Who Really Has the Power Anyway?

I was struck by two passages in Volume 3 because of their inherent similarity.  The bottom of pages 293 and 301 both provide references to power struggles and familial dynamics.  On page 293, Rochester says, “If the man who had but one little ewe lamb that was dear to him as a daughter,… had by some mistake slaughtered it at the shambles, he would not have rued his bloody blunder more than I now rue mine”.  Rochester equates his betrayal against Jane to a man who injures a lamb; the man and lamb are also compared to a loving father and daughter. Also on page 301, Rochester describes love, more specifically Jane’s love, as a daughter that he waits to embrace, like a father.  He explicitly states, “I accept it, Jane; let the daughter have free advent – my arms wait to receive her” (301).

These metaphors seem to imply a father/daughter dynamic between Rochester and Jane. As their relationship encompasses a large age difference, it is easy to imagine this familial dynamic placed upon them.  Jane has lived without a family her entire life and Rochester has a need to care for vulnerable characters, which leads to these implications of familial belonging and patriarchal affirmation within their romantic relationship.  I do not mean to suggest that Jane and Rochester explicitly desire this type of relationship.  However, their interactions demonstrate implications of this dynamic, whether directly or indirectly, which allows for this type of reading.  The frequent comparisons to a father/daughter relationship in Jane Eyre may simply be a tool to demonstrate the complex power dynamics present between Rochester and Jane.  As he started as her employer, their relationship always implied an imbalance of power.  In these passages, Rochester asserts power over Jane by inhabiting a father figure in his comparisons.  Each time, he describes a fragile, or even wounded, female figure who he wishes to protect and embrace; thus, these passages reaffirm his position in Jane’s life after his betrayal.

As Rochester is the one speaking in these quotations, he believes himself to be in a position of power. Yet, in Jane’s own thoughts, she describes this same notion regarding herself.  She states that she has power over Rochester by having the ability to influence his actions and emotions (297).  Jane seems to have subtle control over Rochester, which he has yet to realize as he thinks of himself as Jane’s savior.  The two passages I selected both surround Jane’s inkling of her own power, perhaps as Rochester desperately tries to reinsert himself into Jane’s narrative.  Ultimately, his comparisons fail as Jane leaves Thornfield of her volition.

2 thoughts on “Who Really Has the Power Anyway?”

  1. This does a good job of starting to unpack the complicated and evolving power dynamic between Jane and Rochester in the novel. While Rochester has some clear power over Jane due to their age difference and the fact that Jane is employed by him, I had not noticed that he repeatedly uses paternal language. Your idea that Jane feels that she has some control over Rochester is interesting; even if Rochester views Jane as weak and helpless, she certainly resists this idea when he seeks to buy her jewelry, marry her, etc. I am curious how this power dynamic shifts at the end of the novel, and whether Jane becomes Rochester’s equal. While Rochester’s dominance could be seen as weakened due to his disability and Jane’s acquired wealth, I am curious what this suggests about disability in the novel.

  2. “Rochester has a need to care for vulnerable characters.” This is quite an interesting statement and would seem to be consistent with Professor John Bowen’s statements about the vulnerable woman: “And that of course gives it an enormous scope to explore the position of women in 19th century society the way that women often are often forced into situations in which they are confronted by irrational kinds of desire or need to which they are vulnerable and which make their very life at risk”. But is Jane really vulnerable? Yes, she may be fragile physically though her wounds are well hidden. And yet she shows her defiance and strength of character already at age 10. And though vulnerable with regards to love, her strength of character is ultimately predominant.

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