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 forbidden relationshipscreate a strong but lethal love between these characters. Wuthering Heights, whilst strongly sticking to romantic ideals,is filled with patriarchal oppression which transforms Catherine’s characterand constricts her from loving freely. Catherine defies the female stereotypeby having both masculine and feminine traits, beginning in the novel beingadventurous, outgoing and a “haughty, headstrong creature” which werecharacteristics traditionally associated with men. When Catherine exhibits thesetraits, she can love freely and passionately like she did when she was childwithout the interference of patriarchal oppression.
The love she exhibited forHeathcliff shows she is capable of passion and demonstrates a powerful lovethat isn’t affected by societal expectations. By Catherine stating that theworld would be a “mighty stranger” without Heathcliff and him saying that”existence after losing her would be hell” proves that without the constraintsfrom society they would only need each other, demonstrating their love to bestrong and vital to the existence of both characters. The semantic field ofnegative religious imagery when describing their lives without one another illustratesto the reader just how strong and eternal their love is.
The reader of the timewould have been highly religious so a word like “hell” would have been verypowerful at conveying the lengths they would go to for each other. However, asthe novel progresses Catherine’s “wild” personality is repressed by the MrLinton and society’s opinion of a what a wife should be. Women in the Victorianera were not expected to find love but to marry to further their position or tofulfil a role in society. As wives, they were expected to be submissive to mendue to being property of their husbands; with no rights to vote they had littleto no independence.
Gender roles were very harsh with women expected to fulfilthe stereotype of being caring, submissive and pure and men expected to be strongand independent. After a short stay at Thrush Cross Grange, Catherine returns”a very dignified person” and “quite a beauty … a lady now”. By the newlyfounded relationship between Catherine and Edgar, she is refined andtransformed into a compliant female character who prioritises her time with hersoon to be husband over her infantile friend, Heathcliff. She is now startingto fulfil her role in the patriarchal society as a quiet submissive woman whoseaim 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 illustrates thatshe 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, like Catherine,however, she does the opposite. She loves more intensely as she is adamant tosee a change in society and its expectations. Catherine is very passive and doesnot protest to the way she is made to feel as she can remain comfortable in herforced life. Contrastingly, Jane notices the unfair divide between men andwomen, so makes a concerted effort to love stronger to defy the expectationsociety has of her.
She defies these social norms by loving Mr. Rochester, heremployer, which would be forbidden. By loving him despite these restrictions itshows how strong her feelings are, and her defiance of patriarchy and classrestrictions. On the other hand, Catherine stops a natural and powerful lovefrom blossoming due to the social expectations thrust upon her. Furthermore, social class also created thisforbidden love which was the strong enough to defy social norms and eitherthrive in Jane Eyre’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”, it demonstratesthat they are so similar that the love between them is completely natural, likean uncontrollable reflex. Catherine carries on this idea of eternal lovebetween her and Heathcliff by using lots of natural imagery in the simile “mylove for Linton is like the foliage in the woods; time will change it. I’m wellaware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles theeternal rocks beneath; a source of little visible delight but necessary.
” By comparing the love she feels for Linton to”foliage” we can see that it is temporary, only there because of circumstancelike society forcing her to marry a wealthy man who in reality means verylittle to her. Heathcliff being the “eternal rocks” shows that their love isstronger and more resilient; it is the foundations upon which everything elseexists. Although less exciting and beautiful, it is what she needs to grow andprosper 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 Heathcliffbecame rich 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 tothe oppression of societal expectations. Although she is elevated in society,she is miserable.
Conversely, in JaneEyre although the problem of social hierarchy is still obvious, the resolutionis much better. Mr. Rochester is condescending to Jane, due to her being of alower class. Jane unlike Catherine argues back for equality as she can see thatdespite her class they are both human beings. By saying, “I do not think, sir,you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, orbecause you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superioritydepends on the use you have made of your time and experience” Jane makes itclear that she will not be devalued and constructs an equal love between herand Mr. Rochester as she won’t accept how society portrays her.
Like Heathcliffshe does not belong to a certain class. She has the manners and education of anaristocrat, but because of her job as a governess she is treated as a servant. Despiteintellectually being on the same level as Mr. Rochester, Jane is not sociallyhis equal, which causes Jane some distress when they plan to marry for thefirst time in the novel.QUOTE. Jane’s anguish may be Bronte criticizing society’shierarchical 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 “madwomanin the attic” is the prime example. Janes personal happiness by marring MrRochester is dependant on the death of Bertha showing how society could nottruly escape the patriarchal oppression. In Gilbert and Gubar’s “The MadwomanIn The Attic” Bertha is shown to symbolise the silenced or at least muffledvoice of women in the nineteenth centaury. It further highlights that Bertha isthe character that reminds Mr Rochester of realities he does not want to acceptso she is locked away in an attempt to hide his past. She is described as “fearfuland ghastly” with “a savage face” and “bloodshot eyes”. This vivid animalistic imageryshows that her humanity has been stripped from her by her husband who has theright to control her how he sees fit.
In Luce Irigaray’s essay “When The GoodsGet Together” she explains that women in the Victorian era were more economic possessionsthan human beings. They did not have voices as they were merely objects. Thisis very clear with Bertha as she does not have a voice throughout.
She is “cunning”which illustrates her intelligence and intellect but as a woman who is mentallyill she will be controlled completely by her husband. Not only does this showhow dominant the patriarchal society was but also the ignorance towards mental disabilities.The limited independence she once had was completely taken away due to thismental illness; she then becomes trapped not just physically but is now powerlessin the grasp of the patriarchal society. Therefore, Jane’s triumph against the patriarchyis not 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 societal expectationsbut unlike Catherine she wasn’t meant to marry, instead she was to be agoverness so falling in love with Mr Rochester went against her role in society.The harsh class system meant the love between both Jane and Mr Rochester andCatherine 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.