“I HAVE TO REMIND MYSELF TO BREATH”- A CRITICAL OVERVIEW ON WUTHERING HEIGHTS

Emily Bronte was a British novelist and poet, best known for her novel “Wuthering Heights” that was published in London in 1847. The novel is a masterpiece that deals with interlocked destinies of two families, the Earnshaws in Wuthering Heights and the Lintons in Thrushcross Grange. Bronte presents love as an embodiment on the part of Heathcliff and Catherine in the novel. The entire novel is structured around Bronte’s powerful depiction of their relationship. The novel also offers its readers a rich portrait of life in provincial English society during late 18th and early 19th century.

In 19th century, the position of women was inferior to men and they were regarded as secondary sex. In Britain people were usually conservative and women had little opportunity to be in touch with the society. In Victorian time, almost all novelists showed their concern about feminism but Emily did not directly call for free life and marriage like other novelists. She showed her consent on feminist actions through actions of the protagonist and development of the plot. Victorian women were expected to be weak, fragile, delicate and incapable of making decisions. Bronte breaks this stereotypical image of Victorian women by creating Catherine, who is wild, rebel, arrogant and knows how to make her decision possible.

Catherine’s rebellious nature can be traced in her offence against her father. When her father lives she loses favour with him, “his peevish reproofs wakened in her a naughty to provoke him; she was never so happy……..she defying us with her bold, saucy look……….and doing just what her father hated most”. This demonstrates her disobedience and refusal of the orders by his father. After her father’s death, her brother, Hindley inherits everything. Unlike her father, Hindley shows no affection for Catherine and hates Heathcliff. Her love suffers her brother’s strong opposition. Despite all his objections, Catherine still refuses to give up and joins hand with Heathcliff to rebel against Hindley, for the reason that Hindley deprives her of the privilege to enjoy the freedom of true love. Not only this, Bronte presents Catherine as a fighter for her rights in every circumstance. After getting married to Linton she behaves in a docile wife. When Catherine feels caged and without any right to her freedom she begins to rebel against her husband.  Catherine does not accept to be controlled by anyone. Confined by the family and deprived of the freedom to love, Catherine tries her best to resist the authority of a patriarchal institution. “Her eternal love for Heathcliff is the strongest opposition against her husband. Her struggle for true love is a symbol of the awakening of women consciousness in love and marriage” says Zhao Juan in his article on female consciousness. Catherine speaks Victorian women’s ambivalence, she longs for freedom and her true self.

Wuthering Heights presents male revenge, sexual suppression in such a way that women characters do not get enough scopes to be an individual figure. Kate Millet in her famous work “Sexual Politics” uses the term ‘patriarchy’ to describe the cause of women’s oppression. The expression was to show the dominance of male centric world over females. Similarly Catherine in the novel is shown in dilemma to whom to choose for her husband Edgar or Heathcliff. Due to immense pressure from her brother she ends up choosing Edgar. Another most important event is related with torture on Isabella in her own house by her husband. She is used as a tool in hands of Heathcliff just to take revenge on Earnshaws. Catherine grows up as parentless girl in a loosely organised household. Her encounter with male dominative figure, in the form of her brother’s tyranny, develops her capacity to rebellion and resistance. She thus becomes an assertive child associated with freedom and power rather than with domesticity. Catherine’s sudden transformation during her stay at Thrushcross Grange focuses on the way in which, “femininity is produced and reinforced rather than derived from ‘women’s nature’”, remarks B. Mahapatra. Bronte dramatizes Catherine’s character, as she becomes the object to win over. Catherine is destroyed by her inability to reconcile with conflicting images of herself, whereas her daughter Cathy constructs a new identity for herself.

The novel presents the changes that came in England with Industrial Revolution. The effects of this change can be seen in rise of middle class. Heathcliff’s arrival at Wuthering Heights and his adoption into the Earnshaw family is a sign of time when the novel was written. The setting of the novel is very important. It is set in countryside and is also an isolated area. The setting shapes the characters in the novel. Like Heathcliff who starts the quest of revenge to make the children of his enemies suffers. With this, the novel also points to the class distinctions that were prevalent at that time. The Earnshaws and the Lintons both own states, whereas Heathcliff has nothing. Lintons call Heathcliff “quite unfit for a decent house”. Catherine only marries Edgar so that she could help Heathcliff rise up and place him out of her brother’s power. This shows the struggle for power, so that one could control the deprived easily. Class distinction can also be seen in the way servants are treated. People in serving class had little chance to better their status. Nelly Dean in the novel would not have expected that she would ever be treated as an equal by Earnshaws. The Lintons and Earnshaws, who represent the rural landed gentry, exercise enormous power over people from the lower classes. Power marks status that an aristocrat enjoys in the state.

Wuthering Heights has widely been approached through psychoanalytical reading by its critics. Sigmund Freud developed the idea that the human mind is dual in nature, divided into the conscious and the unconscious. He talks of superego as a part of human psyche, which stands outside the self. It is in the shape of a father or an ideal model or religious institution. Freud claims that the superego is forced upon the child through the influence of parents. In the novel Mr. Earnshaw’s absence of love for Catherine seems to harden her instead o influence her. Her reaction changes when she is repeatedly told that her father cannot love her, “that made her cry at first and then, being repulsed continually hardened her”. Catherine never seems to be influenced by her father. She even does not form her identity because of her father’s patriarchal nature. Freud also talks about id as another part of the human psyche, which stands for the unconscious, is in conflict with superego; it seeks desire and follows instincts. Bronte presents Heathcliff the male protagonist, who is shown in a trifle between love and revenge. Thomas Moser argues that “the primary traits which Freud ascribed to id apply perfectly to Heathcliff”. Heathcliff’s suffering throughout the novel has created a conflict between his conscious and unconscious mind. His sufferings results in adoption of defence mechanism as described by Freud, which are repression, denial, sublimation and projection. Therefore when he loses Catherine he decides to take revenge but at the end reconciles by marrying young Cathy and Hareton, thereby joining the two families.

In Wuthering Heights some character shows denial. Denial is a tool often used in psychoanalytical criticism. During her childhood Catherine is fond of Heathcliff. She claims her love by saying, “My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rock beneath”. Catherine ends up in dilemma to choose Heathcliff or Edgar. This conflict leads her in denial by imagining that by marrying Edgar she will help Heathcliff to rise higher. Another character who shows denial is Isabella. Isabella marries Heathcliff but is aware of his love for Catherine. She does not want to see the fact that Heathcliff can never be in love with her though she acknowledges this. This denial leads Isabella to elope and marry Heathcliff without realizing that she is giving herself as a tool to Heathcliff to take revenge from Edgar.

According to Freud “repression is a means by which unacceptable thoughts and emotions which are in the conscious mind are suppressed in the unconscious mind”. Repression involves turning something away in an attempt to keep it out of conscious mind. For Heathcliff, Catherine is the only love he has known. When Catherine expresses her feelings to Nelly to marry Edgar, Heathcliff overhears this conversation. After listening this speech Heathcliff disappears from Wuthering Heights. His disappearance is an act of repression. His suffering of this knowledge has made him disappear in an attempt not to face the reality of being rejected by Catherine. He tries to repress the fact that Catherine has accepted another man rather than him who loved her.

Emily Bronte touches all the issues that were prevalent in Victorian times. Through the concept of love Bronte indulges the themes of love, society and revenge. Love is the core of the whole novel that makes it exceptional among other Victorian novels. Bronte with her exploration of love makes the younger generation united which was not possible in the earlier generation. The novel also portrays the problems faced by women and lower classes. Bronte creates a rich structure that keeps its readers connected to the text. The most significant element is the multiple narrations that are used. It is not a novel with one strand but with different voices that together weaves the story. Every character in the novel affects another character and consequently the events in the novel. “Love never dies but unites”, this quote fulfills the brilliant woven story by Emily Bronte.

Bibliography:

Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Bedford Books, 1992.

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Viva Books. 2015

Boag , Simon. “Freudian Repression, the Common View and Pathological Science. Web. 7 April, 2011.

Forsgren, Sofy. Identification in Wuthering Heights. Lulea University of Technology. 2013

ZHAO Juan (2011) Female consciousness in Wuthering Heights. Institute of Foreign Languages, China.

Forsgren, Sofy. Identification in Wuthering Heights. Lulea University of Technology. 2013

Submitted by: Qamar Nazmeen (176)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on ““I HAVE TO REMIND MYSELF TO BREATH”- A CRITICAL OVERVIEW ON WUTHERING HEIGHTS”

  1. It is a well researched essay. The historical details mingled with the representation of characters provides a useful insight into the society it is set in. The psychoanalytic theory applied to the characters tells much about them. Good work.

    Like

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