Psychological Interpretations of Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Wuthering Heights is a tale of passion, betrayal, and revenge. Through the eyes of two notable psychoanalysts, the forbidden love between Heathcliff and Catherine takes on whole new dimensions.

Psychological Interpretation of Literature

In literary analysis, one of the tools used to determine meaning is psychological interpretation. This type of analysis takes the theories of well-known psychoanalysts, most often Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and applies them to the characters or author of a literary work. Doing this gives readers a better understanding of the characters and their motivations. This lesson will focus on the psychological interpretations of Wuthering Heights.

Synopsis

To understand the psychological interpretations of Wuthering Heights, you must be familiar with the plot of the novel, especially where it concerns Heathcliff, Catherine Earnshaw, and Edgar Linton. Let's briefly recount the plot (as briefly as we can, anyhow. This is a tough novel!)

Nelly Dean, a servant at the Earnshaw's home, Wuthering Heights, and the nearby home of the Lintons, Thrushcross Grange, narrates much of the tale. She starts her story with Heathcliff, an orphan who lives with the Earnshaws. To make a (really) long story shorter, he falls in love with the daughter of the family, the wild Catherine.

Catherine does not marry Heathcliff, deciding instead on the social position she can obtain by marrying Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff, partly out of revenge, marries Edgar's sister Isabella. Both marriages fail: Catherine dies bearing Edgar's daughter Cathy, and Isabella flees to London, where she has Heathcliff's son, Linton.

Eventually Linton and Cathy meet up and have their own relationship, but that is outside of this psychological interpretation of the book, so we'll leave the summary there.

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian psychoanalyst who lived from 1856-1939. He is most known for the importance of repressed memories, sexual drives, and dreams on psychological behavior. Freud's work still influences how we as a culture view world events, literature, and everyday life. His theory of the three parts of the psyche--the id, ego, and super ego--reflect the three characters of Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar.

A Freudian look at Wuthering Heights

Freud described the id as the unconscious part of the brain that runs on instinct and feelings. The character of Heathcliff represents Freud's id. He is driven by emotions and is completely selfish. He uses violence and blackmail to get what he wants, and feels no remorse about using anyone (even his own child) to get his way.

A diagram of the id, ego, and superego.
A diagram of the id, ego, and super ego.

The ego, according to Freud, is the part of our mind that is realistic and rational. The ego works to take the irrational emotions felt by the id and making them both attainable and sustainable. The ego is defensive and self-serving. The character represented by the ego is Catherine. She acts in defense by marrying Edgar, and she is driven by her self-serving need for stability and social position.

The superego is controlled by culture and a desire for order. In Wuthering Heights, the superego is reflected in the character of Edgar. He embodies the social norms of marriage and societal position. He believes that violence is wrong, and he uses intellect and is self-sacrificing.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychoanalyst who lived from 1875-1961. He was a student of Freud's, and he used Freud's ideas as part of the formation of his own theory of how the human psyche worked. Jung was mainly concerned with the two parts that he believed made up the human: the shadow and the individual.

His theory of the shadow and the individual is represented by the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. Together, they represent Jung's two-sided persona, a mask every person creates to let others see some part of the individual while disguising their own inner shadows.

Carl Jung
Carl Jung

A Jungian Look at Wuthering Heights

Looking at the characters of Heathcliff and Catherine in a Jungian light, it is apparent that they are actually two sides of the same persona. Catherine actually realizes this and vocalizes it when she is talking to Nelly in the kitchen, rationalizing her choice of Edgar over Heathcliff. She cries out,

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