When on her walk along the Hay road, Jane is drawn into helping a lone traveler who was injured when his horse fell, and even though his manner is rough and he first denies her help, she persists in her efforts to be of use. An interesting exchange of power occurs between the lone traveler, who turns out to be Mr. Rochester himself, and Jane, a lowly governess. Even in this, their first meeting, where they should have been on a more equal footing because they are both lone travelers, we observe a clear power dynamic that manifests itself in a way that the reader would assume Jane to protest to. As a child, she always resented those in a position of power, something shown by her descriptions of Mrs. Reed comparted those of Miss Temple. Therefore, one would assume that she would resent this man's gruff contempt when she offers her help; however, she stays to help him and immediately does what he asks of her, even if she is afraid. This illustrates clearly her growth as a character formed by her stay at Longwood, from the shy child who resented every brusque command to a young lady conditioned to accept her role as subservient.
Something of daylight still lingered, and the moon was waxing bright: I could see him plainly. His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle-age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness . . . .
. . . I should have been afraid to touch a horse when alone, but when told to do it, I was disposed to obey. I put down my muff on the stile, and went up to the tall steed; I endeavored to catch the bridle, but it was a spirited thing, and would not let me come near its head; I made effort on effort, though in vain: meantime, I was mortally afraid of its trampling fore-feet. The traveler waited and watched for some time, and at last he laughed. [chapter 12; http://www.literature.org/authors/bronte-charlotte/jane-eyre/chapter-12.html]
Although she is clearly afraid of the horse, Jane immediately attempts to obey this strange man's order, and even after repeated failure, continues to try and do as he says. This illustrates the instant power dynamic in their relationship, that from the moment he passed her on the road he was above her in station (he is riding a horse, has nicer clothing, is male), and as such Jane feels the drive to be of service. She has been conditioned out of her childhood response of sullen resentfulness and is now the compliant female her elders always wished her to be. This change in her character, created by her stay at Longwood and simply by the fact that she is now older and wiser in the ways of her world, is demonstrated most clearly by this particular instance of her deferential posturing and the lack of restful thoughts at this unknown travelers curt reply to her help, at laughter at her expense. She has become closer to the ideal of the subservient Victorian female, which at the time would have been considered the height of maturity, and in coming to this point she has left behind the sullen child that defined her character for the first chapters of the book and has grown into a Jane that will be able to interact in an adult world.
1. It would seem that Jane would have the power in the situation, as she is not the one who has fallen off a horse and sprained their ankle, so how does Bronte use language to show that Mr. Rochester is actually the one who controls the situation?
2. What feelings does the phrase "disposed to obey" provoke, and why are these feelings important?
3. Jane’s development and maturity are made clear in this scene, but are there any lingering traces of her old, childish self still to be found?
4. How does Bronte use their conversation/ dialogue (not shown, but is what comes in the middle of the ". . . ") to enhance this idea of a power dynamic between the two characters?
Last modified 28 January 2009