mere sake of talking and showing off, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person” (140). She tells Rochester to “do as you please” (140) and she brings an end their conversation by leaving him. Rochester offers Jane space where she can speak freely of her mind, which is a luxury for most women in Jane’s position in the 19thcentury. Also a result of this delicate power dynamic between them, Jane had her most powerful speech about their spirits communicating on the same level, and she left Thornfield on her own initiative.
Many times in chapter 13 and 14, Jane examines Rochester’s appearance and the novel emphasizes the plainness in both of their looks. Would it have been strange and creepy if the novel was written from the male perspective describing the appearance of a woman? It certainly was of Winterbourne in Daisy Miller. Why do I as a reader (I won’t speak for anyone else here) excuse Jane for doing so but not Winterbourne? Does the difference lie between the male gaze and the female gaze (because only the male gaze can be interpreted as sexual?), or in whether the person in question is beautiful like Daisy or plain like Rochester? Somehow in my mind as a reader, I feel more comfortable and more justified following the gaze of someone who has more disadvantages in this relationship. Jane is not on the powerless side in her dynamic with Rochester; intuitively she seems to be, but only because of such conventions like gender and age and social status that cloud my judgement.