Risk, Society and You

Powerful Essays
Marxism and Bronte: Revenge as Ideology by Meredith Birmingham
© 2006 Meredith Birmingham. All rights reserved.
Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was published a mere four months before
Marx and Engels’s The Communist Manifesto. Even so, one is more likely to think of
Byron and Scott in relation to Bronte than Marx. With Bronte’s rich educational heritage of the Romantics, it is tempting to picture Wuthering Heights in all the glory of a gothic romance, rather than in the context of social and economic forces.
Even so, such a view of the novel actually helps to expand our understanding of it, and specifically, of characters’ motivations throughout the novel. Such an investigation also provides a perspective on why Bronte wrote the novel as she did.
Heathcliff’s motivation throughout Wuthering Heights is obsession with taking revenge on his old enemies, Edgar Linton and Hindley Earnshaw, as well as their descendants. Marxist theory provides a perspective on the way in which he goes about seeking his retaliation: social and economic hegemony. Heathcliff’s method of taking revenge on his enemies is to degrade them socially and dominate them economically.
The Marxist notion of ideology provides readers with a basis for perceiving
Heathcliff’s behavior. Louis Althusser explains that “ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.”i He goes on to say that this imaginary reality is usually imposed on a population by a small group of people who use the false reality to oppress that population.ii
In the case of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is at once the deceiver and the deceived. His hegemony puts him in the seat of power, but in using his power, he
2
deceives himself, not others. He convinces himself that vengeance will bring him satisfaction; vengeance is the ideology by which Heathcliff fools himself into believing he can find contentment in life. Such is not the case, as he admits later—after causing much grief to



Bibliography: Publishing Ltd., 1998, pp. 294-304). Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). Bronte, Emily, Wuthering Heights, second edition (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003). Books, 2003, pp.394-410). Gérin, Winifred, Emily Bronte: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971). Weiner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989, p. 114). Overlook Press, 2002), pp. 175-176 (p. 175). i Louis Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ in Literary Theory: An Anthology, edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 1998, pp iii Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, second edition (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003), p. 276. All further references to this text will be from this edition. iv ‘paltry, a.’ Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, edited by J.A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p vi ‘Review of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey from the Athenaeum, 25 December 1847’ in The Brontes: A Life in Letters, by Juliet Barker (New York: The Overlook Press, 2002), pp vii Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 3.

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