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Patriarchal Oppression in Wuthering Heights

Discuss about the Oppression and Religious Extremism in Margaret.

The story of the Wuthering Heights is one of the greatest love stories of all the time by Emily Bronte. The context of the story is based on the 18th century and the theme of the same is more than one. The popularity and the greatness of the story lie in the depiction of its storyline along with the unfolding of the plot. The basic theme of the story is the love and revenge which is prevalent in all the stories from the same century. The underlying themes of the story similarly attract the attention of the readers. From the secondary themes, the most predominant themes are the gothic and patriarchal nature of the story. A deep and thorough reading of the story will enable the reader to understand the theme and the tone of the same. However, the following essay discusses the patriarchal oppression on the female sexuality as exposed in the story.

The Wuthering Heights is basically a portrayal of the romantic values, but the reflection of the patriarchal values are predominant in the story and goes on oppressing the feminine expression in the story. The male protagonist of the story is the Heathcliff, who is the major projector of the masculine oppression and on the other hand another important male character, Edgar Linton is another portrayer of the patriarchal thought. The portrayal of the patriarchal nature of the male characters is majorly prevalent in Heathcliff who is seen taking revenge on his lost love Catherine. The action and the motive of Heathcliff reflect the violence and revenge in his nature (Tufan 2016). On the other hand, Linton depicts the patriarchal though his idealization of the social class and status. The action of the male protagonist of the story can be mentioned as the tyrannical dictatorship of the character (Petkovi? 2012). However, it must be noted that the violent and revengeful nature of Heathcliff is not seen at the beginning of the story and it is the consequences of the unfair behavior towards him that made him a character with patriarchal oppression. On the other hand, Edgar is different from Heathcliff in his projection of patriarchy. The upbringing of Edgar is the reason the behind the characterization of him. The stereotypical and patriarchal social condition of the contemporary society is the driving cause that has made the second male protagonist after Heathcliff, the dominator of the female urge and desire.

Male Protagonists and Patriarchal Thought

There are several female characters in the story including Catherine. The oppression of the patriarchal nature of the females is evident from the depiction of the character of Catherine with the progress of the story. Catherine is the female protagonist of the story who is the love interest of Heathcliff. But stereotypical nature and the predominance of the masculinity in the contemporary society have forced Catherine to marry Edgar who is another fine example of patriarchy (Petkovi? 2012). From the narration of the author of the Wuthering Heights, it is evident that the status and the standards of the women in the society were determined by the authority of the males.

Akcesme (2017) stated that “Catherine was forced to choose domesticity with an organic connection with a civilized society, limiting herself to the male-defined female roles as the follower and the carrier of the patriarchal culture.” The entire of the male in the society was wild and violent and definitely oppressive on the females. In fact, the female wilderness was dominated by the patriarchal reflective nature and Catherine is the appropriate and fine example of the same. Catherine was forcefully transformed by the patriarchal dominance of Edgar. In this regard, Nelly describes the transformation of the female protagonist of the novel as “from a wild, hatless little savage” to “quite a beauty… a lady now”, which is not only the demonstration of the physical appearance of Catherine, but also an important indication of her arrival into the adult world (Tufan 2016). The dominant and patriarchal nature of Edgar and the prevalence of the same on Catherine mark the cause for the transformation of her in terms o the socially correct behavior and appearance. On the return of Heathcliff, he finds Catherine as a completely changed woman. In this regard, the author says:

Instead of a wild, hatless little savage jumping into the house, and rushing to squeeze us all breathless, there 'lighted from a handsome black pony a very dignified person, with brown ringlets falling from the cover of a feathered beaver, and a long cloth habit, which she was obliged to hold up with both hands that she might sail in. ” (Brontë, 2008)

Edgar is the symbolic and perfect representation of the contemporary society which stereotypes the woman sexuality and dominated them.

The socially correct behavior was the requirement of the male-dominated society for the women in the same. The values of Edgar mirrored in Catherine after their marriage as the result of the dominance of the masculinity in the contemporary society. Catherine herself admitted that she has gone through a vast and deep transformation in marrying Edgar. After the return of Heathcliff, Catherine says him, “If you wash your face, and brush your hair, it will be alright. But you are so dirty”, which is a sharp contradiction to the childhood values of her. The transformation of Catherine proves the predominance of the patriarchal thoughts and ideologies in the contemporary society (Tufan 2016). The impact of the patriarchal constraints of Edgar Linton projects a strong effect on Catherine and as the result of the effect Catherine is found to be the victim of the constraints (Petkovi? 2012). The social and mental condition of her symbolises the imprisonment of her within the social stricture and values. On the return of Heathcliff, the oppression of the patriarchy from the side of Edgar is increased as the male ego is hurt by the reincarnation of the relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff. The relationship of Heathcliff and Catherine was suppressed once Heathcliff is gone and Edgar and Catherine are married. On the return of Heathcliff the patriarchal dominance of Edgar is increased and resulted in the frustration and anger on Catherine. Catherine’s wild nature is changed due to the social requirements of the correct behaviour of the women in terms of the social acceptance of the feminine nature.

Oppression of Female Characters in Wuthering Heights


On the other hand, the portrayal of the Heathcliff’s nature refers to the violence and tyrannical aspect of the patriarchal society of the contemporary age. Heathcliff must be marked as the most influential characters of all in the novel. The projection of the patriarchal nature in Heathcliff is evident from his vengeful and oppressive activities with the other characters in the story. Here also, the outcome of the oppressive nature of Heathcliff is due to loss of his lady love, Catherine. The Heathcliff is the major and strong reflection of the male dominance in the novel as he is violent as well as revengeful. The demonstration of the patriarchal dominance in terms of Heathcliff proves the ethicality of the same in the contemporary society.

Heathcliff presents various aspects of the patriarchy such as the ego, selfishness, tyranny, violence, dominance and others. The tyrannical nature of Heathcliff on Catherine is another distressing matter for her. The courtship of Heathcliff and Catherine presets the typical trapped situation of Catherine. In addition, the love relationship of Catharine and Heathcliff is the reason that made Heathcliff shows his resentment and the selfish nature as the result of the patriarchal values of the society (Tufan 2016). The tyrannical nature was the predominant of all the patriarchal aspects within Heathcliff. Catherine was the constant sufferer of the tortures of her love interest both emotionally and physically. The loving nature of the father of Catherine on Heathcliff makes him dominative on Catherine. However, Heathcliff did love Catherine, but the values of the patriarchal society were such deeply rooted within him that behaved with an oppressive and dominative nature on Catherine (Akcesme 2017). To a certain extent the tyrannical and dominant nature of Heathcliff is the reason for which Catherine agreed to marry Edgar Linton. Catherine became the silent sufferer of the emotional torture of Heathcliff which drove her to marry Edgar. The loving, sophisticated and gentle nature of her father made Catherine a victim to the oppressive nature of Heathcliff and Edgar. In this regard, it can be said that the nature of Heathcliff is the strong and sharp contradiction with the nature of the father of the Catharine. The abusive nature of Heathcliff forces Catherine to oppress the native nature of her. In addition, the male dominance of Heathcliff, as well as the society, forces Catherine to take part in the hopeless predicament through the torture of her individualism.

Representations of Patriarchy in Socio-Mental Condition

On the other hand, Isabella is another fool who became the victim of the abusive nature of Heathcliff. Heathcliff is cunning enough along with his selfish nature to employ the gravest expression of his patriarchal thoughts and nature over Isabella.  The love of Heathcliff for Isabella was genuine but the marriage was a trap for her in which she was entangled. Isabella believed Heathcliff and agrees to marry him, but the inner motive of Heathcliff was to take revenge on Catherine as he thought she betrayed her. Here Heathcliff says to Catherine while she is jealous of Isabella for being kissed by Heathcliff:


“What is it to you?" he growled. "I have a right to kiss her, if she chooses, and you have no right to object. I am not your husband: you needn't be jealous of me!" (11.45)” (Brontë, 2008)

Isabella became the victim of the patriarchal dominance unknowingly. Heathcliff due to the patriarchal oppressive nature of the society, took Isabella taken for granted as the wife. Isabella though not physically abused by Heathcliff, was emotionally tortured by him. Therefore, the cruelty of the male protagonist of the novel as well as the other male characters symbolises the inner brutality of the contemporary society.

The Handmaid Tale is another perfect depiction of the male dominated society. The society of Gilead is presented here in the story of The Handmaid Tale which reflects the miserable and distressing situation of the women of the esteemed society. The society is well constructed with the dominance of the male and the oppression of female in the same (Haghi et al. 2016). The characterization of Offred is the perfect representation of the condition of the women in the male dominated society. The handmaid is basically the maid servant who is also bound to serve the purpose of the sexual entertainment to the owners. In the chosen story, Offred is a handmaid who is forced by the owner of the house to provide sexual pleasure to the husband of the owner. This is a strong indication of the patriarchal impact on the female sexuality as well as o the society. The condition and status o the women in the society of Gilead refer to the confinement of the same within the social norms determined by the males of the society (Kouhestani 2012). Not only the narrator is confined to the pathetic and suffocated situation of the society, but also the women of higher class are equally the sufferer of the same. The commander couple who are the owners of Offred is playing the role of the dominator in the in the social context of Gilead. However, the wife of the commander, despite her belonging to the upper class, is the equal sufferer of the insulting and oppressive outcome of the social norms.

Heathcliff’s Tyrannical Nature as a Reflection of Patriarchy

The situation of Offred is pathetic because not only she is forced to have sexual relationship with the owner of the house, but also she is unable to meet her love. The personal values of the handmaid are buried by the patriarchal social values. The male domination is evident and clear from the treatment of the commander with Offred in terms of the social control and the class division. However, as stated above the class always did not ease the situation of the women in the society. Gilead is the perfect representation of the dystopian society of contemporary age. Atwood has succeeded in her narration of the male dominated society in which the female sexuality is oppressed profusely. The female characters of the Gilead are symbolization of the dystopian world which is the reflection of the appropriate patriarchal society (Haghi et al. 2016). At the same time, Offred is the mouthpiece of the author who is again the narrator of the story. The story depicts such a society which objectifies the women as well as their bodies as the material for sexual pleasures (Kouhestani 2012). The Handmaid Tale is one of the good models of the docile society which demonstrates the complexities of both the women and their bodies. The submission of the female sexuality created conflicts within the character of Offred and she says:


“My nakedness is strange to me already. [...] Did I really wear bathing suits, at the beach? I did, without thought, among men, without caring that my legs, my arms, my thighs and back were on display, could be seen. Shameful, immodest. I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it's shameful or immodest but because I don't want to see it. I don't want to look at something that determines me so completely. (12.4)”   (Atwood 1985)

Therefore, the above discourse concludes that the dominance of the patriarchal nature and ideologies are evident in the characterisation in Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte has perfectly presented the social condition of the women under the oppression of the males. The essay makes it evident that the patriarchal nature of the men is deep rooted within them. Emily Bronte has created the male characters of the story as the perfect representatives of the male dominated society. The author has successfully portrayed the characters with different shades which enable them to represent the abusive and negative nature of the society. At the same time, the distressed condition of the females in the society is the result of the patriarchal outcome of the social norms and structure. On the other hand, Atwood also depicts the pathetic condition of the female in terms of the sexuality as the result of the patriarchal dominance. The narrator tactfully used the female protagonist, Offred as the mouthpiece of her and the symbolization of the victimized women in the society. The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood not only presents the face of the patriarchal society but also portrays the dirty and tyrannical nature of the same. The domination of the women by the male power removes the mask of the sophistication from people of the upper class and shows the real face of the same. However, the Wuthering Heights is the representation of the dominance of the women in terms of the socially correct behaviour and the emotional torture. But The Handmaid’s Tale is the reflection of the suppression of the female sexuality by the prevalence of the patriarchy.

Reference:

Akcesme, Banu. "Fighting Back Against the Encroachment of Patriarchal Power on Female Domains in Wuthering Heights." International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature6, no. 5 (2017): 27-40.   

Atwood, Margaret. "The Handmaid’s Tale. 1985." New York: Anchor (1998): 317-21.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering heights. Ignatius Press, 2008.

Haghi, Samira, Mahmood Reza Ghorban Sabbagh, and Zohreh Taebi Noghondari. "Representation of Female Body in the Social Context of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale." (2016).‎

Kouhestani, Maryam. "Sexual Oppression and Religious Extremism in Margaret Atwood's the Handmaid's Tale." International Proceedings of Economics Development and Research 56 (2012): 129.

Petkovi?, Danijela. "Captive Bodies: Victorian Construction of Femininity in Wuthering Heights and the Crimson Petal and the White." Gender Studies 11, no. Supplement (2012): 74-90.

Tufan, Zeynep. "Women’s Education in Inchbald’s A Simple Story and Brontë’s Wuthering Heights: Feminist Consciousness, Desire and the Cult of Sensibility." Master's thesis, 2016.

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