Monday, February 21, 2011

Marxist Criticism and Wuthering Heights

    During the assigned reading, a great deal of time is spent explaining Marxist criticism.  I feel that this in necessary in order to understand the perspective that is presented in the following essay.  In the essay, "Myths of Power: a Marxist Study on Wuthering Heights," by Terry Eagleton, Eagleton goes into great detail comparing and contrasting, but mostly contrasting, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
    From the very beginning of the essay, I get a feeling that Eagleton far prefers Wuthering Heights to Jane Eyre.  He begins his essay by stating, "Charlotte's fiction is 'mythical' in an exact ideological sense: it welds together antagonistic forces, forging from them a pragmatic, precarious coherence of interests.  Wuthering Heights is mythical in a more traditional sense of the term: an apparently timeless, highly integrated, mysteriously autonomous symbolic universe" (Eagleton 395).  After reading this, one can only assume that Eagleton's preference lies with Wuthering Heights.  However, I do agree with him regarding Emily's work.  She is able to capture a complete universe that seemingly functions on its own.  (Unfortunately, I cannot compare it to the work of Charlotte because I have never read Jane Eyre.) 
    Another point I found interesting in the essay is when Eagleton is speaking of Heathcliff's appearance in the novel as well as the in the Earnshaw family.  He says, "he emerges from that ambivalent domain of darkness which is the 'outside' of the tightly defined domestic system" (397).  I liked how Eagleton used the word dark and outside because it mimics the arrival of Heathcliff in the novel. 
    I also thought it was interesting how Eagleton spoke of the relationship between Heathcliff and Hindley.  "Just as Hindley withdraws culture from Heathcliff as a mode of domination, so Heathcliff acquires culture as a weapon" (399).   This action, used to designate power, is used against Heathcliff.  He overcomes that gap and uses it to his ultimate advantage in the end.  It is mirrored through Heathcliff keeping Hareton unlearned.  Hareton also overcomes this disadvantage and uses it to overturn Heathcliff in the end.  I find it simply fascinating that a central idea in this novel is using knowledge, or learning, as power or a weapon. 
    However, I believe that Eagleton's main concept is a sense of struggle.  There is a constant state of struggle waxing and waning in Wuthering Heights.  Whether it's between Heathcliff and Hindley, Heathcliff and the world of the Moors, or Heathcliff struggling with himself, there is always a constant and consistent state of battle in the novel.  That is, until the end.  "I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth" (Bronte, 288).


  1. I agree with you about struggle being an important part of the novel, and the first time there is relative peace is when Heathcliff leaves in a huff because he overhears Catherine at the perfectly wrong time. The second time, Heathcliff is dead. It seems to me that he has the most uncanny ability to bring pain and darkness (and even bad weather) to those he hates. It is impressive, but expected. When he enters the "defined domestic system," he is welcomed in but after Mr. Earnshaw's death, he is treated the way everyone else thinks he should be. They were lucky he was gone as long as he was.

  2. Hey Elizabeth,
    I totally agree with you that the central idea of the essay is struggle: may it be between Heathcliff and Catherine, Catherine or Hindely, or Heathcliff and Hindely. Since this is a Marxist criticism of the novel, I believe that this is appropriate and Eagleton’s essay has given me more food for thought about how the characters interact with each other and why. The power struggle between these three main characters are made evident through how they treat each other, talk to one another, and then eventually, you see a the true underdog story of Heathcliff arise when he takes both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. I believe this ending (although Heathcliff is still left unhappy and mentally unstable), would make any true, raging Marxist proud.