Contemporary Literary Theory Prof. Sophie Howlett
Psychoanalysis by Freud and „Wuthering Heights” by Bronte.
I will try to apply the psychoanalysis introduced by Freud to the book „Wuthering
Heights” written by Bronte. In the text we see the crisis of human relations and distortion
of human personality. Love, hate, revenge and death are all present here. I consider that
psychoalalysis introduced by Freud is applicable to explain the motives and actions of the
main hero of the book, Heathcliff. I argue that Prohibition of Incest was the taboo which
contradicted unconcious desires of the main hero and the inability to resolve the conflict
between the reality and fantasies lead Heathcliff to psychological death and later to
physical death. These are my arguments which I will try to prove in my final paper.
Before I turn to analysis itself I will try to briefly summarize Freud’s doctrine.
According to Freud the mind of the person is structured and there can be distinguished 3
structural categories: id (which is always at the bottom), ego (which is in the middle) and
superego (which is always at the top). ’Id’ acts in accordance with the „pleasure instinct”, it
is what the person wants. ’Ego’is associated with reality. ’Superego’ can be interpreted as
the rules imposed by society in accordance with which a person should act. ’Ego’ is always
the mediator between the ’id’ and ’superego’, it mediates the other two in order the
personality of the person didn’t split.
„The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to
the id, which contains passion”(Sigmund Freud, 25). ’Ego’ is concerned with
self-preservation and if one wants to adjust to reality, one must control its basic instincts. This
principle”. He states that every man is prepared to put up with this repression. But if too
much is demanded of a person, s/he is likely to fall sick.
According to Freud every child is born helpless and „premature”. Therefore child is
dependent on those members who are more mature, i.e. parents. The connection with our
parents is not only biological, but also pleasurable. When a child grows, relation to its
mother take on a new „libidinal dimension”, the sexuality is born. According to Freud
sexuality emerges „spontaneously from internal causes.” (Madan Sarup, 4). The child’s
libido develops through specific phases. Among them Freud distinguishes the oral stage,
the anal stage, the phallic stage and the latency period. Freud considers that „erotogenic
zone” conception of development (through which the sexual instinct finds its release) and
the infant’s sexuality are most fundamental ideas of psychoanalysis.
Freud insists that child’s relations with parents are crucial in the achievement of
proper sexual identity. Love of the child to the mother is dominant. Later the boy-child
begins to perceive the parent of the same sex as a rival. He dreams about killing of this
rival to possess mother. This is Oedipus complex. However, the boy-child has to abandon
his fantasies about mother. What prevents him is the fear of being castrated by the father.
Father in his mind is associated with the law and authority.
Desire, repression of pleasure instincts and sexual identity are central to Oedipus
complex. Moreover, it represents for Freud the beginning of morality, conscious and law.
The father’s Prohibition of Incest is symbolic of all the higher authority. Later, growth and
maturity of the child is perceived as a successful resolution of the Oedipus complex. Thus,
Freud writes, “The dissolution of the Oedipus complex would consolidate the masculinity
in a boy’s character”(Sigmund Freud, 32). However, not always can this conflict between
keeping to the rules and breaking the taboos be successfully resolved. “The struggle which
sublimation and identification, is now continued in a higher region, like the Battle of the
Huns in Kaulbach’s painting”(Sigmund Freud, 39).
The actions of Heathcliff in the book of Emily Bronte „Wuthering heights”
perfectly exemplify the Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. Heathcliff wants to have close
relations with the girl, called Catherine. But there are some obstacles to this. First of all,
Heatcliff is treated as a step-brother of Catherine. He was brought into this house by the
father of Catherine and later brought up as the member of the family. Secondly, other
members of the family considered him as an inferior person, who is not from the noble
family. Look, for example, at the words of Mr. Hindley, the step-brother of Heathcliff:
"Heathcliff, you may come forward," cried Mr. Hindley, enjoying his discomfiture, and gratified to see what a forbidding young black-guard he would be compelled to present himself "You may come and wish Miss Catherine welcome, like the other servants."
For all except father Heathcliff is not the member of the family and thus doesn’t
deserve to have any relations with the daughter of noble parents. Nevertheless, father is the
law and authority for all in the family and tries to mediate the relations between all the
children. We see that Heathcliff has to suppress his fantasies about Catherine, she is
unachievable for him, at least as far as father is alive. The Prohibition of Incest is the rule
of society imposed on him and according to which he has to live. Later we will see that
namely the prohibition of incest, the inability to fulfill the desires transferred Heathcliff’s
fantasies to obsession.
Heathcliff enters the patriarchal order. He makes formal peace with his stepfather
and hopes to realize his fantasies somewhat later. He has to repress his desires and fantasies
into unconscious. Heathcliff enters the world of gendered roles. Living in society he has to
construct a family. We see that he tries to adjust to the external world, he tries to create a
Freud states that there are some mechanisms which help “ego” mediate between the
other two. For example such as sublimation, reaction formation, or rejection. If ‘id’ is
suppressed too much and doesn’t find release in any of these mechanisms then this
suppression will be felt in slips of the tongue or dreams.
Thus we see in the book that Heathcliff’s unconscious haunts him. Fantasies and
dreams about Catherine don’t leave him, they make him look for her and make him
demand proximity with him. He is split between the rules of society where incest is
prohibited and desires that were hidden in the darkest corners of his mind to possess his
sister. This unconscious plagues him.
It becomes even worse with the death of Catherine. “…love is with unexpected
regularity accompanied by hate… ”(43), Freud insists. And in the text we see, that
Heathcliff understands that his desires and fantasies were not realized and now will never
be. Having not successfully resolved the taboo, namely Prohibition of Incest, we see that he
returns to the Sadistic stage of the Pre-Oedipal. This sadistic stage is closely connected
with the anal stage. According to Freud this is the stage when a person doesn’t want to
share or let anything from him. We see that Heathcliff’s anal stage is expressed in
greediness. He fired all the servants in the house, he married his son and daughter of
Catherine and made her refuse from her inheritance, he doesn’t spend money and doesn’t
let anyone spend his money either. Consider the dialogue between the guest, Mr Lockwood
and the maid forking for Mr. Heathcliff:
"Is he not rich enough to keep the estate in good order?" I enquired. "Rich, sir!" she returned. "He has, nobody knows what money, and every year it increases. Yes, yes, he's rich enough to live in a finer house than this: but he's very near- close-handed; and, if he had meant to flit to Thrushcross Grange, as soon as he heard of a good tenant he could not have borne to miss the chance of getting a few hundreds more. It is strange people should be so greedy, when they are alone in the world!"
This greediness however doesn’t come alone. It is interconnected with sadism as
well. He becomes very rude in manner and considers it to be normal to hit a woman.
"I'll put my trash away, because you can make me, if I refuse," answered the young lady, closing her book, and throwing it on a chair. "But I'll not do anything, though you should swear your tongue out, except what I please!" Heathcliff lifted his hand, and the speaker sprang to a safer distance, obviously acquainted with its weight.
He has an irresistible desire to hurt other people and doesn’t even conceal his
intentions. That’s what he says about himself:
The first thing she saw me do, on coming out of the Grange, was to hang up her little dog; and when she pleaded for it, the first words I uttered were a wish that I had the hanging of every being belonging to her…
He revenges all people around him for the death of Catherine, for the unfulfilled
dreams and desires. He ruins the lives of all the people who were somehow connected with
Catherine. He can not cope with the reality. The internal conflict between the dreams and
reality leads him to neurosis, which later turns to psychosis.
We see that the thing line between the ‘ego’ and the external world is broken and
unconscious begins to create an alternative reality for Heathcliff. According to Freud at this
stage when person confuses the reality and alternative world, psychosis begins. In the text
we read that Heathcliff sees the ghost of Catherine everywhere, hears her voice calling him
to join her, talks to her. The ghost of Catherine and possibility to talk to her are the only
things that matter to him now. That is what for example, Mr Lockwood witnessed:
…I stood still, and was witness, involuntarily, to a piece of superstition on the part of my landlord, which belied, oddly, his apparent sense. He got on to the bed, and wrenched open the lattice, bursting, as he pulled at it, into an uncontrollable passion of tears. "Come in! Come in!" he sobbed. "Cathy, do come. Oh do- once more! Oh! my heart's darling; hear me this time, Catherine, at last!" The spectre showed a spectre's ordinary caprice: it gave no sign of being…
He refuses to pay attention to anything else, he constantly and impatiently waits
until her ghost visits him again, he is longing for the moment when he will be able to join
her. He lives in the unreal world that his unconscious created.
Freud states that there are always two contradictory desires in the mind of the
person. The first is the so-called ‘love desire’ and the second is ‘death desire’. According to
Freud ‘death desire’ can be represented through hare or revenge, “…we can find a
representative of the elusive death instinct in the instinct of destruction on to which hate
points the way”(Sigmund Freud, 43). The ‘ego’ has to always mediate between the two
desires. In the book we see that Heathcliff is always between these two desires: one
moment he wants to love and live the next minute the only his wish is to die, because
without Catherine he can not live. However, the ‘death desire’ is the only one left for him
when he grows older.
The final goal of life according to Freud is death, a return to that state where the ago
can not be injured. „Sexual energy is the force which builds up history but it is locked up in
tragic contradiction with the death drive.” (Terry Eagleton, 161) We see that Heathcliff is
not interested in this life any more. What matters to him is fantasies about her. He strives to
die and join her as soon as possible and every other day when he is still alive is unbearable
for him. He struggles to return to a state before he was even conscious. And at the end his
goal is reached. He dies psychologically and physically and finally rests in peace.
In the conclusion I would like to say that I tried to applied the psychoanalyses of
Freud to explain the action of Heathcliff. We saw that Prohibition of Incest was crucial to
the main hero of the book. He could not resolve the inner conflict between the taboo of
society and his desires in his mind, we saw the gradual disintegration of personality which
Emily Bronte “Wuthering Heights”
Sigmund Freud “The Ego and the Id and other works”, vol. XIX
Madan Sarup “Modern Cultural theorisist: Jacues Lacan”
Terry Eagleton „Literary theory. An Introduction”