22 May 2013

Narrative Point of View in Wuthering Heights GCSE and A2 Elements of the Gothic for the AQA Lit B Exam

In Wuthering Heights, Bronte uses a frame narrative to tell the story of Cathy and Heathcliffe’s romance. This is typical of gothic novels like Frankenstein, and later, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, where we enter the story through a series of doors - or narrators, often in the first person. Wuthering Heights is first narrated by Lockwood, a mannered, civilized outsider, then Nelly, an insider. Both are biased and their view of events is coloured by their prejudices. As Lockwood says of Heathcliff, admitting his own bias, he says, ‘I bestow my own attributes on him’. As well as bias, Bronte shows the unreliability of these narrators: Nelly admits she ‘was deceived completely’ and Lockwood too, at the start says Heathcliff is ‘a capital fellow’, an initial judgement which he later revises.

Bronte uses this complex, typically Gothic narrative structure to capture the plurality of interpretations - and how hard it is to get at the truth. This psychological realism is a key feature of the Gothic. Through the civilized Lockwood, representing Freud’s idea of the ‘ego’, we gradually come to brief flashes of Cathy’s first person diary - from her childhood - a manifestation of 'the Id'. Lockwood is ‘a civilized man...’ as shown in his convoluted, formal vocabulary and phrasing: ‘sir I do myself the honour’ ‘perseverance’ and ‘soliciting.’ He represents us, the so-called civilized reader - and is also symbolic of the demands of society and the ‘ego’. [for A2 needs more detail here...]

The narrative also uses analepsis: in Cathy’s diary we flashback to her childhood. Later, Nelly tells the story where she shows us the see the ghosts of Heathcliff’s past that have turned him into the man we see today [needs quote]. In the frame, with Lockwood, we literally see Cathy’s ghost. [needs quote] Lockwood, the civilized man, loses all reason [needs quote]. In contrast, Heathcliff embraces the ghost. [needs quote] Heathcliff is a man haunted literally as well as metaphorically by his past - and he welcomes it.

There is very little in the narrative structure that lets us see Cathy through her own eyes, and when we do, she’s a child, writing in ‘an unformed childish hand’. Children typically represent a more intuitive, uncivilized self: much like the id that breaks through in Nelly’s observations. In her diary, feelings are honestly expressed ‘we cannot be damper or colder in the rain than we are here’. When we reach Nelly’s narrative, we can see the degradation of this childhood honesty (in wanting to be only Heathcliff), when she forsakes Heathcliff. Thoughs he says, later ‘I am Heathcliff’ she is not willng to put actions behind her words.

We glimpse Cathy imperfectly for most of the novel, through others’ points of view, but see therough the main character’s eyes. Her point of view is no more truthful than the others’ though. She says ‘I am Heathcliff’ but deliberately sets up a situation where she dishonestly marries Linton. She is not true to herself. On the one hand, she is passionate, ‘obsessed’, a personfication of the ‘id’. But she also follows convention, thinking of her superego where she says ‘it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff’. This tension between the id and the ego is also played out in Jekyll and Hyde with equally disastrous, ‘chaotic’ result.

This probably needs a lot more, and could do with a bit of argument about critical approaches - and also some quotations! I'm going to add these later...