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Psychoanalytic Theory While Reading Bronte's Wuthering Heights

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Psychological interpretation is one of the tools that is used in literary analysis to determine the meaning that the writer is trying to convey. The theories of well- known psychoanalysts, most often Sigmund Freud, are taken from this type of analysis. This approach, allows the readers to understand the characters and their motivations better. Psychoanalytic literary criticism involves the personal life of the author, the connection between the audience and the content, and a character represented in the text. We can better understand the personalities of the characters and the mystery of human nature by analyzing the characters of the studied novel.

One of the most interesting aspect to be clarified is the fact that the writer of the novel herself, Emily Bronte, was a neurotic person whose unconscious obsession with her dead mother's psychoanalytic love is projected in Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte lost her mother to cancer when she was only two years of age, she was also shocked, at the age of seven, by witnessing the death of her two young siblings, Maria and Elizabeth. Nearly all the characters of the novel are stricken by their mother's death, and they not only undergo the processes of melancholia and hysteria, but also suffer from certain core issues (fear of intimacy, fear of abandonment, fear of betrayal, low self-esteem, insecure or unstable sense of self). Freudian idea of mother fixation underlies Emily Bronte's obsessions with emotional detachments and suggests the importance of her preoccupation with the common core issue. Bronte’s very own dejected, melancholic and hysteric existence as well as those of her characters could be traced to an early childhood. As a creative writer, she unconsciously sublimates her core issues to a work of art in which she maintains the repressed by way of skill of projection.

In Wuthering Heights, either the characters are afraid of isolation and betrayal, or they abandon and betray deliberately to protect themselves from the imminent abandonment. Emily Bronte places the characters in an isolated and separated locality. This 'solitary neighborhood' and remote setting of the novel is in keeping with the deliberate misanthropic behavior of its residents. Lockwood, Catherine, Isabella, Frances, Hindley, Linton and Heathcliff speak for Emily Bronte and reveal her unconscious obsessions when they display their anxieties and core issues. Lockwood fear intimacy and abandonment. Catherine Earnshaw is first introduced as an abandoned sobbing child who mourns about being forsaken for her whole life. Having lost her mother, Catherine's sense of having been abandoned is intensified when her brother leaves her for college… Linton Heathcliff is brought into the novel as an abandoned, 'ailing and peevish creature', who is always on the verge of choking. His feeling of self-reproach and low self-esteem, which is originated by lack of father, is reinforced by his mother's early death.

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There was a suppression of sexuality during the Victorian period. She lived in a society dominated by men that further diminished women's sexual freedom and expression. Heathcliff's character stemmed from this repression of women and sexuality as a representative of the patriarchal society in which she grew up. Her use of control in the novel is a means of confronting the repression of women and sexuality in a male-dominated patriarchal society. She was unable to protest society's control over her and expressed her anxiety through Heathcliff. In his cruel desire to control everything and everyone around him, his character is unwavering.

Denial and repression are two psychological concepts Freud discussed and are clearly illustrated in the novel's characters. Denial is the simple refusal to face certain facts and the failure to see the reality. It is shown by the character of Catherine Earnshaw, who denies the fact that she is fond of Heathcliff and rather marries Edgar Linton. She denies the decision of marrying him and tries not to see the consequences of her separation from Heathcliff. Denial is also seen by Heathcliff himself. Heathcliff hates his son as he resembles the 'Lintons', loves him and wishes to be proud of him at the same time. The struggle between these two emotions is denial. He denies his love to his son and ill -treats him. Now moving to the term repression which is the act suppressing the unacceptable emotions and forcing them into the unconscious mind, keeping them out of the conscious mind. Catherine represses the thought that she can never be happy after leaving Heathcliff and marrying Edgar Linton. Her repression appears in a dream as a “Freudian Slip” (dream of being unhappy in heaven and weeping to come back to earth). Aware of her wrong decision deep inside her unconscious mind but never confesses.

Last but not least, Bronte's characters can be read and analyzed with respect to Freud's structural modella. Freud believed that the human psyche could be categorized into three main sections: Id, ego and superego. The id is represented in Heathcliff's character. His impulsive, primitive behaviour are what makes him a representative of this modella. He has no judgement of value nor morality, expresses primitive drives and seeks pleasure with avoiding of pain. The Superego represented in Edgar Linton's angel-like character. He is the complete opposite of Heathcliff's character, he is well civilized. Edgar rules of proper behaviour, morality and society. He compels Catherine to choose between Heathcliff and himself. However Catherine presents the superego. She relates to other people and society and tests the impulses of the Id against reality. Catherine controls the Id until there is reasonable chance of it’s urges being fulfilled. She is the torn figure that cannot decide if she wants to be with Heathcliff or Edgar (the id and the superego). An unbalanced Freudian personality can lead to one’s unhappiness. This is well conveyed through the analysis of Catherine, Heathcliff and Edgar.

As a conclusion, psychoanalysis aims to a better understanding of human behavior and inner workings by conceptualizing the meaning from everyday human experiences such as anxieties, trauma, sexuality, repression of unconscious and dream meanings, as well as the meaning of death. Applying this approach on a text or a novel can achieve so much in developing it's characters. We can create by it another means of understanding of this text which allows us to become more nuanced and sophisticated readers.

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Psychoanalytic Theory While Reading Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. (2021, October 05). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from
“Psychoanalytic Theory While Reading Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.” Edubirdie, 05 Oct. 2021,
Psychoanalytic Theory While Reading Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 9 Dec. 2023].
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