How can Brown and Levinson's Politeness theory be applied to Jane Eyre? Moreover, how can one apply it to the conversations between Jane and Rochester in Chapters 13 - 14?  In what instances does...

How can Brown and Levinson's Politeness theory be applied to Jane Eyre? Moreover, how can one apply it to the conversations between Jane and Rochester in Chapters 13 - 14? 

In what instances does a character save the face (negative/positiive face) of another?

As a whole novel, how is Jane Eyre relevant to the Politeness Theory?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Politeness Theory, as devised by Susan Brown and Stephen Levinson in 1978 refers to the concept of exerting positive feelings and ensuring that every attempt is made, in compromising situations, to save face for others. Jane does this consistently throughout Jane Eyre as she protects the sensitivities of others, even despite her own directness and tone, sometimes to her own detriment. "English respectability" is of paramount importance to Jane, even ruining her chances of initially marrying Rochester.

There are many instances where one person saves the face of another, many of those instances going unnoticed by the person who benefits; such is the essence of the politeness theory. Negative face and positive face are both evident in Jane Eyre. Jane ultimately protects herself and Mr Rochester by using the concept of negative face as she cannot allow her desires to interfere with her principles and her understanding of what is right and wrong. Mr Rochester only benefits from this, from his own personal perspective, when Jane returns and indeed marries him.   

Jane has unbeknownst to her, met Mr Rochester in Hay Lane and, in chapter 13 she is officially introduced. Mrs Fairfax is in the habit of applying the principles of the Politeness Theory as she makes excuses for Mr Rochester, such as he has been too busy to attend to Jane and his ward, Adele. Jane herself, when Adele insists on receiving a present -a "cadeau"- chooses her responses carefully so as not to offend Mr Rochester. He, in turn, praises Jane and the difference she has made to Adele in such a short time and Jane saves him the embarrassment of providing a present as his praise is present enough for Jane. Positive face is evident in the conversation.

In chapter 14, Jane is caught out by Rochester's questioning and answers inappropriately when asked if he is "handsome." Desiring to save face, she "disowns" her first answer and finds it amusing that any "master" would even care what his paid employees think of him. Jane is "puzzled" by his line of questioning but retains her composure. At the same time, he is careful not to offend her, asking for her acknowledgement that his age and experience in some way make him superior. There is much polite and "evasive" conversation that does not satisfy either of them but it does fit with politeness theory as they both ensure that they have not "piqued and hurt" each other. The concept of negative face is so recognizable in the banter between the two as they skirt around each other with seemingly direct comments but vague implications. Their attempts to cooperate with each other are admirable in maintaining each other's faces.  

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