Psychological Profiles of Wuthering Heights Characters
This was intended to be a more creative assignment, which was given while I was also doing Psychology. Somehow, the two just meshed for me, and this was the result.
Analysis of the Linton and Earnshaw Families
A Psychological Profile
26 March 2009
A posthumous analysis of the residents of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights circa 1847 as commissioned by an anonymous patron, done using one surviving text.
From the desk of
Dr. Natasha Faria
Pr. No. 0610832R
Upon being asked to analyse posthumously the residents of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, I was hesitant. However, the anonymous request was intriguing for the sole reason that the only character references or descriptions available were in the text “Wuthering Heights”, a factual chronicle of the Linton and Earnshaw families. The specific members I was asked to analyse were Heathcliff ‘Earnshaw’ (so called because he was informally adopted by the late Mr. Earnshaw, and named after that man’s son who died in childbirth), Hindley Earnshaw, Cathy Earnshaw, Edgar Linton, Isabella Linton, Catherine Linton, Hareton Earnshaw and Linton Heathcliff. That is eight (8) people in total. For the purpose of this paper, Cathy is Catherine’s mother, and all women are referred to by their maiden names.
Allow me to make clear the relations between them.
Now, it is important to remember that only the second and third generations are of interest – the parents play little to no role, and there are also servants that DO play a role in the childhood development of the second generation. Namely, Joseph, a servant of Mr. Earnshaw’s who teaches the gospel to a young Hindley, Heathcliff and Cathy., and Ellen ‘Nelly’ Dean – a childhood playmate and female servant who narrates the original text. Furthermore, Hindley’s wife Frances (who dies in childbirth) also affects Heathcliff’s development as she is very cruel to him – following the manner of her husband – when Mr. Earnshaw is deceased. Although she is not important enough to merit a psychological profile of her own, it would be worthwhile to remember her.
This paper will be done in a manner that is suitable for a lay-person to understand, with descriptions and explanations of the terminology.
Hindley was a small child when Mr. Earnshaw brought Heathcliff home, and appears to have always felt threatened by Heathcliff – in that Heathcliff would “steal” affection and/or attention away from Hindley. He was not friends, close or otherwise, with Heathcliff when they were growing up together. Although it would appear that Mr. Earnshaw preferred Heathcliff to Hindley, Hindley remained his heir, and inherited Wuthering Heights upon Mr. Earnshaw’s death. When he became the patriarch, Hindley demoted Heathcliff from sibling to servant, and used the servant Joseph as a disciplinary tool upon both Heathcliff and his sister Cathy. It would appear that he felt animosity towards Cathy as well as Heathcliff because she was his friend.
Therefore, it would appear that Hindley began the process of the Oedipus complex as per usual – desiring his primary caregiver (in this case, Ellen Dean) as a sexual object and directing unconscious jealous and murderous thoughts towards Heathcliff. (It is important to note here that Hindley’s relationship with his mother is not very well documented.) This is an incredibly strange case of the Oedipus complex as Hindley appears to have cast Heathcliff and Ellen in the traditional father and mother roles respectively. This is not to say that he viewed them as his parents, but rather because Ellen was his primary caregiver and she was more affectionate towards Heathcliff than Hindley.
Traditionally, the child fears that the father will cut off his penis to prevent him from making sexual advances towards the mother. Castration anxiety eventually causes the child to give up his mother as a sexual object, and turns to the next best option – the father. This creates a very complex set of father figures for Hindley – a vacuum of father figures, in fact. At this point, Hindley should have identified with Heathcliff or his father. However, it seems that Hindley inherited his father’s estate at this point, therefore placing him higher in the hierarchy than Heathcliff, and therefore making it impossible to identify with a subordinate, and his father had died, which was also impossible to identify with. Thus, Hindley was unable to resolve the Oedipus complex.
The superego is the last part of the personality to develop. It arises as a result of the resolution of the Oedipus complex and is largely the product of the internalisation of parental authority. However, because Hindley was not only unable to resolve the Oedipus complex but also lacking in parental authority, he would not have developed a superego. This would cause him to have little to no moral development and a lack of respect for social laws and order, and make him more inclined towards having an anti-social personality disorder. This is evident in his choosing a silly, snivelling wife – she was not threatening and he could control her, and by his utilization of Joseph as a strict enforcer of morality. When Hindley’s wife died, he became almost a recluse – withdrawing from society, drinking far too much, replacing his fortune with debt and refusing all responsibility for his son, Hareton. All of these are indicative of an anti-social personality disorder.
Heathcliff seems to make use of a lot of ego defences. An ego defence is a specific unconscious intra-psychic adjustment that occurs in order to resolve emotional conflict and to reduce an individual’s anxiety. The source of the anxiety is generally the individual becoming aware of unconscious impulses and needing to deal with them, or relegate them back to the unconscious. Heathcliff utilises the defences of regression, fixation, idealization and sublimation.
Heathcliff regresses to his childhood silence after Cathy is forced to stay at the Linton’s for three months due to injury. She returns a lady – someone who is so dissimilar to his childhood friend that he feels he no longer knows her and so has no friends left at Wuthering Heights. He despairs because of his loneliness and completely embraces the status of servant that Hindley has forced upon him.
His obsession with revenge could be regarded as a fixation at an immature level of development, namely one of the Freudian psychosexual stages. This is probably at the anal stage of development, where the development of anal expulsive traits is prevalent. This results in cruelty, hostility and messy or destructive behaviour. This can be seen in his killing the baby birds while Cathy was staying at the Lintons because “there’s no point in keeping them alive” unless Cathy was there to see them.
Idealization is the overestimation of the qualities of another, in this case Cathy Earnshaw. Heathcliff is obsessed with her from the start, first building a very close friendship with her, to the point where she considers them the same person, telling Ellen, “I am Heathcliff” (Ch. IX p. 96). In fact, Heathcliff’s near-idolatry of Cathy is the basis of his entire need for revenge, and drives his obsession with the younger Cathy and his ownership of Wuthering Heights.
Sublimation is channelling unacceptable instincts into socially acceptable activity. This is evident in his apparent adoption of Hareton and his kindness to Catherine. Whilst these actions may appear to be philanthropic, Heathcliff treats Hareton as badly, if not more so, as Hindley treated him, and is only kind to Catherine so that he may engineer her marriage to his sickly son, thereby gaining ownership of all her belongings (including her estate) when Linton dies. He also sublimates his inappropriate desire for Cathy by throwing himself into the role of servant and also by running away to become wealthy when he learns that Cathy will marry Edgar.
Identity formation is something that occurs during puberty and the teenage years, when the adolescent decides on an occupation and their social roles. Role confusion can result from the inability to settle on an occupation or from over-identifying with a social group. In Heathcliff’s case, he is unable to settle into any specific social role because Hindley “reclassifies” him at a crucial point in his identity formation (from sibling to servant) and he therefore over identifies with the workers to the point where he neglects his education and in fact loses all interest he had in it. This changes his entire disposition and his attitudes to himself and others.
Furthermore, according to Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning, Heathcliff has stalled at the pre-conventional level of morality. This is characterised by a view of justice as avoidance of punishment. His view of revenge as justice, seen in his treatment of the next generation, is evidence of this. This is shown by the fact that Hareton, Linton and Catherine can not resist his patriarchy, and he is therefore not risking any type of punishment. Furthermore, he is gaining a “reward” in that he gets to wreak revenge on the descendants of those who had wronged him – not only in making them unhappy, but also in gaining all of their material goods because he was deprived of luxury as a child.
Cathy Earnshaw is a typical Victorian woman in that she tends towards hysterical and attention-seeking behaviour. She is indulged by the men and subordinates in her life, and often engages in cruel and malicious behaviour in order to garner attention.
A histrionic personality disorder is characterised by a pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by discomfort in situations in which she is not the center of attention, as seen when Edgar came to visit her and she was accused of pinching Ellen. Although Ellen was the one in pain, Cathy began crying and threatened to “cry (herself) sick” (p.84 Ch. VIII). Interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behaviour, as seen in Cathy’s constant “girlish caresses” (p. 79 Ch. VIII) of Heathcliff after she returns from the Lintons. Cathy also displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions, as in her conversation of secrets and dreams with Ellen (Ch. IX) where she switches from girlish excitement to anger and back again. Furthermore, her behaviour shows self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion.
Cathy is also very suggestible, in that she is easily influenced by others or circumstances, as is clearly shown by her metamorphosis from tomboy to lady during her stay at the Linton’s home and she considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are. This latter point is evident in her emotions regarding Heathcliff – she considers him as the same person as her, yet she never spends time with him or takes care of his feelings.
Cathy would also appear to have hypochondriasis, as a nip from a dog is sufficient for her to be bedridden for three months at the Linton’s, she catches a terrible fever from getting wet one night whilst waiting for Heathcliff and when Heathcliff and Isabella , Cathy becomes ill with brain fever and then dies. All of these are indicative of a wild over-reaction to illness, and a worsening of the disease (to the point where it becomes fatal) purely through thoughts.
Cathy represses her desire for Heathcliff until after she has married Edgar – she consummates her relationship with Heathcliff only after he returns to Thrushcross Grange after a long absence.
The id is the source of impulses and desires and requires instant gratification. However, sometimes those impulses can not be satisfied and the id must thus rely on hallucinatory gratification. This is an imaginary fulfilment of the need through a fantasy or wish fulfilment. Cathy’s fantasy of Edgar is an example of wish fulfilment in that he is a more socially acceptable match in terms of class and wealth. The fact that Cathy can not marry Heathcliff means that she compromises by marrying Edgar for all the material possessions he can offer her, in lieu of her and Heathcliff’s shared passion.
Projections is defined as attributing to another person or object one’s own thoughts, feelings or unacceptable impulses. Cathy projects feelings of love onto Heathcliff – her feelings for Heathcliff onto Heathcliff, in such a way that her socially unacceptable desire for him is transformed into his desire for her. She also projects her desires to play outside, as she did as a child, and to return to a child-like stat, onto Heathcliff, showing contempt for his love of all that she has had to leave behind. Cathy projects her love for Heathcliff onto Isabella as well – Isabella’s vague crush on the dark, mysterious stranger is made out to be a grand passion by Cathy and Cathy is malicious and cruel in her teasing of Isabella.
Cathy changes when she lives with the Lintons, and begins to identify with their upper-class behaviour, and in fact over-identifies with them until she begins to treat her childhood friend Heathcliff as a servant because her brother has cast him in that role and he is not highly bred.
Although Edgar, at first glance, would appear to be an average upper-class snob, he is actually harbouring a slight narcissistic personality disorder, and his over-identification with members of his own class restricts his interactions to those he can understand.
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings, limiting their ability to function in relationships and in other areas of their life. In particular, narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by dramatic, emotional behaviour.
Edgar believes that he is better than others, as he shows when he is surprised that Cathy would invite Heathcliff in to the parlour upon his return to Thrushcross Grange, and tells Cathy to “try to be glad without being absurd! The whole household need not witness the sight of your welcoming a runaway servant as a brother” (p. 112 Ch. X). Thus, although Heathcliff is at this moment a lot wealthier than Edgar, he will never be seen as an equal because he was once a servant. Edgar consistently expresses disdain for those he feels are inferior, and is quite jealous of Heathcliff – both of these being indicative of narcissistic personality disorder. Furthermore, he is intent upon appearing as tough-minded or unemotional
Edgar over-identifies with his social class, as he shapes Cathy to fit in with this before he begins courting her, and refuses to accept either Ellen or Heathcliff as equals because they do not fit into the upper-class group that he is comfortable with.
Isabella would not appear to be the victim of too many problems – she is merely immature and slightly stupid, as she proceeds to develop her crush on Heathcliff into full-blown love, despite him telling her in so many words that he is only after her inheritance.
She also over-identifies with her parents, although she manages to get over this as soon as she falls in love with Heathcliff. She is suggestible – she only fell in love with him because of Cathy’s projection of her feelings for Heathcliff onto Isabella.
Lastly, Isabella undergoes wish-fulfilment in terms of Heathcliff, in that she achieves imaginary gratification of a desire upon eloping with him.
Hareton represses his feelings for Catherine until Linton dies, because he knows he is unsuitable in terms of class and wealth, and also in terms of education and upbringing. Repression is merely pushing back inappropriate feelings or desires in the unconscious. He also uses sublimation to in relation to his love for Catherine by using his work to hide his emotions.
Reaction formation is behaviour or attitudes that are the opposite of unacceptable impulses. Therefore, Hareton continually rebuffs Catherine in the beginning as he knows she is destined to marry Linton, as well as the fact that he is not an appropriate match for her. However, upon Linton’s death, he is able to act on his desires for Catherine, therefore achieving happiness.
Catherine is essentially a good person, her only downfall being a fixation in the oral stage of development. This would cause her to be gullible, as is evident in her almost immediate trust of Heathcliff and his motivations. However, this could also be as a result of her intrinsically empathetic character.
Catherine also appears to be a self-actualized in that she is independent and resists social pressures. She loves freedom and embraces both that and her privacy completely. Self-actualization is the process by which a person tends to grow spiritually and realize his pr her potential – as Catherine seems to have done by the end of the text, when she acknowledges her love for Linton.
Linton is much the same as Heathcliff, but without a need for revenge, a love of cruelty or a sense of malignancy. He is essentially stalled at a low level of moral development, and seems to have low self-esteem. Both of these would have been caused by his treatment by Heathcliff, as he shows a genuine desire to reform under Catherine’s guidance, and is gentle with small animals such as the sheep and lambs he is put in charge of.
Sublimation is channelling unacceptable instincts into socially acceptable activity. This is evident in Linton’s love of his work as opposed to his love of Catherine. He sublimates his inappropriate desire for Catherine by throwing himself into his work and not acknowledging her, until after Hareton has died.
After this point, he becomes a self-actualized person and finds happiness with Catherine.
Please note that all page references throughout the analysis refer to the copy of “Wuthering Heights” listed here, and not to any of the other reference books.
Brontë, E. Wuthering Heights. England: Penguin Red Classics, 2006.
Hook, D., Watts, J., and Cockroft, K. Developmental Psychology. Landsdowne: UCT Press, 2002.
Friedman, H. S., and Schustack, M. W. Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research. U.S.A.: Pearson Education, 2006.