Research Essay

The novel, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, has established an influential stance in respect to literature on a general and global basis. Based on the different subjects it covers, Emily Bronte has been revered as probably one of the most influential authors of the 19th century irrespective of gender conventions. Similar to Jane Eyre, which was authored by her sister, Charlotte Bronte, Wuthering Heights exhibits an integration of gothic and romantic elements for the sole purpose of inspiring fear, mystery and uniquely, a tinge of rationality. Based on the several aspects that it covers, one of the main issues that the book focuses on involves the existence and implications of society’s patriarchal order as well as conventions primarily held regarding gender. In particular, Bronte wanted to concentrate on the problem facing women especially in the 19th century via the character of Catherine Earnshaw. In fact, it is arguable that patriarchy and gender notions within the society played a considerable part in influencing Catherine’s marriage choice.

Generally, patriarchy constitutes the organization of a society in respect to family units. However, in this system, fathers possess the utmost responsibility towards managing and ensuring the welfare of the respective units. A distinctive aspect of patriarchy constitutes the role that it assumes in downplaying women. Simply, women are not seen as equal to men. In fact, the common patriarchal order allows the man to exercise considerable dominance and power over the woman in all aspects of her life. As such, women undergo a system of psychological and corporeal submission and oppression within such social structures. The structure of patriarchy is exemplified considerably in Emily Bronte’s book (McCullough 2005, 63). This is based on the repression that women faced during the Victorian era in 19th century England. Even though Wuthering Heights adheres passionately to Romantic notions, it is impossible to avoid the patriarchal repression that takes place throughout the novel.

The effect of patriarchy and derived gender conventions on Catherine’s marriage choice begins from her position within the family. Accordingly, the family provides an effective platform that can be used in controlling or dominating the woman. Interestingly, patriarchy does not necessarily occur as the father’s rule. Rather, the respective process is more understood in respect to the control possessed by the father. Aside from this, the notion of patriarchy may occur as the authority exercised by men over economic aspects, politics, as well as the family (Sussman 2015, 87). In Wuthering Heights, the dominance of men over the lives of women was exemplified in the control exercised over the institution of marriage. Hence, if a daughter is willing to engage in a particular decision, it is impossible for her to do so because of the control held by the father. As an outcome, the women face emotional oppression since most of their decisions lies within the confines of their respective father (Everitt 2007, 81).

In the book, Catherine expresses a strong willingness to engage in a fruitful and enduring relationship with her romantic interest, Heathcliff. The love that exists between both characters is natural and unique. In fact, their attraction towards one another recurs as a by-product opposed to rationality (Praz 2011, 54). Hence, when frustrated, the vigor that results from the relationship turns into wanton destruction for both characters as well as those occupying the same setting. Indeed, the love that exists between them is complicated and hard to understand. Foremost, their feelings for one another did not take place on a random basis. Moreover, it did not adhere to the framework of conventional romance as exemplified in most Victorian novels (Pykett 2011, 200). However, both have been in each other’s company since childhood. As such, the bond that connects them dumbfounds every other character. Hence, taking note of this, one would assume that both characters would end up married to each other inevitably.

However, in contrast to the assumption, Catherine ends up married to another man, Edgar Linton. As an outcome of patriarchal family traditions, the female protagonist was forced to marry Linton and in the process, reject her love for Heathcliff. Additionally, the influence of patriarchy is illustrated by her desire to conform to society’s view of male wealth and power. Despite declaring her love for Heathcliff, Catherine does not express the willingness to engage in a long-standing union. Her reasons are based on Heathcliff’s economic and social inferiority (Wilson 2004, 45). On the other hand, Edgar Linton seems to possess the defining characteristics that she is looking for in a male spouse. Because of this, she becomes married to Linton. In contrast to Heathcliff, Linton is economically and socially superior. Her decision to marry Edgar Linton for the sake of economic and social authority illustrates the extent to which patriarchy imposes a significant effect on her marriage choice.

The roles that patriarchy and gender conventions assume in Catherine’s life are undeniably significant. In fact, the respective components affect her choice in marriage in respect to the implications they inflict on her as a child. At a young age, Catherine was uninformed of her appropriate gender role (Wong 2014, 32). Her carefree mannerism and free spirit enabled her to veer away from traditional girlish mores and norms. For instance, she did not express any concerns with fancy dresses or hair curls. However, the time she spent with Heathcliff as they frolicked recklessly was the only thing that mattered. Nevertheless, it is impossible to avoid the inevitability of changes imposed by the society’s norms. For her to materialize into a suitable spouse and mother, Catherine will be required to transform to a dignified woman from a “wild, hatless little savage” (Bronte 2015, 81).

The influence on Catherine’s marriage choice is further exhibited by the implications derived from gender conventions. During the Victorian period, conventions such as those based on gender roles required women to adhere strictly to the rules set within the social framework (Mellor 2013, 101). Interestingly, the set rules usually favored male members of the society. While she was younger, Catherine rebelled against such values, guidelines, and institutions. However, as she ages, she realizes that she cannot live such a life and expect any gain to come out of it. As a result, Catherine attempts to live two separate lives (Abraham 2004, 97). In this context, her rejection of Heathcliff for Linton exhibits the patriarchal-based life that the protagonist occupies within the novel. Even though Catherine once lived in happiness due to her oblivious nature to social conventions, she manages to enclose herself in gender notions by accepting the role imposed on her as a woman by the society.

In conclusion, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights exposes the discrimination and repression that women faced in 19th century England because of patriarchal and derived gender conventions. For the protagonist, the transformation into a dignified woman had to be accompanied by a drastic change in character. Simply, Catherine was required to conform to society’s gender conventions in order to live a life as a suitable wife and a presentable mother. Consequently, the implications of patriarchy contributed significantly to her marriage choice. Based on factors such as social and economic superiority, Catherine relinquished her natural love for Heathcliff in order to get married to Edgar Linton. To this end, the changes, which occurred from an early age as an outcome of patriarchal and gender conventions, ultimately influenced her decision in marriage.





Abraham, Andrew. 2004. “Emily Bronte’s Gendered Response to Law and Patriarchy.” Bronte Studies 29: 93-103.

Bronte, Emily. 2015. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Everitt, Alastair G. 2007. Wuthering Heights: An Anthology of Criticism. London: F. Cass.

McCullough, Bruce. 2005. “The Dramatic Novel: Wuthering Heights.” In A Wuthering Heights Handbook, edited by R. Lettis and W. Morris, 59-70. The Odyssey Press Inc.

Mellor, Anne K. 2013. Romanticism & Gender. New York: Routledge.

Praz, Mario. 2011. The Romantic Agony. London: Oxford University Press.

Pykett, Lyn. 2011. “Sensation and the Fantastic in the Victorian Novel.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel, edited by Deidre David, 192-211. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sussman, Herbert L. 2015. Victorian Masculinities: Manhood and Masculine Poetics in Early Victorian Literature and Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, F A. C. 2004. “The Primrose Wreath: the Heroes of the Bronte Novels.” Nineteenth-century Fiction 29, no. 1: 40-57.

Wong, Chrystal. 2014. The Disruption of Patriarchy Through Class Mobility in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Boca Raton: Florida Atlantic University,

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