Sunday, 22 November 2015

Violence in Wuthering Heights

Eminem and Heathcliff
Wuthering Heights is a literary phenomenon, acknowledged as an epic love story and revengeful narrative. It tells the story of an obsessive, isolated and vindictive character hopelessly enthralled to accomplishing revenge. Many readers assume the tale describes a compelling love story between two characters, but in reality describes a lonely man and his path towards a pitiful, spiteful and forceful mentality. Heathcliff is one of the Victorian eras most complex characters. In Walter L. Reed description of  him he contains several characteristics from Shakespeare’s tragic heroes: ‘Romeo in his early love for Catherine, Hamlet in his loss for her and in his need for revenge, Richard III in his evil usurpation, Macbeth in his hallucinations, Lear in his isolated rage’ (Reed, p70). By contemplating the female characters reactions to Heathcliff and violence, I will argue him to be viewed as a modern violent misogynist because the reader’s interpretations of him fall even more submissive than Emily Brönte intended, making Heathcliff the contemporary Eminem. 
Heathcliff undergoes many experiences of disheartening and submissive sort, that later resolve into hatred and vindictive actions towards the people that performed them, also towards his love interest Catherine that betrayed him in other ways.  His fuel is his hatred and the novel deals with several themes that reason this, such as class conflict, power, horror, death and love, but because his hatred doesn’t originate only through love it makes it hard to categorize Wuthering Heights as a romantic tale. Heathcliff is a classic example of victim-turned-perpetrator, which here springs from class conflicts. During the time he is away his revulsion and self-hatred drives him to climb the social ladder, hopefully turning into a man Catherine wants to marry. However, his retribution is fuelled even more when she rejects him once again and he turns bitter and vindictive. Numerous different interpretations of the character have been executed with every read, yet there is normally an agreement that the story is truly sad and F. B. Pinion argues Heathcliff’s malignity to not be motiveless, but his lack of virtues and his brutality shows human behaviour of the worst kind (Pinion, p204). I believe this occurs to be the biggest challenge with Heathcliff, to categorize where his hatred originates and whether it is justifiable. The problems begin when readers justifies his brutality.
Heathcliff and Catherine
Typical identifications to violent relationships are women blaming themselves, which Catherine virtually does and Isabella doesn’t, interestingly because while he is violent he is in a relationship with Isabella but never with Catherine. Catherine blames herself for leaving him and being the reason for her own unhappiness. However, she doesn’t halter to blame Heathcliff and point to the fact that his obsession for her and desire for social self-improvement is the reason for his unhappiness. One can see the separation from Catherine affected him into anger, but his rage and brutality really springs to light when he marries Isabella. Appallingly, Heathcliff is violent and vicious to a woman he doesn’t love, he punishes her for not being the woman he loves and for being the sister of the man that stole the woman he loves. Walter L. reed argues Heathcliff to not be a hero of religious faith but a romantic hero and his apparition is his obsessive love for Catherine (Reed, p70).  I agree that Heathcliff isn’t a hero of religion, but as he looses his moral centre he can’t be categorized as a romantic hero either. Intentionally I believe Reed (and many readers) sees Heathcliff as a romantic hero because he means his actions springs from love, with which I also disagree because I think they springs from hate, making his actions selfish and malicious. Generally, it would be wrong to call him a hero at all, since heroic actions spring from courageous achievements and possession of noble qualities, which he doesn’t possess.
Emily Brönte didn’t sugarcoat this story, but rather the contrary by selecting Nelly as its moral censuring narrator. By entitling her the reader’s perspective we are given a moral platform and hence judge accordingly to Nelly, via Emily Brönte. Therefore we interpret Heathcliff more as a villain than we perhaps would have if the novel were portrayed through Heathcliff’s perspective. In a sense Brönte wants us to feel sympathetic towards him because Nelly does, but with her critical eyes. No matter whose perspective, his violent acts should be interpreted with the same reception. Isabella is the only character that makes a substantial stand against him by leaving and taking their child with her. Heathcliff only uses Isabella as an outlet for his revenge and hatred, and Brönte displays female independence by making her take a stand and firmly decided not to take responsibility for his violence. There are identifications to their relationship signifying a violent marriage and how Heathcliff occupy the dominant role by blaming Isabella; “ “She abandoned them [elegancies] under a delusion” he answered, “picturing in me a hero of romance, and expecting unlimited indulgences from my chivalrous devotion” (Wuthering Heights, p133). He blames her interpretation of him, picturing him as a romantic hero is her own fault and continues: “If I let you alone for half-a-day, won’t you come sighing and wheedling to me again?” (WH, p133). The whole letter from this part of the book shows Brönte’s interpretation of violent marriages, which translates perfectly into modern violent relationships: It is your own fault you misinterpreted me, however your desire for my love and acceptance and longing hope that I truly am the romantic hero you want me to be assures me you will return no matter how I treat you. Providently Isabella realises his love will never arise and leaves.
The theme of submissive women in violent relationships is describes in Eminem’s song Love The Way You Lie featuring Rihanna. It portrays both the dominant and submissive side to a violent relationship as the chorus goes:
            ‘Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
            But that’s alright because I like the way it hurts
            Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
            But that’s alright because I love the way you lie’
This interpretation can be seen in many readers interpretation of Heathcliff:” it doesn’t matter how you treat other people or me and the violent acts you take because I’m always going to go back to you.” Readers still find Heathcliff actions to spring from love, and therefore making them “acceptable”. In the same way Isabella wants and waits for Heathcliff to become a romantic hero, Emily Brönte makes the readers wait for the same. Both long to see the loving Heathcliff from the beginning of the novel. Nevertheless, Emily Brönte made Isabella let go of a fantasy and so should the romantic interpretators of Wuthering Heights. In this regard, Emily Brönte created a stronger character than certain reader’s interpretations as they continue to idealise Heathcliff. The same idealising can be seen with Eminem, when he uses misogynistic language in his songs. Women keep identifying with these lyrics and although fans insist not to take the lyrics literally, they assist desensitizing boys and men to pain and suffering towards women. In the same way the character of Heathcliff does, arguing that because his love was pure in the beginning and his hateful feelings are understandable, the idealistic interpretations of the novel justifies violence against women if the man is hurt. Interestingly, because Emily Brönte attempted through the character to show that such behaviour isn’t acceptable.

Heathcliff and Catherine/Isabella        
Although Wuthering Heights is a great description of issues like class conflict, hatred and revenge, for female readers to idealise the novel romantically it can ultimately assist women to accept a position submissive to male violence. For readers to sympathise with Heathcliff is what Emily Brönte aspired, yet the intrigues in the story never support male violence, rather the contrary. I believe many readers obtain the presumption that Wuthering Heights is a romantic tale, and therefore the interpretations are forced. In the same way as when a person reads a piece of literature they know to be renowned, their interpretations are affected. These problems can also be seen in modern public figures such as Eminem, and although listeners of Eminem and readers of Wuthering Heights claim to interpret the content with a pinch of salt, both spectacles could lead to underlying acceptance of misogyny, due to absence of a critical eye. 

Works cited (research):
  • Brönte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Ed. Ian Jack and Helen Small. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
  • Pinion, F. B. “Wuthering Heights.” A Brönte Companion: Literary Assessment, Background, and Reference. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1975. 204-29. Print.
  • Reed, Walter L. ”Heathcliff: The Her Out Of Time.” Heathcliff. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1993. 70-91. Print.
  • Grey, Skylar. Love the Way You Lie. Eminem Feat. Rihanna. Interscope Records, 2010. MP3.

Works cited (Pictures):

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