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The Power of Gaze in Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” Essay

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2021

In Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, there are numerous instances of depicting character’s communication by means of looking rather than speaking. The power of human gaze is not always given sufficient attention in literary works, but Brontë employs this effect quite often in her novel. Both men and women in Wuthering Heights express their passion, fear, strength, pain, apprehension, and a range of other feelings and emotions through looking at other characters. The power of gaze as depicted in the book makes a compelling impression and helps the reader to understand the characters’ true intentions and sensations better than any utterances could.

The passage selected for close reading refers to the narrator’s (Lockwood’s) depiction of the time he met a young lady and did not dare speak to her despite being attracted to the girl. There is much symbolic meaning behind all the ‘gazing’ words in this excerpt. By saying that the young girl was “a real goddess in [his] eyes,” Lockwood reveals that he is extremely captured by her beauty (Brontë 7). However, the narrator immediately follows this thought by remarking that he has been looking at the girl only when he remained invisible – “as long as she took no notice of me” (Brontë 7). Remarking that he was “over head and ears” indicates that Lockwood is deeply fascinated by the object of observation (Brontë 7). Further, he notes that despite the absence of a verbal expression of his feelings, even “the merest idiot” would have realized what was going on at that moment “if looks had language” (Brontë 7). Indeed, they had language, for the girl perceived Lockwood’s thoughts and gave him a returning look – “the sweetest of all imaginable” ones (Brontë 7).

However, as soon as the narrator realized that the object of his passion detected his emotions, he “shrunk icily” into himself and became “colder and farther” with the girl’s every next look (Brontë 7). In this sentence, there is no description of the narrator’s gazing practice, but it is obvious from the context. At that point, instead of looking at the girl, the young man looked away to hide his feelings. As a result of such a sudden change in the man’s conduct, the lady “was led to doubt her own senses” and decided to leave immediately (Brontë 7). Lockwood remarks that such a “curious turn of disposition” led to his gaining a reputation of “deliberate heartlessness” (Brontë 7). Even though he considers this attitude to be “undeserved,” it is obvious from the context that his gaze and averting of the gaze played a crucial function in defining the relationships between the two characters.

The passage is short, but it allows identifying several significant issues referring to the character’s personality. First of all, it is evident that Lockwood feels much more convenient when looking at someone than when being observed. He explains in detail how beautiful the girl is and how he enjoys watching her, but the moment she notices his gaze, he turns away. Such conduct also signifies that the man is afraid of being rejected. When he is unnoticed, he can fantasize about being together with the object of his passion. However, when she sees him, she may refuse to communicate with him, hence the fantasy can be destroyed. Thus, Lockwood becomes disappointed and upset when the lady returns his look. The female character is presented as somehow dangerous and transgressive since she violates the privacy of the male character’s secret thoughts and desires.

At the same time, the fact that the girl gives the narrator “the sweetest of all imaginable looks” means there is nothing to be afraid of (Brontë 7). Under such circumstances, the question arises as to why he turns away from the girl’s gaze and makes her feel doubtful about her senses. A possible explanation is that Lockwood lacks self-assuredness and belief in his masculinity. This situation shows that he is an introvert and does not feel comfortable when his intentions become detected. The significance of this passage to the novel is in preparing the reader to perceive the nature of relationships between men and women throughout the book. The main character of Lockwood’s narration, Heathcliff, loses the love of his life, Catherine, to another man, due to the lack of belief in himself and impossibility to provide her with the life she deserves. The passage is also important since it is one of the first examples when the author employs the ‘gazing’ words to convey the characters’ emotions and feelings.

The selected passage offers several important topics for analysis: passion, hesitation, fear, uncertainty, and doubt. With the help of ‘gazing’ words, the author managed to present a picture worth more than words could have told. Characters reveal much about their strong and weak sides even though they do not utter a single word. Emily Brontë’s use of visual expression instead of verbal one in Wuthering Heights allows the reader to perceive the intended themes more thoroughly and offers issues for further analysis.

Work Cited

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Planet eBook, n.d.

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"The Power of Gaze in Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”." IvyPanda, 8 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/the-power-of-gaze-in-bronts-wuthering-heights/.

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IvyPanda. "The Power of Gaze in Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-power-of-gaze-in-bronts-wuthering-heights/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Power of Gaze in Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-power-of-gaze-in-bronts-wuthering-heights/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Power of Gaze in Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”'. 8 July.

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