In both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights love is restricted by societal expectations.
Theautocratic male dominance of the time meant that patriarchal oppression is amain theme in both books and had a negative effect on love in the male andfemale relationships. In the Victorian era, social class and wealth played anenormous part in relationships, as the rigid class system dictated who youcould date. These rules created by society produce forbidden and thereforedestructive love which can be detrimental for the characters involved. This isparticularly prominent in both WutheringHeights with Catherine and Heathcliff and in Jane Eyre between Jane and Mr Rochester. The forbiddenrelationships create a strong but lethal love between these characters.
Whilststrongly sticking to romantic ideals, WutheringHeights is filled with patriarchal oppression which transforms Catherine’scharacter and constricts her from loving freely. Catherine defies the femalestereotype by having both masculine and feminine traits, beginning in the novelbeing adventurous, outgoing and a “haughty, headstrong creature” which werecharacteristics traditionally associated with men. When Catherine exhibitsthese traits, she can love freely and passionately like she did when she waschild without the interference of patriarchal oppression.
The love sheexhibited for Heathcliff shows she is capable of passion and demonstrates apowerful love that isn’t affected by societal expectations. By Catherinestating that the world would be a “mighty stranger” without Heathcliff and himsaying that “existence after losing her would be hell” proves that without theconstraints from society they would only need each other, demonstrating theirlove to be strong and vital to the existence of both characters. The semanticfield of negative religious imagery when describing their lives without oneanother illustrates to the reader just how strong and eternal their love is.The reader of the time would have been highly religious so a word like “hell”would have been very powerful at conveying the lengths they would go to foreach other. However, as the novel progresses Catherine’s “wild” personality isrepressed by the Mr Linton and society’s opinion of a what a wife should be.
Womenin the Victorian era were not expected to find love but to marry to furthertheir position or to fulfil a role in society. As wives, they were expected tobe submissive to men due to being property of their husbands; with no rights tovote they had little to no independence. Gender roles were very harsh withwomen expected to fulfil the stereotype of being caring, submissive and pureand men expected to be strong and independent. After a short stay at ThrushCross Grange, Catherine returns “a very dignified person” and “quite a beauty …a lady now”. By the newly founded relationship between Catherine and Edgar, sheis refined and transformed into a compliant female character who prioritisesher time with her soon to be husband over her infantile friend, Heathcliff. Sheis now starting to fulfil her role in the patriarchal society as a quietsubmissive woman whose aim in life is to marry.
Throughout Catherine’s marriage to Edgar,Catherine becomes less like the “little savage” she once was showing how Edgarhas made her into a woman who is accepted into society by suppressing her truepersonality. This demonstrates further that she is fighting her naturalfeelings so she can be accepted by society. Catherine says she QUOTE . ByCatherine sticking to societal rules she is giving in to the patriarchaloppression and therefore ends up unhappily married to someone she isn’t trulyin love with.
Plyer- Fisk says, “true child of nature, she prefers topursue intellectual knowledge outdoors” showing how naturally she isn’t thiscalm respectable lady but is like Heathcliff in her wild ways. It illustratesthat she is fighting all of her natural feelings not only the ones towards Heathcliff. Similarly,in Jane Eyre the expectations ofwomen in society are very visible but perhaps are more prominent as she is notonly a woman but also an orphan.
Jane Eyre resists these societal expectationsand stays true to her character. Throughout Jane’s younger years she issurrounded by male figures such as John Reed and Mr Brocklehurst who demean herto attempt to make her passive and submissive. When Jane is compared to her male cousin in aderogatory way she thinks “Women are supposed to be very calm generally:but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and afield for their efforts just as their brothers do..
.” showing how shefeels irritated about the sexual inequality; that men and women should be ableto express their emotions equally and have equally good jobs. This is continuedfurther when she begins to work for Mr. Rochester as from the beginning hespeaks down to her enforcing the stereotype that men were superior to women.When he talks about Mr.
Brocklehurst the teacher saying, “And you girlsprobably worshiped him, as a covenant full of religieuses would worship theirdirector.” we can see that even he holds this idea that women are to worshipmen. By grouping them into “you girls” takes away any individualism of theyoung women as if they are all the same.
This constant oppression frommisogynistic characters should make Jane love less passionately, likeCatherine, however, she does the opposite. She loves more intensely as she isadamant to see a change in society and its expectations. Catherine is verypassive and does not protest to the way she is made to feel as she can remaincomfortable in her forced life. Contrastingly, Jane notices the unfair dividebetween men and women, so makes a concerted effort to love stronger to defy theexpectation society has of her. She defies these social norms by loving Mr.Rochester, her employer, which would be forbidden. By loving him despite theserestrictions it shows how strong her feelings are, and her defiance ofpatriarchy and class restrictions. On the other hand, Catherine stops a naturaland powerful love from blossoming due to the social expectations thrust uponher.
Social class also created this forbidden lovewhich was the strong enough to defy social norms and either thrive in JaneEyre’s case or perish like with Heathcliff and Catherine. In Wuthering Heights, social status has anegative impact on the love between Catherine and Heathcliff. Catherine has been raised to look for ahusband who can further her place in society, so falling in love with an orphancontradicts everything she has been taught and produces a very strong yetdestructive love between her and Heathcliff. The social hierarchy created bywealth and status meant that love across social classes was forbidden. In theVictorian era, society expected individuals to marry within their social sphereand it was very rare for someone in the lower class to marry above themsocially, meaning the love between Catherine and Heathcliff and Jane and Mr.Rochester was forbidden.
When Catherine says, “whateverour souls are made of, his and mine are the same” and “I am Heathcliff”, itdemonstrates that they are so similar that the love between them is completelynatural, like an uncontrollable reflex. Catherine carries on this idea ofeternal love between her and Heathcliff by using lots of natural imagery in thesimile “my love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods; time will changeit. I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliffresembles the eternal rocks beneath; a source of little visible delight butnecessary.” By comparing the love shefeels for Linton to “foliage” we can see that it is temporary, only therebecause of circumstance like society forcing her to marry a wealthy man who inreality means very little to her. Heathcliff being the “eternal rocks” showsthat their love is stronger and more resilient; it is the foundations uponwhich everything else exists.
Although less exciting and beautiful, it is whatshe needs to grow and prosper as a character. However, due to society’s harsh rules Catherinemust marry the rich Mr. Linton who can offer her social security, although shewill never love him like she does Heathcliff. Society’s influence changesCatherine, as she says it would “degrade” her to marry Heathcliff showing howshe abandoned her emotions and childhood values to fit in. She is constantlycontradicting her childhood values by calling Heathcliff “dirty” and that heneeds to “wash your face, and brush your hair”.
This demonstrates how herpersonality has been suppressed and altered, changing from individualistic tosocial compliance. This change is highlighted further as after marrying Edgarshe is ready to move from “a disorderly comfortless home into a wealthyrespectable one” illustrating her change in values. However, when Heathcliff becamerich and therefore more respectable, Catherine’s loyalty to Edgarfaltered. Edgar says to her “willyou give up Heathcliff hereafter, or will you give up me? It is impossible foryou to be my friend and his at the same time, and I absolutely require to knowwhich one you choose.
” This demonstrates Catherine’s requirement to pickbetween the wild, free yet unconventional emotions or the correct social valuesthat Edgar represents. Using the word “impossible” emphasizes how difficult thesituation and decision is for Catherine. By choosing Edgar she yet again gives in to the oppression of societalexpectations. Although she is elevated in society, she is miserable.
Conversely, in JaneEyre although the problem of social hierarchy is still obvious, theresolution is much better. Mr. Rochester is condescending to Jane, due to herbeing of a lower class. Jane unlike Catherine argues back for equality as shecan see that despite her class they are both human beings. By saying, “I do notthink, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older thanI, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim tosuperiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience” Janemakes it clear that she will not be devalued and constructs an equal lovebetween her and Mr. Rochester as she won’t accept how society portrays her.Like Heathcliff she does not belong to a certain class.
She has the manners andeducation of an aristocrat, but because of her job as a governess she istreated as a servant. Despite intellectually being on the same level as Mr.Rochester, Jane is not socially his equal, which causes Jane some distress whenthey plan to marry for the first time in the novel.
QUOTE. Jane’s anguish may beBronte criticizing society’s hierarchical expectations in the Victorian era. However, throughout the novel Jane does continue to defy thesocial class prejudices, such as when she says “Do you think, becauseI am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You thinkwrong!—I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart! And if God had giftedme with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you toleave me, as it is now for me to leave you.” Jane here is demonstrating toMr. Rochester that, although she is not in his social class, she understandshow the social class works.
The use of dashes and exclamative sentences showsthat this is stream of consciousness andshe is very passionate about not being treated worse just because of her placein society. Also, the asyndetic list of her physical attributes shows that shehas a realistic image of herself but will not be devalued because of it. Bystanding up against class restrictions, she and Mr. Rochester can love morefreely and equally without pressure from society.
Nevertheless,even though Jane Eyre overcomes societal constraints by marrying Mr Rochester,it is at the expense of another female character- the entire text cannotovercome the idea of patriarchal oppression. Mr Rochester’s wife Bertha or the”madwoman in the attic” is the prime example. Janes personal happiness bymarring Mr Rochester is dependant on the death of Bertha showing how societycould not truly escape the patriarchal oppression.
In Gilbert and Gubar’s “TheMadwoman In The Attic” Bertha is shown to symbolise the silenced or at leastmuffled voice of women in the nineteenth centaury. It further highlights that Berthais the character that reminds Mr Rochester of realities he does not want toaccept so she is locked away in an attempt to hide his past. She is describedas “fearful and ghastly” with “a savage face” and “bloodshot eyes”. This vividanimalistic imagery shows that her humanity has been stripped from her by herhusband who has the right to control her how he sees fit. In Luce Irigaray’sessay “When The Goods Get Together” she explains that women in the Victorianera were more economic possessions than human beings.
They did not have voicesas they were merely objects. This is very clear with Bertha as she does nothave a voice throughout. She is “cunning” which illustrates her intelligenceand intellect but as a woman who is mentally ill she will be controlledcompletely by her husband. Not only does this show how dominant the patriarchalsociety was but also the ignorance towards mental disabilities. The limitedindependence she once had was completely taken away due to this mental illness;she then becomes trapped not just physically but is now powerless in the graspof the patriarchal society. Therefore, Jane’s triumph against the patriarchy isnot truly a victory as even though she rises another woman falls.
To conclude,romantic love in both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights is limited by socialexpectations. The expectations of womenin society were very high; they were supposed to be calm, polite and submissiveto their husbands. The way women could feel was oppressed by the patriarchalsociety so characters like Jane Eyre and Catherine struggled to express theirtrue emotions. Women rarely married for love but instead to further their placein society so the fact Heathcliff was an orphan in a low class meant he couldnot offer Catherine economic security so their relationship was automaticallydoomed in the Victorian society. Jane Eyre also faced pressure from societalexpectations but unlike Catherine she wasn’t meant to marry, instead she was tobe a governess so falling in love with Mr Rochester went against her role insociety.
The harsh class system meant the love between both Jane and MrRochester and Catherine and Heathcliff was condemned from the beginning. In Wuthering Heights social conventionprevented love and lead to the death of Heathcliff but in Jane Eyre, Jane and Mr Rochester end up getting married and livinghappily showing that their love overcame social convention. However, eventhough Jane overcomes social constraints by marrying Mr Rochester it does notmean the entire novel can overcome the patriarchal oppression. Bertha Mason killsherself due to her mental illness which was not made any better by beingimprisoned by Mr Rochester. Due to the ignorance surrounding mental illness andwomen being property of men, Bertha is locked in the attic which takes away allher humanity. Therefore, even though Jane can escape the patraichal society, itis still a major issue that leads to the demise of another character.
All ofthese social expectations cause the failed love in Wuthering Heights but in JaneEyre love overcomes social convention.