Harbir Kaur/Gothic and Supernatural Elements in Beloved and Wuthering Heights: A Comparative Study

Harbir Kaur

Research Scholar in English (M.Phil)

Supervised By: Dr. Neethu Radhakrishnan

Department of English

Lovely Professional University

Abstract

The objective of this paper is to explore the presence of gothic elements in the novels Beloved and Wuthering Heights two controversial stories in the English language. The purpose of gothic stories often is to shock and sensitize the reader. The gothic novel form has been one of the means through which authors have addressed their concerns regarding factors of life, mainly cultural and individual. The gothic elements speak of the unspeakable, incredible things like the presence of ghost, superstitions etc.

The writer of Beloved, Toni Morrison is an American novelist, editor, and professor, whose novels are well known for their epic themes. Her famous novels are The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomom, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy, and Home. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved and Nobel Prize in 1993.The other writer, discussed in this paper Emily Bronte who is the author of Wuthering Heights was an English novelist. She is best known for her only novel Wuthering Heights, now consider as classic in English literature.

The gothic elements seem to elicit the deepest horror in readers and protagonists. It is the most horrifying movements of the Gothic novels that the readers derive most pleasure from. The gothic novel usually has a vulnerable female, and sometimes includes a powerful witch or an enchantress. Gothic stories seem to declare the triumph of goodness and innocence over evil. This triumph is minimal when compared to the feeling of horror elicited by the gothic elements depicted in the novel.

When one speaks about the gothic elements, one has to understand that Gothicism is a particular genre in English language, mainly characterized by a gloomy and mysterious atmosphere surrounded by degeneration and decay. Elements of gothic literature include romance, a castle or manor house, the potential of the supernatural, an unlikely hero, a sinister villain and isolation. Gothic elements work together to create a setting showing a fallen world, one where traditional elements, such as a castle that would evoke thoughts of power and success, are used to demonstrate the opposite and appear in a form of decay or ruin. Gothic elements are used in novels to create a feeling of dread and mystery.

Beloved and Wuthering Heights have common elements like violence, revenge, madness, death, gothic elements like horror, ghost and supernatural elements. The core element of Gothic fiction is thought to be violence which can be physical or psychological or both of them together. There is a mysterious atmosphere generally created by the supernatural and ghosts in Gothic novels. The events in these novels usually come out in haunted houses. Darkness, death and decay, doubles and madness, secrets and hereditary curses are the other inevitable elements which make a contribution to the tension and horror in these works of fiction. The Supernatural elements are common in literature.

In Wuthering Height, the first supernatural element is when Mr. Lockwood waking from a violent dream, who is sleeping in Catherine’s bed, sees a ghost. It is a young girl who calls herself, Catherine Linton. Mr. Lockwood will not let her in, even though she complains she has been wandering for twenty years. It was about twenty years ago Catherine Linton died, and Heathcliff begged her to haunt him until he died. Lockwood himself describes about this night as,

“Rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as specters the air swarmed with Catherine; and rousing myself to dispel the obtrusive name, I discovered my candle wick reclining on one of the antique volumes, and perfuming the place with an odour of roasted calf- skin.”(45)

Elements of supernaturalism are also used by Toni Morrison in her novel Beloved. Morrison uses the poltergeist and possession as a means of bringing Beloved into the physical world, first unseen and then seen. Sethe, the protagonist of the novel lived at 124 Bluestone Road with her daughter Denver. She is an escaped slave with a deeply rooted secret that leaves her and her young daughter isolated. The natural and supernatural worlds interplay. The main character Beloved haunts as well as demands. The ghost of Beloved is becoming a threat in the new relationship between Sethe and Paul D. Sethe believes that the flesh and bone is the reincarnation of her dead daughter and Denver sees Beloved as her playmate and confidant. Sethe struggles with her new liberating love relationship and the underlying guilt about Beloved, her young daughter whom she murdered.

The second supernatural element in Wuthering Heights is when Nelly wonders whether she is a ghost or a vampire, before dismissing that thought. The supernatural vibe extends far beyond Heathcliff to the moors and surrounding village, all of which seem to be touched by something sinister. “No clergyman will undertake the duties of pastor.”(335) as the place seems to be a lost cause.

The presence of certain violent elements and the streaks violent of madness and the unsocial elements in the character of certain people, evil characters also are there. For example, in Wuthering heights Heathcliff is an impulsively violent kind of person, but Catherine’s uncle is an evil person, who is a reason behind Heathcliff becoming uncouth.

The ancient castle of Wuthering Heights plays an important role in the novel. It seems like a living and breathing entity reflecting the harsh nature of its family members. The structure of this house depicts isolation and alienation. For Lockwood the house presents itself with an air of neglect as he notices the grass around it grows wild, where “castle are the only hedge cutters.”(2)

As a home, clearly not meant to be penetrable by outsiders, Lockwood explains Wuthering Heights’ name and location as:

”Wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there, at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind, blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few, stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.”(2)

In Beloved the condition of Sethe’s house was a traumatic crisis that stirs up continuous feelings of guilt in Sethe, for she was the murdered and anger of the baby ghost. The baby ghost, Beloved, dominates Sethe’s home:

“Another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbledand strewn in a line next to the doorsill.. Sethe and the girl Denver.. waged aperfunctory battle against the outrageous behavior of that place; against turned-overslop jars, smacks on the behind, and gusts of sour air. For they understood the source of the outrage “For a baby she throws a powerful.”(6)

The other important gothic element in Wuthering Heights is violence, both psychological violence and physical violence. When one looks at the psychological violence one can find the violent behavior of Heathcliff and when one talks about physical violence one should remember the violent words used by the Hindley. Through physical violence, the characters, especially Hindley Earnshaw, the son of Mr Earnshaw and the brother of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, foster brother of Hindley express many hidden feelings. Heathcliff has been tortured by Hindley that results in his suppressed feeling and later that can be noticed in his aggressive behavior. Nelly Dean the housekeeper of the mansion of the Earnshaws, first and the mansion of the Lintons, later, who is the only witness of the events in the novel she explains the reason of Hindley’s brutality:

“The younger master Hindley Earnshaw had learnt to regard his father, Mr Earnshaw as an oppressor rather than a friend, and Heathcliff as a usurper of his father’s affections and his privileges, and he grew bitter with brooding over these injuries”. (26)

Morrison employs the gothic element to explore violence on the operation of subjective, defined by possessing and a sense of identity that is conferred by the historical ownership of the slavery system. In Beloved, every character, Sethe, Denver, Paul D, Beloved and Baby Suggs all suffer from psychological trauma and the loss of personal identity because of their being a ‘slave’. Sethe has been physically as well as psychologically tortured by a schoolteacher’s nephew who suck milk from her breasts and that is why she is living in trauma and lost her personal identity. Readers can aware of the sufferings of black slaves and the pains of black marginalization. Halle, the husband of Sethe who hides in the barn, is a witness to this assault on his wife but he is unable to intervene because he is a slave himself. Sethe herself says about this incident that:

“what I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew or saw is still out time. Right in the place where it happened.”(43)

Sethe tells Mrs. Garner about the assault. But after schoolteacher’s nephews find out that Sethe told Mrs. Garner what they did to her, they beat her so severely that she bites off the tip of her tongue. All these brutalities influenced of the slaves to become part of the gothic element.

In Wuthering Heights novel Heathcliff plays the role of a gothic villain. Gothic villain is a character who takes revenge on the ones who have treated him or her in a harsh way. Heathcliff is the Gothic villain of the novel Wuthering Heights because he has been subject to both physical and psychological violence, since he was brought, by Earnshaw to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff takes his revenge on everyone who has caused him to suffer for a long time. Revenge could be seen in the actions of Heathcliff. He bears a lot of sufferings because of Hindley. Hindley hates him and says about Heathcliff :

“his father I asked if he liked Mr Heathcliff? ‘Aye!’ he answered again. Desiring to have his reasons for liking, I could only gather the sentences. ‘I known’t – he pays Dad back what he gies to me – he curses Daddy for cursing me – He says I mun do as I will.”(116)

In order to wrecle revenge Heathcliff’s first victim are Hindely Earnshaw and Hareton Earnshaw, the son of Hindley. Heathcliff hits Hindley Earnshaw and beats up Hareton Earnshaw. The letter of Heathcliff’s wife Isabella to Nelly Dean exhibits clearly what happened to Hindley. In this letter, Isabella tells her first day at Wuthering Heights and she depicts Hindley thus:

“After a short suspense, it the door was opened by a tall, gaunt man, without neckerchief, and otherwise extremely slovenly; his features were lost in masses of shaggy hair that hung on his shoulders and his eyes, too, were like a ghostly Catherine’s, with all their beauty annihilated.”(100)

Other gothic element in Wuthering Heights is madness. Catherine descended to the road to madness. She becomes mad because she was unable to bear the loss of Heathcliff, and she did not want to see Isbella and Heathcliff together. “She increased her feverish bewilderment to madness, and tore the pillow with her teeth.” (128)   the following lines depict the madness of Catherine:

“But I soon found her delirious strength much surpassed mine. She was delirious; I became convinced by their subsequent actions and ravings. A maniac’s fury kindled under her brows: she struggled desperately to disengage herself from Linton’s arms.”(132)

Murder of baby Beloved is a gothic element in the novel Beloved. Sethe kills her daughter because she wants to save her children from the sufferings of an age of slavery system. When she sees the schoolmaster with his nephew coming to her house, she becomes so afraid and she plans to kill her children and then herself. She doesn’t want that her children should grow in slavery. First she decapitates the baby with a hand saw. Then she turns the saw on the boys, but at that moment Stamp Paid arrives and stops her. Sethe murders her daughter and when schoolmaster enters, he sees Sethe holding the dead baby to her breast with one hand.

The other gothic element in Beloved is the element of fear. Because of the fear of ghost Sethe’s two sons, Howard and Buglar run away from the house, because they were no longer able to tolerate the presence of the ghost of their dead baby sister. They left after Howard saw handprints in a cake and Buglar saw a mirror shatter when he was standing before it. Before these incidents, the spiteful phantom had upset the boys in many other ways, for example by dumping a kettleful of chickpeas on the floor and crumbling soda crackers and spreading them in a line in front of a door. So they become afraid too much and ran off. Because of the fear of ghost Sethe’s mother in law, Baby Suggy who had been bedridden with illness, died. People don’t visit Sethe’s house anymore because of the fear of the presence of the ghost.

Presence of the ghost is a most common gothic element in both the novels in Wuthering Heights and Beloved. In Wuthering Heights Catherine plays the role of the ghost. About the ghost Catherine, Lockwood says that:

“I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in- let me in as it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window. So certainly I felt that Cathy was there, not under me, but on the earth. – Her presence was with me; it remained while I re-fill the grave, and led me home.” (305)

In Beloved the baby ghost Beloved is the ghost. She physically returns as young women, and wants to take revenge for her death, which is why she is haunting her family members. The presence of the poltergeist adds to the gothic elements in Beloved.

Thus, one can say conclude both Wuthering Heights and Beloved have gothic and supernatural elements like ancient castle, cruel villain, madness, presence of ghost, violence, revenge etc. which are inextricably enmeshed with the plot.

References

Primary Sources

Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights.London: Vintage Books, 2008. Print.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. London: Vintage Books, 1997. Print.

Secondary Sources

Akker, Ruth Den Akker. “Hush, Little Baby-Ghost: The Postcolonial Gothic and Haunting History in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Diffractions Graduate Journal for the Study of Culture.Issue 1. 2013. Print.

“Elements of Gothic Literature in Wuthering Heights.”Slideshare.net.n.d. Web. 18 Jan 2014.

<http://www.slideshare.net/dengel_mcfile/elements-of-gothic-literature-in-wuthering-heights>

“Falling from Nature in Wuthering Heights.”Skemman.2012. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

“http://skemman.is/stream/get/1946/11613/28902/1/Gu%C3%B0bj%C3%B6rg_BA_Essay_2012_$00282$0029.pdf

“Gothic Fiction.”Wikipedia.org. MediaWiki, n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_fiction>

 

 

 

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