Self-inflicted Violence in Wuthering Heights

“However, Catherine would not be persuaded into tranquility. She kept wandering to and fro, from the gate to the door, in a state of agitation which permitted no response, and at length took up a permanent situation on one side of the wall, near the road; where, heedless of my expostulations, and the growling thunder, and the great drops that began to plash around her, she remained, calling at intervals, and then listening, and then crying outright. She beat Hareton, or any child, at a good, passionate fit of crying.”

-Wuthering Heights, page 85


One thing I continually notice as I read is that yes, Wuthering Heights is violent, but that violence is just as often self-inflicted as it is directed at others. Not only this, but the said self-inflicted violence is often done for the sake of another. Upon learning Heathcliff has run away after overhearing her, Catherine subjects herself to the storm brewing outside. Nothing forces her to do this besides her own frustration at herself. She may think Heathcliff will return if he sees her shivering in the rain, and if this is the case, she is certainly not taking “a permanent situation on one side of the wall” for her own sake. Whether she recognizes that is another matter. She appears so wrapped up in her own misery and concern that she forgoes her own health and safety. This goes beyond physical torment and also includes mental anguish too- Catherine is willing to marry Will for Heathcliff’s sake more so than her own.

Words such as ‘agitation’, ‘growling’, ‘crying’ and ‘wandering’ stand out, likening Catherine’s actions to those of a petulant child. The oncoming storm acts as the sublime- nature being something terrifying- a parallel display of power that outshines the power Catherine has when she uses her anger or despair against others. Catherine is strong, or perhaps forceful, because of her habit of lashing out and acting without care or thought for others, but the storm whittles her character down to its bare essentials- an emotionally charged child with little direction and no safe outlet. The point is driven home by the final sentence of the paragraph, where it is noted she throws tantrums better than any other actual child. She is a young woman who seems to have too much emotion, and that is all that drives her as she oscillates between emotional extremes.

2 thoughts on “Self-inflicted Violence in Wuthering Heights”

  1. This was an interesting take on the self-inflicted violence referenced in the novel. I initially assumed that Catherine’s emotional outburst resulted from frustration with her actions that drove Heathcliff away. I agree with your analysis of the storm and its breaking down of Catherine’s emotions into a “petulant child”. However, I am still a bit more curious about your initial statement of Catherine’s self-inflicted violence being for the sake of others. How does the self-inflicted violence play out? How does the self-inflicted violence progress the story? Or how the self-inflicted violence for the sake of another affect the other person?

  2. I enjoyed this post, and I have my own thoughts to add. I think that people in Victorian society do not consider the possibility of mental illness or trauma leading to self harm enough, or if they do, it is in a judgmental way. When Catherine makes herself sick, she is seen as dramatic, attention-seeking, or, a victorian favorite, simply hysterical. People around her see her acts of self harm as trivial and do not consider that they are a cry for help, that her psyche is suffering and affecting her actions, and that dedicated care could save her. Perhaps rather than just being a child with too much emotion, there is more psychological trauma involved in Catherine’s outbursts, and taking this into account could have prevented her descent into sickness and death.

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