Human Nature and Confinement in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights
Catherine Earnshaw’s famous statement, “I am Heathcliff” in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, has often been thought to signify the depth of the passionate love between Catherine and Heathcliff (73). It seems, however, that Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship may have more to do with symbolic possession and control than romance. In their famous feminist work, The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar make a well-known assertion about the relationship between the characters of Jane Eyre, a novel written by Emily Bronte’s sister, Charlotte Bronte. They suggest that Bertha, the deranged and malicious wife of Edward Rochester, can be considered as a symbol of the rebellious spirit that rages inside the seemingly quiet female protagonist, Jane Eyre, against the constraints of her class and gender role in society (356-367). I suggest that, similarly, Heathcliff is not a “devil” that possesses Catherine and inflicts misery on her, but that like Jane Eyre’s Bertha, Heathcliff is a symbolic manifestation of the raging spirit trapped inside Wuthering Height’s socially confined protagonist—Catherine Earnshaw. Catherine’s statement, “I am Heathcliff” could be said to signify, not a passionate relationship of love, but rather a literal truth. After Edgar forces Heathcliff to leave Thrushcross Grange, Catherine confines herself to her room for 3 days without food or water, bringing on an illness which eventually becomes fatal. Catherine is unable to unite herself with her true nature in life, and she therefore seeks unity with him in death. Though she cannot be united with Heathcliff while she remains the civilized wife of Edgar Linton, she can achieve unity with him in death by imprisoning and then eradicating the symbol of her civilized identity—her physical body.
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