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Gothic Masculinity in the Wuthering Heights Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 24th, 2021


Masculinity is a term used to categorize human behave that uses a lot energy and force. Baker (164) explains that masculinity refers to the ‘manliness’ of a character. A female who exposes male qualities is identified as threatening to the society.

Masculinity may explain the character of the forceful male or the threatening female who bears the forces of a man. In the Wuthering Heights (Bronte E. 59), Heathcliff demonstrates masculinity when he was a child. He endures pain without crying or complaining. Ellen describes that “he gave little trouble when sick” (60). This was the source of admiration to Ellen for the despised boy.

Gothic is a category of art associated with creation of anxiety and shock. Heller associates Gothic with haunted old buildings, family lineages entrapped in curses, and supernatural powers among other things (Lonoff & Hasseler 68). Jane’s description about the abandoned boats forms part of Gothic portrayal (Bronte C. 8). Cottom discusses that the “institution of the family sets stage for creativity of the inhuman agencies” (1073).

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The narrator also expresses shock and anxiety that makes them unreliable (Lonoff & Hasseler 68). Gothic masculinity is a form of art that uses the male figure as a symbol of anxiety and shock. Cottom explains that the Gothic uses “manipulation of the thoughts, and images to the figure of a malignant demon” (1077).

Gothic masculinity uses a male character to overpower the malignant demon such as in the Wuthering Heights. From these phrases, Gothic masculinity may refer to the maleness of the figure or character that creates anxiety in a story. In Jane Eyre, masculinity is expressed through the threatening female character.

Female Gothic is associated with a female figure becoming the cause of anxiety (Lonoff & Hasseler 68). In the Wuthering Heights, Catherin’s childhood character is male Gothic because he behaves like a man. Her version of a ghost forms the female Gothic (Lonoff & Hasseler 67). Catherine represents the unexpected behavior of a girl or woman.

Seclusion as a necessity for masculinity

Seclusion refers to the separation of the main character from a comfortable place to another region where he hardens. On his return, the person demonstrates changes in opinion or form. Cottom (1069) explains that seclusion from the world is one of the characteristics of Gothic.

According to Cottom, it is “a trademark motif” (1069). In the Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is separated from his home for three years where nobody but himself knows how he survived. In his return, the narrator uses a transformation of his body to that of a ghost.

Lockwood narrates that “A ray fell on his features; the cheeks were sallow, and half covered with black whiskers; the brows lowering, the eyes deep-set and singular… What! I cried, uncertain whether to regard him as a worldly visitor” (Bronte E. 147).

Cottom (1069) explains that Gothic exposes an experience of uncertainty. The initial explanation of the narrator makes the reader expect a ghostly visitation. Lockwood’s experience with ghosts makes the expectation almost certain for the reader. The transformation may also be a symbol of the changes in the character’s mind.

Heathcliff was once separated from his home when he was a child. The first separation that hardened him. It made him a child who neither complains nor cries. He shares the same characteristic with Jane Eyre. Goddard explains that a child needs to be “separated from the mother to attain manhood” (26).

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In many societies, the mark may be physical such as circumcision in some African societies. In Heathcliffs’ case, the changes are psychological. The changes have made him a hardened boy and Jane a hardened girl. Complete separation results in complete masculinity.

Gothic masculinity also expresses the mystery of the male character to survive in difficult conditions. Baker argues that Gothic masculinity uses a “transgressive hero whose intellect and passion places him outside normative social and ethical bounds” (166).

The social and ethical bounds expect some form of femininity in a male figure. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff expresses an excessive passion that drives him away from Wuthering Heights. The discovery of being despised by Catherine for a husband exposes his excessive passion.

His surviving under the big storm remains mysterious to the society. He was aware of what was going on in Wuthering Heights despite being hidden in another place. He knew that Catherin had got married to Edgar Linton. The others had never heard of him for three years (Bronte E. 150). Heathcliff appears to be more intelligent than the others.

His running away may be put into the Baker’s explanation that “excessive emotion and transgressive desire are controlled or expelled” (166). Heathcliff seems not to have controlled the excessive emotion but to have expelled it after the long seclusion.

The last part of Heathcliffs’ seclusion is when he dies and he is buried. Comparing the death scene of Mr. Earnshaw to that of Heathcliff, there is seclusion in the latter. While Mr. Earnshaw was surrounded by the children and workers, Heathcliff dies in an image where he still appears alive. He smiles exposing his teeth and lifts his hand as if resting (Bronte E. 536). The scene scares Ellen.

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The seclusion through death is necessary to release his image as a ghost that haunts the streets. He joins Catherin’s ghost to haunt the streets. This is evident from the boy crying in the streets because he has seen the ghostly couple.

He weeps that “There’s Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t’ nab” (Bronte E. 538). One can say that Heathcliff’s ghost is bold enough to haunt the streets compared to Catherin’s which only haunted Wuthering Heights. The ghostly couple has more courage after being joined by Heathcliff.

Seclusion allows the secluded character to form images of his/her own and to disfigure objects into moving creatures. It can be seen at the boy taking care of sheep. It can also be seen on Ellen when he stares at Heathcliff, and Lockwood when he sleeps alone in a haunted room among other instances.

Seclusion intensifies anxiety and draws attention to the unexpected. In Jane Eyre, seclusion is associated with the Gothic images that Jane forms (Bronte C. 23). The ghosts may come from the vaults or the abandoned boats.

Male domination over female ghosts

Male domination is the main characteristic of Gothic masculinity in the Wuthering Heights. Male characters are able to dominate over female ghosts. The dominant male characters in the Wuthering Heights are also able to control female and other male characters. The male dominance is seen in romantic love, economic power, and ghosts among other things.

Goddard argues that masculinity is attributed to “power relations in which the male is always dominant” (24). The dominance also appears as a perception of others. In Wuthering Heights, the perception of others is able to grant Heathcliff Gothic masculinity.

This is evident in Catherin’s perception on Heathcliff that “He is more of myself than I am” (Bronte E. 127). Catherine was recognized as the threatening female but she perceives Heathcliff to possess more of Gothic masculinity than herself. Goddard (37) argues that masculinity is expressed as an admiration of her deficiencies in what Heathcliff possesses.

In Wuthering Heights, men dominate over ghosts. When Lockwood was sleeping, he had an image of ghosts that made him scream. His screaming wakes all the others in the house. His image was able to harm that of Catherin. However, it was his pleading that made the ghost release his hand.

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Lockwood narrates that “I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked bedclothes, still it wailed, ‘Let me in!’ It maintained its tenacious gripe” (Bronte E. 39). From the description, it appeared that Lockwood had control over the ghost but from his screams the other people in the house thought he was being strangled.

The courage to fight back on ghosts portrays Gothic masculinity on Lockwood. Lockwood expresses his dominion by saying that “I shall not forget the effect my action produced” (Bronte 40). Unlike the others, Heathcliff was not moved by the screams and makes a joke about it.

Heathcliff says unsympathetically that “don’t repeat that horrid noise: nothing could excuse it, unless you were having your throat cut” (Bronte E. 41). Lockwood appears to be a victor over ghosts and Heathcliff appears so hardened that nothing can scare him. In this case, Heathcliff appears to be what Brownberger describes as “a man’s man” (15). It means he is superior to other men.

The Gothic may be portrayed as a dream but the anxiety it creates appears real. Cottom explains that “Rene Descartes’ ‘Meditations’ was the first Gothic novel” (1068). Meditations are images that are portrayed in a dream. It allows the author to use things considered irrational or unnatural without limits.

Another situation that exposes Gothic masculinity in Wuthering Heights is when Ellen finds Heathcliff exhuming the bodily remains of Catherin from her grave. Ellen is worried to say “You were very wicked, Mr Heathcliff! Were you not ashamed to disturb the dead?” On the other hand, Heathcliff replies that “I gave some ease to myself. I shall be a great deal more comfortable now.” (Bronte E. 462).

Heathcliff wants to get a clearer picture of the ghost that haunts him. It was unusual to pursue ghosts into their hiding places especially in the times when the book was written. Modern people may have seen many horror movies to gain courage for adventure. Heathcliff explains that he has “a strong faith in ghosts” (Bronte E. 462).

His courage surpasses the natural by claiming that he wishes he was buried with the body alive as he was found in her grave. It would appease him (Bronte 463). Heathcliff thinks about kicking ghosts (Bronte 464). It shows unnatural courage.

The reader is tantalized by the unexpected Heathcliff’s character upon the dead. Baker explains that “the original self does not exist instead a radically disrupted masculine subject” (167). Baker argues that the unusual character, who he calls the abject, “creates taboos and defends unitary subjectivity from plurality” (167).

Heathcliff’s unitary subjectivity is that he is supposed to see Catherin’s corpse to calm himself from the ghost that has been visiting him for 18 years (Bronte E. 463). Plurality requires that the dead should not be disturbed. He expresses lack of fear over ghosts. This is form of Gothic masculinity in the Wuthering Heights.

Baker (168) argues that the abject can understand the ways of the unusual because he is one. Nelly narrates that he seems to be roaming outside at night like a vampire (Bronte 527). The abject character also uses reason to justify his actions. Heathcliff explains his disturbing actions rationally.

Baker (166) argues that Gothic masculinity combines rationality and madness. Heathcliff identity with the ghost is expressed when he asks Ellen that he may also lie next to Catherin’s remains because the cheek of her ghost touched his while he slept (Bronte E. 462). Baker (170) recognizes self-identity as a form of enlightenment to the abject. He uses Cartesian self-identity ‘I’.

This identity is supported by Qualls’ argument that Nelly Dean felt as if she was not among “a person of her own species” (Lonoff & Hasseler 57). Gothic masculinity is expressed through Heathcliff’s identity with the dead. Heathcliff expresses power over the dead.

Masculine dominance through economic power

Male dominance is also expressed through economic power. Gothic masculinity in the Wuthering Heights is linked to economic power. The transfer of wealth to a cuckold is Gothic. Brownberger (4) explains that cuckoldry was a condition that was dreaded in the 19th century. It that made Bronte to assign it to the Wuthering Heights.

Brownberger (4) argues that Heathcliff takes control of both the Wuthering Heights and the Thrushcross Grange in the same manner as a true cuckoo. The eviction of natural inhabitants is what makes Heathcliff’s possession of economic power Gothic masculinity. It was frightening to think of such an event in the age of cuckoldry. Bronte expressed a new form of plot by allowing a cuckold to play the role of dominance.

Heathcliff is given economic and intellectual dominance over true inhabitants of the land. Brownberger argues that Heathcliff’s “stoicism and self-sufficiency shows that he satisfies the ideal Victorian masculine role” (16). A cuckold was expected to be weak and inferior to the normal male person at the time.

Bronte created a character that surpassed the categorization of cuckolds in that period. She created an ideal male from one who is considered inferior. It is the creation of the ‘other’ that makes it Gothic masculinity (Goddard 37).

The male is recognized as the provider of family needs. Goddard (37) explains that by providing for the family, the man is perceived as masculine. Heathcliff’s ability to provide for all the others makes him appear masculine. Being a cuckold, his situation creates Gothic masculinity.

Goddard (24) argues that masculinity depends on what the society perceives. In Jane Eyre, her masculinity is an expression of her gained wealth (Bronte C. 99). A woman appears masculine if she dominates. Jane Eyre appears masculine through her role in society and achievements.

Male dominance is also expressed through force and cruelty in the Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff allows Catherine to snatch the keys from his hands but then he grabs her and slaps both of her cheeks with powerful blows. Catherine is confused and allows the keys to fall on the floor (Bronte E. 433).

Heathcliff shows physical dominion over the female character. Goddard claims that men may try to “assert their power by abusing female vulnerabilities” (28). The cruelty makes Nelly and the others to perceive him as a monster. The male is also portrayed as decisive over female indecisiveness.

Heathcliff claims that “I would not allow anyone to inconvenience me, if I could hinder it” (Bronte E. 3). Qualls argues that female characters have been used to express indecisiveness (Lonoff & Hasseler 54).

In the Wuthering Heights, male dominance is also expressed through romantic love. Men appear dominant in choosing and controlling their lovers. It is the case with Edgar Linton and Catherine. Catherine would like to choose Heathcliff but the ‘present’ conditions do not allow such a choice of degradation. Cottom (1067) argues that Gothic ruins perspective and sympathies.

When he takes his place to house Catherine after Edgar’s death, he appears to have won. When he dies, he appears with Catherin as ghosts. It goes against the common thought that cuckolds are soft. Brownberger argues that “a revenging cuckold was unheard of” (17).

Heathcliff is able to take Catherine after death. In Jane Eyre. Rochester has to pretend to be a woman to get to know the Jane’s feelings (Bronte C. 237). St. John’s description of Jane’s masculinity is that “she is not made for love” (Bronte C. 131). Romance and male dominance are linked through economic power as in the situation that makes Catherine choose Edgar instead of Heathcliff.


Gothic masculinity is expressed through the unexpected dominance of a character and through his/her extraordinary strength. The character challenges and overcomes the common oppressive setting to create his/her own where he/she is free to exaggerate her masculinity.

In the Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is portrayed as an extraordinary figure that emerges out of the despised. He wants to be buried without the attendance of the clergy. His unusual acts do not stop even after he has died.

Works Cited

Baker, Brian. Gothic Masculinities. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Bronte, Emily 1847, Wuthering Heights. PDF file. 26 Apr. 2013. <>.

Brownberger, Danielle. The Gothic Monster and the Cuckold: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Wuthering Heights. n.d.

Cottom, Daniel. ‘I Think; Therefore, I am Heathcliff.’ ELH Journal. 70.4, (2003): 1067 -1088. Print.

Goddard, Kevin. “Looks Maketh the Man: the Female Gaze and the Construction of Masculinity.” Journal of Men’s Studies, 9.1, (2000): 23-39. Print.

Lonoff, Sue & Terri, Hasseler. Approaches to Teaching Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2006. Print.

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