Wuthering Heights is, according to Suzan Gubar, a cultural construct, and therefore culture wins over nature, as always is the case in such duels. These are, in fact, duels of female flesh and male spirit, female earth and male sky, female monsters and male angels. What is needed in society is to suppress and exorcise these irrational, that is female representatives of nature. The “female rage” therefore becomes the central theme of the novel. Catherine is the raging female in Wuthering Heights, who “fell” as a result of her tasting the “poisonous food of culture”.
The product of this taste of education is here, unlike the triumphant self-discovery in the male Bildungsroman, anxious self-denial. As Catherine doesn’t even know her name, she cannot know who she is or what she is destined to be. Not only do women have to “fall”, but they are, due too patriarchal nature of culture, already fallen because they are doomed to do so. There is, as she points out no great difference between “falling” and falling in love, and as a result, women seem to be at the mercy of all men. Just like Catherine and Isabella they all must suffer or even die.
I must admit that upon reading her arguments I was rather shocked with some of her suggestions, however it woke up my curiosity, so I tried to look into it a bit more thoroughly. Having read it again I found that the segments which show her attitude most clearly are the ones which have to do with Catherine, Heathcliff and the Catherine Heathcliff relationship. Therefore, I shall next try to sum up the arguments that affected me most.
She first made it clear that Wuthering Heights is, in fact, a coexistence of opposites, a place where hell can become heaven and heaven hell. She continued this point as she mentioned “a misanthropist’s heaven”, it being a contradiction within itself, where Lockwood comes across hate, violence, death, and disorder. Hatred can be felt in the air and the changing weather conditions of course stand for hellish nature and thus femaleness. Then we have the first mentioning of Catherine’s whip, her other self – Heathcliff. Only after their encounter did she reach a complete fullness of being. She even said that Heathcliff was more herself than she was. Suzan Gubar explains this statement with the fact that Catherine having so many different names started denying herself and believed Heathcliff more herself since he only had one name. So instead of achieving moral maturity Catherine ends up in self-denial.
The following has often been seen as Catherine’s moral failure, however, as Suzan Gubar says we cannot discuss Catherine’s morality in connection with her decision to merry Edgar when she did not have another possibility. What we are told is that basically she did not have any other open windows. The very moment she got infected with the social disease of ladyhood, Heathcliff became outcast. By being treated in this way Heathcliff was completely powerless and thus in a female-like position – deprived of autonomy, freedom and the power to control his destiny. This however brought him in to the most degrading position, the one of being like a woman, which made him unworthy of Catherine. So not having a true choice of her own Catherine was simply predestined to fall.
I am afraid I didn’t quite like this explanation since I never really found Heathcliff to be female, and he later does take his destiny into his hands however destructive his hands were.
As her argument continues Suzan Gubar finds parallels to Catherine in Nelly, Isabella, Catherine II, and Heathcliff, as well this surprised me off course, as Heathcliff stood for everything masculine, in my opinion, so haw can he now be paralleled with Catherine? The answer Suzan Gubar provided was that “Heathcliff is female in his monstrosity” He stands for hell, pits, and night, everything that is irrational and female in nature. So what Heathcliff really represents she sums up is a raw kind of femaleness which can not be controlled.
This, however, puzzled me a bit since I always saw Heathcliff as bundle of suppressed emotions, ones which no one ever dares to show or act by.
The segment which I liked best was the closing point of Suzan Gubar’s argument whish was that Wuthering Heights begins and ends with Catherine. So the story may have happened before and it may repeat again, just like never ending cycle.
Different critics come to different conclusions and it is always good to take some of these into consideration after reading a book, if only to help you come to your own conclusions. Though most of the arguments were not exactly according to my experience of the book, I am glad to have read it because it got me contemplating upon the book even more.
Courtney from Study Moose
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