Wuthering Heights on feminism essay help needed please !!! A-Level Watch
This my essay:
To what extent does Bronte present the female characters as bound by the gender stereotypes in Wuthering Heights?
Emily Bronte initially presents the female characters as rebellious and defiant of traditional gender roles to subvert the gender stereotypes which allow them to break free from the stereotypical expectations of women within the patriarchal society, empowering them. However, eventually all the female characters are made to conform to the female stereotype, which restrict them and prison them within the gender boundaries resulting in a miserable life, and through this Bronte highlights the negative effect gender restrictions have on women, therefore Bronte could be expressing her feminist views about injustice and poor treatment of women. Bronte does this through the characterisation of Catherine, Cathy and Isabella.
Bronte initially subverts the gender stereotype through the characterisation of Catherine as an educated girl because women in the patriarchal Victorian society were considered unworthy of education. Bronte reflects this through the display of status ‘Heathcliff struggled to keep equality with Catherine in her studies’ implying Catherine defying the societal norms allows her to achieve mental superiority in the hierarchy of knowledge, proving women were in fact worthy of education and just as capable as men. Catherine’s intelligence also a factor that makes Heathcliff desire Catherine because it makes her unique for a time period where women were void of these traits which Bronte may have done to indicate it’s not necessary to be hyper feminine to attract a man as intelligence is also an alluring characteristic, thus using Catherine as vehicle for her feminist views. Also, as Heathcliff is unable to actually to take revenge from Catherine but rather hurts those around her implies her desirability also allows her to have control over him. Therefore, Bronte also demonstrates how her intelligence acquired from her education allows her to learn how to effectively manipulate the emotions of both her love interests and influences their decisions and consequently their lives, which Bronte does to suggest that if women educated themselves they could reverse gender roles and acquire the ability to have some control over others, as well as voice their own needs, which she does to accentuate the idea of gender equality . Also, Catherine self-educating herself due to her crave for knowledge and the desire to learn emphasises the restrictions and gender boundaries imposed on women limiting their potential, which Bronte does to suggest society should change their gender discriminating views about women and accept their abilities which are traditionally associated with men. Bronte reinforces the importance of education to defy the gender boundaries and societal expectations of women though Cathy as she too takes pride in her education and has the desire to learn ‘quick intellect made her an apt scholar; she learnt rapidly and eagerly and did honouring to his teachings’. The display of status emphasises the happiness and desirability it gives women because Hareton admires her education, intelligence and respectful title of a ‘scholar’ that he changes himself to make himself worthy of her standard which is reinforces the subversion of gender stereotypes because usually women would make the effort to please the man they fancy and Bronte has done this through her female characters to show women not being bound by gender boundaries can actually be a lot more respected, happy and desired in society and Bronte had done this to promote her view gender equality.
It can also be argued that Bronte’s female characters escape gender boundaries by having the free- will to voice their opinions and act on their decisions, which is represented through Cathy. Bronte does this through the defiant language ‘…I’ll not do anything, though you should swear your tongue out except what I please’ implying Cathy is an outspoken and headstrong woman as she boldly claims to do only what she wants. This clearly breaks the barriers of the gender boundaries as the typical role of women was to be obedient and silent however Cathy standing up to Heathcliff - a strong dominant male figure, Bronte really highlights Catherine’s courage and power and subverts the gender roles as well highlights the power struggle women have, which restricts them from attaining their share of equal rights in the patriarchal society. Also the power struggle between the two characters shows how Cathy really challenges Heathcliff ‘s authority and typical role as a man, which Bronte may have done to challenge the androcentric society which control the woman and treat them as inferior, but as Cathy’s character illustrates she’s not afraid of the punishments associated with this trait and is made to strip herself away from the gender boundaries, Bronte may have done this be to vocalise Bronte’s message of women should become more like Cathy to bring a change in the gender hierarchy. Bronte reinforces this masculine characteristic within Catherine to free her characters from the gender boundaries through the rebellious language ‘at 15 she was the queen of the countryside; she had no peer she did turn out haughty, headstrong creature’ which emphasise Catherine’s ability to speak her mind and get her voices heard as she’s described as an almost feared, intimidating creature. The reason, Bronte may have done this is to challenge the stereotype of only men being dominant and feared however as it was abnormal for women to adopt these masculine traits, she is described as an creature and this to perhaps break the stereotype and to suggest how it should actually be normal for women possess these attributes like men without being labelled and othered, therefore Bronte presents her female characters as being not bound by the gender boundaries.
However, it can also be argued that Bronte does actually makes her female characters to conform to the societal expectation of women and adhere to the gender roles which confines them within the gender boundaries. Bronte firstly presents Catherine as being bound by the gender boundaries through the degraded language ‘It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff’ which really highlights Catherine’s character succumbing to the societal pressures of women marrying a man of a superior class than her in order to climb the social ladder and attain respect in society. Also, Bronte may have done this to show the indoctrination of this tradition constructed for women that Catherine is unable to fight for her love in the fear of societal opinions about her. However, as this was a choice made for her by societal influence, it leads to a very miserable life, which Bronte may have done to emphasise the negative impact of gender inequality and the restrictions upon women. Moreover, Bronte through thus indicates the other restrictions such as lack of power and respect as women pressure women to choose this life in the eagerness to gain some form of equality within society and in the hope to be treated better as a woman however instead it just leads to mental and internal suffering. Bronte represents this through the animalistic language ‘she tore the pillows with her teeth’ which emphasise the level of torture and imprisonment undesired marriage has on women, which they silently endure and after a point it effects their mental stability and overall their health. Therefore, through Catherine’s conformity Bronte really accentuates and highlights the patriarchal society expressing her feminist views about women suffrage. Bronte also reinforces the poor treatment of women due to being bound by gender boundaries making them weak through Cathy. Bronte does this through the patronising language ‘I will be your father’ which shows Cathy’s lack of choice in the matter as she’s forced to marry Linton. Also, Bronte highlights the power Heathcliff asserts on Catherine given to him by the patriarchal society which allows him to exert violence and his decision upon her. Bronte purposely does this perhaps to create catharsis for Catherine is the injustice is clearly seen and Cathy’s inability to refuse or fight back is due to the patriarchal society, implying Bronte perhaps wants to use Cathy as a caricature of the normal abuse and lack of freedom to take stand for themselves to highlight the poor treatment of women behind the closed doors and to also make a change. Moreover, Bronte criticises women being bound to gender boundaries which forces them to be weak, voiceless and inferior to men allowing men to display their male dominance without any shame. Bronte reflects the sexual imagery ‘flaxen ringlets… hanging loose on her delicate neck … that would have been irresistible’ which Lockwood thinks to himself about Cathy and although Cathy may have understood Lockwood’s intentions, she according to societies rules for women must stay quiet. Also, through this Bronte shows how women are forced to take extra precaution regarding their safety, which is unfair as men do not have to do the same but because of the patriarchal society Bronte mirrors the constant fear women live in and restricts themselves to keep themselves safe. Therefore, Bronte presents her female characters as being bound by the gender boundaries to show how it causes a women’s life to become miserable and prisoning.
Finally, Bronte utilises the moral growth of Isabella Linton to echo and strengthen Bronte’s views about feminism as Isabella has the feminist ability to break free from the gender boundaries for the remainder of her life which both Catherine and Cathy are unable to do so. Bronte shows this through the defending tone ‘Heathcliff is not a fiend, he has an honourable soul’ which demonstrates Isabella boldness to openly rebel against the views and choices Catherine and Edgar had made for her as her guardians break away from the stereotype of submissive, obedient lady who would do as they’re told. Also, Isabelle is also constructed to elope with her love Heathcliff, which was a taboo and a very extreme action to take in that time period and Bronte may have done this to challenge society which force women to not fight for their rights. However, Bronte then reverts back to their stereotype of women being obedient and mute against injustice and atrocities such as domestic abuse reducing their existent as humans. Bronte shows this through the dehumanising language ‘I have no pity. The more the worm writhes, the more I yearn to crush their entrails’ which shows Heathcliff treating Isabella as a worthless being and gains satisfaction out of her misery and submissive nature. Bronte, has done this perhaps to criticise the nature of men as well as women who adhere to the gender boundaries getting hurt and encouraging the behaviour of the husband. However, to show that its’s possible to bring a change and maintain self-respect through the defiant and bold language now aimed at her husband ‘she wouldn’t have borne your abdominal behaviour quietly, her detestation and disgust must have found a voice’ which really highlights the shift in power as Isabella states she won’t take any more of this poor treatment which has being bound by the gender boundaries constructed by society, which Bronte does as it was a very powerful and bold step to take in the patriarchal era and this was perhaps to influence other women to break free from the shackles of societal expectations of women and live independently if they have to as divorce was not an option like Isabella if society was not going to change. However, that does perhaps associate with stigma and taunting as that was not an acceptable behaviour from women meaning, although Isabella’s character freed herself from Heathcliff’s poor treatment, she may have been unable to stop the mental abuse of society, which means Ultimately Bronte has perhaps highlighted Isabella journey of life to show the extent women may have to go to get freedom however, if society accepted women a bit more and treated them like equals this life of misery can be lessened or perhaps even prevented.
Overall, Bronte presents the female characters in wuthering Heights as ultimately being victims of society and becoming trapped in the gender boundaries constructed for them to emphasise the change needed in society and to highlight the poor treatment of women cuased by gender restrictions and discrimination upon women.
I would really appreciate any help or advice.