Catherine Earnshaw’s Traumatic Response

Alexander Lewis’ connection to psychology through Emily Brontë’s novel is an extremely intriguing connection. What is most interesting to me is that he is able to pick up these large connections to the character’s mental health when Wuthering Heights was written over 40 years before Freud would publish any of his research and subsequently coin the term “psychoanalysis”. One major plot point of the novel that fits into this psychological theory is when Cathy tells Nelly that she cannot remember the past seven years of her life (Brontë, 125). This suggests that Catherine experienced such a large amount of trauma during that time of her life, that in order to remain sane, her brain has now blocked it all out.

In psychology, there have been many times where a person will experience either a lot of traumatic experiences in a short period of time or one giant traumatic experience at one moment. When that happens, in some people, it has been found that your brain will cause amnesia and you will forget that traumatic experience. This is what happened to Catherine Earnshaw. This becomes evident during a fit of hysteria that Catherine is experiencing. During that fit, she confides with Nelly about those years that she seems to be missing. She tells Nelly that the last time she remembers something was when her “father was just buried, and [her] misery arose from the separation that Hindley had ordered between [her] and Heathcliff…” (Brontë, 125). Her time in Wuthering Heights after her fathers death was extremely traumatic to her.

The last words Catherine ever heard her father say were “why canst thou not always be a good lass, Cathy?” (Brontë, 43). After her fathers death, she and Heathcliff were brutally abused by Hindley. She was forced to be away from her closest friend, and due to the actions towards Heathcliff, she began to despise his differences. She watched her brother become a drunkard and almost kill his own son multiple times. So why does this matter? Even though Heathcliff is the central character to Wuthering Heights, the story would not have taken shape without Catherine Earnshaw. Her actions and reactions create this novel and her loss of memory from trauma makes one wonder what would have happened if she and Heathcliff were treated differently, how would their lives be different? It also makes us wonder if this is truly just a novel steeped in child abuse, or if this is a novel of what it was like to grow up wealthy in the country side in the early 17th century.

2 thoughts on “Catherine Earnshaw’s Traumatic Response”

  1. I love your end question about how their lives might have been different if there had not been such pervasive abuse and violence in the Earnshaw home. It reminds me of a question that I have had for a while now about Mary Barton and how the lives of the people in that book may have been different if there was a healthy outlet for masculinity, especially in the realm of grief. I would also make the claim that both novels are books steeped in silent suffering because their general atmosphere promotes an inseparable link between gender and violence.

    1. I love that claim and feel like it fits really well here. Even though Heathcliff is overall a terrible person, he suffered greatly as a child. So did Catherine, Linton, and Hareton, but they all remined silent on their suffering (other than Catherine at some points).

Comments are closed.