Reading Wuthering Heights Through Psychoanalysis Theory
Literature and psychological theories, even if developed in different time periods or one before the other, may parallel because of both an author and psychologist’s ability to understand the human condition. For this reason, it is possible to take psychoanalytic approaches to texts that may have been written long before more popular psychological theories were introduced. Some of the characters of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights, reflect the personality theory of Sigmund Freud. Wuthering Heights is the story of two diametrically opposed households, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, starting from the time that a young boy named Heathcliff is adopted and arrives at Wuthering Heights. The novel describes the emotional story of Heathcliff, Catherine, Edgar, and others as they grow from young children, through adulthood, and many to their final demise. Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychoanalysis, developed the psyche theory of the id, super ego, and ego in the early 1920s. Simply stated, the id controls basic and mostly subconscious impulses, the super ego controls adherence to social values and morals as part of the conscious, and the ego balances the two by understanding the demands of reality. Three characters of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë represent Sigmund Freud’s personality theories because Heathcliff reflects the id, Edgar represents the super ego, and Catherine attempts to act as the ego.
Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights represents the id of Sigmund Freud’s personality theory. Freud characterized the id as primitive and instinctual, existing in the subconscious part of the mind. The id drives someone to seek immediate gratification of an impulse and is unaffected by logic or morals. Heathcliff as a character is highly aggressive, impulsive, and neglects to account for any type of ethics. After Heathcliff runs away, he returns years later with a single goal: to seek revenge on his stepbrother, Hindley, and to be with Catherine. He tells Catherine about his return by saying, “… I mediated this plan;—just to have one glimpse of your face: a stare of surprise, perhaps, and pretended pleasure; afterwards, settle my score with Hindley; and then prevent the law by doing execution on myself” (91). Heathcliff left Wuthering Heights and has no real reason to return after being gone for three years. He is id driven, so he only wants to satisfy his impulses by seeking revenge and being with Catherine. Heathcliff doesn’t account for his super ego, for he doesn’t care that Catherine is married and that trying to be with her would be socially unacceptable. He doesn’t consider that these attempts are unrealistic by not accounting for his ego. In another scene, Isabella, Heathcliff’s wife, says that Heathcliff has told her that she will suffer so long that his true love, Catherine, is ill. Isabella writes, “He [Heathcliff] told me of Catherine’s illness, and accused my brother [Edgar] of causing it; promising that I should be Edgar’s proxy in suffering, till he could get hold of him” (137). Isabella’s innocence in Catherine’s illness is irrelevant to Heathcliff; his aggression instinct and lack of interest in rational thinking drives him to abuse anyone he pleases. Whether it is announcing his thirst for revenge, saying he would perform a vivisection for amusement, abusing innocent people, or killing small animals, Heathcliff’s id driven personality is his most distinguishing characteristic.
Edgar Linton from Wuthering Heights reflects the super ego of Sigmund Freud’s three-component personality model. The super ego emphasizes the importance of moral values, the internalization of cultural rules, and adherence to socially appropriate customs. Most of all, however, Edgar stands directly in conflict with the id of the novel, Heathcliff. While Catherine is married to Edgar, she maintains a level of intimacy with Heathcliff. Edgar demands she choose one or the other, saying, “‘Will you give up Heathcliff hereafter, or will you give up me? It is impossible for you be my friend and his at the same the time; and I absolutely require to know which you choose.’” (111). Edgar, reflecting the super ego, is obsessed with maintaining adherence to social standards and cultural rules. As a result, Edgar is very unsatisfied that Catherine has not displayed full allegiance to him, so he simply demands Catherine chooses between him and Heathcliff. In this situation, Edgar, the super ego, is literally conflicting with Heathcliff, the id, just as Sigmund Freud described them to. In another attempt to maintain social order and adhere to cultural standards, Edgar completely cuts off his relations with his sister, Isabella, after she marries Heathcliff. He refuses to see her, stating, “It is out of the question my going to see her, however: we are eternally divided; and should she really wish to oblige me, let her persuade the villain she has married to leave the country… My communication with Heathcliff’s family shall be as sparing as his with mine. It shall not exist!’” (138). Edgar doesn’t approve of Isabella quickly marrying someone of a lower social status and someone who lives in a diametrically opposite setting as they do. He sees her marriage to Heathcliff as socially unacceptable, so he completely cuts off ties with Isabella. Edgar is the opposite of the id and seems to have no trace of an id mentality; rather, he reflects the super ego by maintaining strict and almost unrealistic adherence to social standards.
Catherine Earnshaw Linton is the ego of Freud’s personality theory in Wuthering Heights, as she balances the id and super ego. The purpose of the ego is to act as the balance between super ego and id by accounting for the demands of the id, super ego, and reality; simply put, it is common sense and judgment. It operates on the reality principle, delaying the gratification of immediate needs to make one function effectively in society. Catherine attempts to act as the ego, but she fails because she cannot balance Heathcliff (id) and Edgar (super ego). When Edgar asks Catherine to marry, she still feels a strong love for Heathcliff, but must balance the opposing forces. She says, “‘… did it never strike you that if Heathcliff and I married, we should be beggars? Whereas, if I marry Linton, I can aid Heathcliff to rise, and place him out of my brother’s power’” (76). This statement shows how Catherine believes she can balance Heathcliff and Edgar (opposing forces literally and in the psychoanalytically) by marrying Edgar and then helping Heathcliff. She is aware that marrying Edgar is more realistic, despite the demands of the id. Additionally, she knows that she loves Heathcliff (the id attracting her), but also understands that it is more socially acceptable to marry Edgar (the super ego attracting her). She even says, when asked why she loves Edgar, “And he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighborhood…” (73). Catherine, acting as the ego, tries to balance the forces of the id (her love for Heathcliff) and the forces of the super ego (her understanding that marrying Edgar is more socially acceptable). Sigmund Freud believed that when the ego failed to balance the id and super ego, the mind would develop a mental illness. Catherine’s ultimate death follows soon after she has a fight with Heathcliff in which he asks her why she has betrayed him by marrying Edgar. She becomes affectionate with Heathcliff while Edgar is at Church. After this fight, she is described as ‘…all bewildered’ she siged, moaned, and knew nobody” (154). Soon after this, she dies in childbirth. Whether her inability to balance the id and super ego actually lead to her death, her ultimate downfall is representative of her inability to manage the opposing forces.
Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychoanalysis, developed a three-component personality theory of the id, ego, and super ego. This psychological theory, despite being developed decades after the novel was published, is applicable to Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Three of the central characters, Heathcliff, Edgar, and Catherine, represent the id, ego, and super ego of Freud’s theory. The id controls instinct and impulse and is unaffected by reality, logic or morals, and Heathcliff’s actions are dominated by impulse and are unaffected by ethics. The super ego controls the internalization of cultural standards and adherence to a moral code, and Edgar is obsessed with acting in a socially appropriate manner and ensuring moral decisions are made. Finally, the ego is responsible for maintain balance with the other components by considering reality, and Catherine attempts to do this in the novel, but fails and ultimately dies as a result. Heathcliff, Edgar, and Catherine of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë represent Sigmund Freud’s personality theory of the id, super ego, and ego. As a psychologist, Sigmund Freud analyzed human behavior and created theories accordingly. Emily Brontë was not a psychologist and wrote Wuthering Heights decades before Freud’s theories were published, yet her ability to capture the human condition as a writer lead to her novel mirroring the ideas of one of the most famous psychoanalysts in history
If the setting of a novel is 19th century Europe, there is a good chance that the women in the novel will be treated as a means to an end […]
Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is regarded as the hottest stories of love, the most tragic and depressing, among the heroine of the story; Heathcliffe and Catherine Ehrenshaw. Katherine is the […]
Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights, grew up during a time of very concrete gender expectations. In the mid 1800s, English women and men understood that their genders appropriated distinct […]
Setting Time Nelly’s story begins in the 1770s; Lockwood leaves Yorkshire in 1802. Place Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Plot The novel opens with Lockwood, a tenant of Heathcliff’s. A […]
In Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Catherine redeems her mother’s inability to love another tenderly with her love towards Linton. Catherine’s lovingness is not one of intense self-consuming passion where the […]
From the very first pages of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is introduced to readers as a surly and exotic figure. It is ambiguous as to what his unpleasant demeanor and behavior […]
Many aspects of Heathcliff’s personality are apparently “fiendish,” complementing his role as the ‘Byronic hero’ of the Wuthering Heights, a character who is dark, rebellious, and antisocial. However, the Byronic […]
The characters in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights treat class hierarchy as if it is something natural and immutable, but the author shows that the way characters treat each other is […]
Incest, violence, gambling, and the North of England – just several topics central to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights that were abhorrent to the polite Victorian elites who originally devised the […]
Literature and psychological theories, even if developed in different time periods or one before the other, may parallel because of both an author and psychologist’s ability to understand the human […]