Following the fire at Thornfield, Rochester is very much reduced to the status of invalid. Beyond merely suffering emotionally and psychologically at the loss of Jane, his home, and Bertha, Rochester’s pain is compounded by physical ailments. His newfound blindness and amputation moored Rochester to Ferndean hospital, granting him very little mobility beyond his chair. Jane’s return to Rochester’s life notes a shift in their relationship, where there appears to be greater inter-reliance between them, rather than being characterized by Rochester’s sole domination of Jane.
Although cynical to consider, Rochester’s treatment of Jane shifts dramatically following his accident, revealing greater levels of dependence whereupon. Prior to it, Rochester dictated and influenced all Jane’s decisions, subtlely prodding her to bend to his will. Even in his initial marriage proposal he noted, “Little scpetic, you shall be convinced” (253). This concession on the part of Rochester serves to exemplify his domineering nature- that Jane never seemed to find disagreeable. This overbearing even authoritarian nature was all but effaced following the accident, where Rochester in his second attempt at marriage notes, “A poor blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand?” (433), after Jane initially agrees. In stark contrast to his first attempt, rather than using his influence to convince Jane, Rochester appears shrunken, seemingly attempting to convince her not to marry him. At this juncture in her life, Jane has also achieved a greater level of independence and self-worth outside the realm of love and marriage, through her trials with the Riverses. During that period, Jane accrued a great deal of personal wealth and rejected another marriage proposal, which if accepted, would have solidified her position as inferior. From such, one could argue that the equality produced from the marriage to Rochester was a result of Jane’s growing independence, produced while away from Thornfield. Although I find this in some respects true, Jane’s subordination to St. John during her stay with the Riverses suggests her inability to separate a desire for personal independence from a male influence. It appears then that the scruples of Jane were not quite as effective in creating an equalizing gradient than Rochester’s accident- Rochester had to be degraded in order for the two to become equal. Jane herself even concedes in the last chapter, “Mr. Rochester continued to be blind the first two years of our union: perhaps it was that circumstance that drew us so very near…” (439).
After so long refusing to be bound to the doldrums and repetitions of a domestic life, Jane ultimately agrees to the marriage and by the last chapter, the two are wed. Although Jane speaks with rapture of the decision, her comments speak little of personal happiness outside of Rochester. She notes, “I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and white what I love best on earth…we are ever together” (439). Although content, it would be impossible to say that Jane was fulfilled. Hearkening back to her early time at Thornwood, Jane noted, “the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes…” and continued on to say, “it is narrow-minded…to say that they [women] ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stocking, to playing o the piano and embroidering bags” (116; 117). In ultimately marrying Rochester, rather than being fulfilled, Jane unconsciously molds herself to this domestic ideal.
In reiterating the fate of St. John in the final chapter, the readers are reminded of the entirely dominating figure he represented to Jane, in his modes of control and influence. Although her marriage to Rochester contrasts with her idealism and personal values, a marriage to St. John (reminded again in the last chapter) would have produced complete and total subordination. The continued use of St. John as the foil to Rochester merely conveys Rochester as the lesser of two evils.