Analysis of Characters from Wuthering Heights Through Freudian Critique

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Words: 2240 |

Pages: 5|

12 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 2240|Pages: 5|12 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

In Wuthering Heights, Bronte depicts the turbulence of the psyche through her characters. Heathcliff, Edgar and Catherine are portrayed not as three distinct personas, but instead as three parts of a single psyche. Heathcliff, Edgar and Catherine represent what Freud later termed as the id, the superego and the ego, respectively. Battling society, Heathcliff follows his own animalistic desires as the id, refusing to succumb to cultural dictates. As the superego, Edgar articulates the British societal precepts, repressing the natural instincts of a person. Catherine, the ego, constantly struggles between her id and superego, Heathcliff and Edgar, searching for the balance. The interaction between these characters crafts the plot not solely of the novel, but also of the mind.

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Heathcliff embodies the dark side of the psyche. At his first introduction to society, he is described as being "as dark almost as if it came from the devil" (Bronte 26). The immediate association of Heathcliff with the devil establishes him, like Satan, as the antithesis of society, fighting the dictates and morals set by the surrounding culture. With original sin, man is inherently evil, making his innate instincts, which compose the id, opposite to those that are taught by society. In "What's the Matter with Emily Jane?" Thomas Moser contends that: over a century ago Emily Bront dramatized what Freud subsequently called the id. She discovered and symbolized in Heathcliff "...that part of us we know so little about...the child that lurks within everyone..."

The primary traits Freud ascribed to the id apply perfectly to Heathcliff: "the source of psychic energy; the seat of instincts...the essence of dreams; the archaic foundation of personality: selfish, asocial, impulsive" (Stoneman 89).

Heathcliff is seen as a "moral poison" (Bront 84) by Edgar, the embodiment of society. As the id exists in the internal world, out of the external world of the superego, Heathcliff exists outside of society. When arriving at Thrushcross Grange after his extended absence, we see Heathcliff outside of the gate with "his fingers on the latch as if intending to open it for himself" (Bronte 68). The placement of Heathcliff outside of the gate is metaphoric for his exclusion from society; even when he tries to let himself in, he is locked out and blocked from entering the society contained within Thrushcross Grange. Upon his permitted entrance, Nelly observes that Heathcliff is no longer rough or uncivilized, "his countenance...looked intelligent...and his manner was even dignified" (Bronte 70). Despite his apparent societal conformity, Heathcliff struggles within it, fighting "a bitter life since [he] last heard [Catherine's] voice...struggling only for [her]" (Bronte 71) because he is not a part of society. No matter how "well-formed" (Bronte 70) Heathcliff is to society, he still remains "an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation" (Bronte 75) unable to ever properly interact with society, just as the id cannot connect with the superego.

Edgar personifies cultural ideals as the superego." [K]ind, and trustful, and honourable" (Bronte 79), Edgar is the opposite of Heathcliff, always following "his duty and humanity" (Bronte 109), but never his emotions. Edgar distances himself from "his wife's occupations" (Bronte 88), which are the most expressive part of his life. When Catherine locks herself in her chamber, Edgar does not appeal to her or plead with her to come out, but instead he "is continually among his books, since he has no other society" (Bronte 89). Throughout the novel, books are associated with morality; Edgar's immersion in his books represents his engrossment in the principles of society, avoiding not only the passion of his wife's episode, but more importantly the passion of life. Edgar emerges himself in society to "avert...access of emotion" (Bronte 85) not only during Catherine's incident, but constantly throughout the novel, including after Catherine's death when he takes Cathy's "education entirely on himself" (Bronte 139). As Cathy matures, he "trust[s] her to no one else" (Bronte 140), carefully educating her to make her a scholar in society. By not letting Cathy "beyond the range of the park by herself" (Bronte 140), Edgar acts as the superego, imposing the societal ideology as he represses her natural instincts to explore. Edgar tries to craft a Cathy that is different from her mother, one without passion and desire, much like the superego tries to steer the ego away from the internal world of the id.

Living in a repressive society, Catherine is constantly forced to choose between her heart and her mind, her id and her superego, her internal and her external. Catherine struggles to assuage the conflict with reason, but cannot stop the clash between "'Here! and here!'...striking one hand on her forehead and the other on her breast. 'In which ever place the soul lives'" (Bronte 58). Catherine ponders herself in both and neither worlds as she crosses out and rewrites "Catherine Earnshaw; here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton" (Bront 13) on her windowsill.

Similarly, her "pen and ink commentary...[on] every morsel of blank that the printer had left" (Bronte 14), suggests that she is not in the morality of her books nor outside of the pages of society, but instead wavering in between. Akin to her written reflections in her books, Catherine lives in the margins of society, but was never entirely absent from it. In trying "to break their hearts by breaking [her] own" (Bronte 86) she acknowledges that as she battles between the two worlds of Heathcliff and Edgar, she is always linked to both of them, but at the same time, Catherine is consciously aware that she belongs in neither of the two worlds. She admits to Nelly that she has "no more business to marry Edgar be in heaven," because as the ego, she still contains the primitive desires of the id that are incompatible with society, but "it would degrade [her] to marry Heathcliff" (Bronte 59) because she struggles to fit the ideals of the external world of the superego, which repress the id. To compensate for her displacement, Catherine seems "to allow herself such wide latitude" (Bronte 79).

Anne Williams, in "The Child is Mother of the Man," claims that "Bronte tells a different story. Culture, she says, tragically separates not only a woman's head from her heart...It also cuts her off from the energy and active power culture attributes to the male..." (Stoneman 91). In an attempt to balance herself, Catherine stretches herself between the internal and the external, never successfully finding the middle plane.There is no sharp line dividing the ego from the id, nor is there one sharply separating Catherine and Heathcliff. While they do not always admit that they are inseparable, Catherine acknowledges that Heathcliff is "more [herself] than [she] is. Whatever [their] souls are made of, his and [hers] are the same" (Bront 59), just as Heathcliff recognizes after Catherine's death that he "cannot live without [his] life! [He] cannot live without [his] soul" (Bront 124). As a child, Catherine initially tried to distance herself from Heathcliff, as she "refused to have it in bed...or even in [her] room" (Bront 27), but the two soul mates quickly became "very thick" (Bront 27).

As she reaches maturity, Catherine attempts to separate herself from the id to become a part of the ego-ideal in the external world, initiating the regression of their relationship. When she returns to Wuthering Heights after spending five weeks at the Linton's Thrushcross Grange, the core of proper society, she asks for Heathcliff while she is "pulling off her gloves, and displaying fingers wonderfully whitened with doing nothing, and staying indoors" (Bronte 38). As the id is the source of all activity, her five weeks of "doing nothing" indicates that she has turned away from Heathcliff's vibrancy and energy, towards the straightforward life of the ego-ideal. When Heathcliff appears, as they shake hands, Catherine gazes "concernedly at the dusky fingers she held in her own" (Bronte 39). The contrast between Catherine's "wonderfully whitened" hands and Heathcliff's "dusky fingers" depicts the widening gap between them in the external world, but the union of their two hands illustrates the remaining internal bond. Despite her distance, Catherine fears that she "had gained no embellishment with" (Bronte 39) Heathcliff, demonstrating her eternal link with Heathcliff. In his article "Infanticide and Sadism in Wuthering Heights," Wade Thompson argues that: Catherine's return in the role of a child fulfils her yearning to regain her childhood strength, it also betrays the fact that only as a child was she everable to love Heathcliff. After puberty, she is never able to transform herchildish passion for identity...into a passion for the union of opposites. Her marriage to Linton, a weak, respectable, undemanding person, is essentiallyan escape... To her, Heathcliff is, and always will be her wild 'childhood'lover; Linton is her respectable 'adult' lover...she she simply thinks of her'love' for [Heathcliff] as entirely different from her 'love' for Linton... The'love' she can offer Heathcliff is...expressed in pain (Stoneman 87).

Catherine creates her own misery by detaching herself from Heathcliff in an attempt to survive in society. In her existence without Heathcliff, Catherine endures a "very, very bitter misery...It was kindness for him which induced...the agony [she] frequently felt" (Bronte 73), but the choice was her own to make and the consequences her own from which to suffer.

To live with Edgar, Catherine must to separate herself from Heathcliff. To appeal to Edgar's ideals, she is forced to "betray her own heart" (Bronte 119) by repressing her id, "for Edgar's sake, to satisfy him" (Bronte 60). After her first stay in the proper society of the Lintons, Catherine returns with "fingers wonderfully whitened" (Bronte 38). As white is the traditional color of purity, her newly gained "whiteness" demonstrates the suppression of her inherently evil side, the id, making her acceptable in society. After the marriage, "Catherine Linton is as different now...from...Catherine Earnshaw" (Bronte 109). The further she submerges herself into society, the more cerebral change she provokes, further separating herself from her id, Heathcliff. Catherine lethally separates herself from Heathcliff to be a part of accepted society, she represses her natural desires, eventually leading to her death. After Heathcliff leaves her deathbed, she "recognized nobody" (Bronte 123). The departure of Heathcliff represented the complete departure of her id; this separation proved to be fatal. In "The Child is Mother of the Man," Williams reasons that: What Freud called 'castration', then, is not female submission to her 'natural' defect. Rather it is culture's demand that she separate herselffrom her own 'masculine' principle, in order to marry and gain accessto the rewards culture grants to the 'real' woman... In showing that Cathy dies of this separation, this being cut from her partly masculine soul,Bront thus undermines what is, perhaps, the most powerful of all binary oppositions: that between male and female...To divide the two has 'unnatural' results (Stoneman 92).

When Catherine enters Edgar's world, she abandons the internal, hiding her emotions, but as the ego, Catherine can never completely remove the id from her world, leaving her in limbo between the external society and the internal desire. Heathcliff, Catherine and Edgar collectively represent a single psyche. The id, ego and superego cannot exist alone nor peacefully together. Catherine, Heathcliff and Edgar struggle in their lives, often relying upon one another to achieve some form of stability. Catherine and Heathcliff are codependent, finding stability in the internal sphere, outside of society, but Catherine struggles with Heathcliff in the external world. To find steadiness within society, Catherine must depend upon Edgar's emotional restraint, while conversely Edgar relies upon Catherine's emotional candor to avoid expressing his own. Edgar's lack of emotion represses Catherine's natural passion as she attempts to fit his ideal. Almost a hundred years after the writing of Wuthering Heights, Freud describes repression as the mechanism by which innate desires are hidden in the unconsciousness because they are incompatible with societal behavior. Living in a repressive nineteenth century English society, Bronte, like many women, suffered from the same conflicting id, ego, and superego of Wuthering Heights' psyche, but most had no outlet for expression. In A Future for Astyanax, Leo Bersani claims that Wuthering Heights is: a spatial representation of an intuition that our being can never beadequately enclosed within any present formulation...of our being...Thus, although it is ourselves we see in the mirror, the experience can paradoxically be considered as a model for our imagination of beingvery different from ourselves. Wuthering Heights represents the dangerof being haunted by alien versions of the self (Stoneman 96).

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Through the characters of Wuthering Heights, Bronte echoes the repressed psyche of not only her self, but of many women in the early nineteenth century.

Works Cited

  1. Bersani, Leo. " A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature" as cited in Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights, Stoneman, Patsy, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  2. Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Dover Publications, 1996.
  3. Moser, Thomas. "What is the Matter with Emily Jane? Conflicting Impulses in Wuthering Heights" as cited in Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights, Stoneman, Patsy, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  4. Thompson, Wade. "Infanticide and Sadism in Wuthering Heights" as cited in Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights, Stoneman, Patsy, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  5. Williams, Anne. "The Child is Mother of the Man: The 'Female' Aesthetic of Wuthering Heights" as cited in Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights, Stoneman, Patsy, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
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Analysis of Characters from Wuthering Heights Through Freudian Critique. (2018, May 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from
“Analysis of Characters from Wuthering Heights Through Freudian Critique.” GradesFixer, 11 May 2018,
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