Supernatural vs Real In The Ghost Scene

In Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Bronte implements several elements in her writing to maintain the gothic theme of the story, particularly in the ghost scene in chapter three. As John Bowen and Roger Luckhurst suggest in their articles, there are several gothic literary techniques that are commonly implemented in literature including the sublime, or something overwhelming and terrifying (the ghost), the supernatural and real (debate if the ghost is real or imagined), and the theme of inheritance that Luckhurst points too (family significance of ghost/writing in the room). The theme I will focus on in chapter three is the contrasting descriptions of Lockwood’s dreams which contribute to the supernatural and real elements in Wuthering Heights. Bronte sets the dreamlike state for Lockwood by implementing several lines before the appearance of the ghost which seems to contrast against one another, as the reader is left wondering whether Lockwood is dreaming or awake, making the eventual appearance of the ghost and its legitimacy up for debate. Lines like, “I began to nod drowsily over the dim page, my eye wandered from manuscript…I sank in my bed, and fell asleep” (Bronte 22), “I began to dream, almost before I ceased to be sensible of my locality” (Bronte 23), “I listened doubtingly an instant; detected the disturber, then turned and dozed, and dreamt again” (Bronte 24), and “It annoyed me so much that I resolved to silence it…I thought, I rose and endeavored to unhasp the casement” (Bronte 25).  This final line comes after Lockwood’s first dream, right after he is initially awoken by a tree branch, and right before he reaches out the window to see and touch the ghost. The contrast and ambiguity in these lines were super interesting to me as it seems like Bronte is deliberately making it difficult to tell if Lockwood is dreaming or awake. Lines with words like “nod, drowsily, asleep, and dream” suggest that he is dreaming throughout the ghost scene, offering a naturalist explanation of the ghost, but Bronte’s final description of Lockwood before he encounters the ghosts, describes the sound of the branch/ghost “annoying” him so much to the point of “rising” to “Unhasp the casement.” The effects of Bronte creating uncertainty about the state of Lockwood is significant as it contributes to the gothic tone of the story, and sets up a dilemma for the reader, whether the ghost featured in chapter three and throughout the rest of the book is supernatural or real.

2 thoughts on “Supernatural vs Real In The Ghost Scene”

  1. Luckhurst also makes it a point to discuss how the Victorians discussed issues by transgressing lines between the sensible and insensible in order to push further on the lines between acceptable and not. Because the field of psychology began to emerge about 40 years after publication, I’m curious what it would mean for your post to examine the anxieties surrounding a new field based mainly on theories about dreams in those 40 years afterward. Could this have been one of the lines (not explicitly stated by the theorist) that could have caused some doubt for readers unbeknownst to the author?

  2. The ghost in chapter 3 is indeed a very Gothic element, leaning more towards “terror” than “horror”. According to Luckhurst, terror “… expands the soul, and awakens to a high degree of life” (page xii). We will never know whether Lockwood actually saw the ghost or not, but we can say that the experience has undoubtedly awaken his faculties. I wonder: how does psychology see the terror genre or nightmares? Is the obsession for the supernatural in Victorian novels an endeavor to awaken the reader from the prosaic life of late 19th century England?

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