The Darkness behind the Locked Door

One of the most fascinating take on Wuthering Heights, in my opinion, is the Jungian interpretation,  which sees  Heathcliff as Catherine‘s dark side, her shadow. In the personal unconscious, the shadow consists of those desires, feelings, which are unacceptable, for both emotional or moral reasons : it is the dark side of human nature. Heathcliff represents her repressed sexuality, her unconfessed desire which, however, is arduous to control, as the shadow is impulsive, powerful, wild, and hence can become obsessive or possessive. When Catherine marries Edgar, she tries to reject that secret part of her,  that’s why Heathcliff mysteriously disappears. But Heathcliff, as the shadow, refuses to be suppressed permanently, in fact, he surfaces after two years to claim his place next to Catherine, who, despite her desperate efforts to integrate him, is eventually defeated and dies.

This paradigm can also be applied to Jane Eyre as well. In this novel the role of the shadow belongs to Bertha Mason, Mr Rochester‘s first wife. Both Bertha Mason‘s and Heathcliff‘s descriptions conform to the archetype of the shadow. Heathcliff is always portrayed as dark as a gypsy , while Bertha is a Creole, the daughter of a white European settler in the West Indies with “dark hair” and “discoloured black face“. At those time the Creoles were more associated with the native Caribbean populations than the white, civilized Europeans. Creole women were often described as obstinate, dissolute and untrustworthy, which is exactly what Rochester will tell about Bertha.

Rochester had been entrapped  in this marriage. He had been beguiled by her uncommon beauty, wealth and that Creole sensuality, but only when it is too late, he open his eyes to face the real truth: his wife is mad. Once back to England and to the strict conventions of the Victorian society he cannot but hide and lock Bertha in a remote chamber of Thornfield, thus caging his own sexuality.  Thornfield will represent for him from that moment on, what the very name foreshadows, a field, as his soul, tormented by the thorns or guilt, sexual frustration and disappointment. That’s why he is often away. Till Jane Eyre crosses his way.

The growing attachment he feels forJane will make him spend more time at Thornfield, thus it will be impossible for him to ignore his surfacing powerful shadow. As I mentioned before, the shadow cannot be repressed forever, in fact, Bertha walks the night undisturbed, her screams and hideous laughter can be heard by everybody and she even attempts at punishing Mr Rochester setting his room on fire for having been thus neglected and confined, but above all for having brought in the household the “other” woman, Jane Eyre.

 Bertha is, of course, Jane’s polar opposite but she is also her truest and darkest double. Her confinement in the attic mirrors Jane’s imprisonment in the Red Room at Gateshead, a punishment for her anger and lack of conformity. This doubling  makes Bertha’s role within the novel much more complex, and  that means that any analysis of her character must take account of her relationship with Jane. For example one night, when Jane sees Bertha  at the foot of her bed, dressed in white with a bridal veil, while she is looking in the mirror, Jane continuously repeats that she has never seen such a face. Only a few pages later, the morning of her marriage, Jane looks at herself in the mirror and says:” I saw a robed and veiled figure, so unlike my usual self that it seemed almost the image of a stranger. It is impossible not to notice that the two scenes are almost identical.

Mr Rochester‘s attempt to marry Jane is but his extreme effort to reject that contemptible part of himself and be free to live his life. But in vain. The disclosure of the truth will have as consequence the disappearance of the “good ” self, Jane, who will come back only when Bertha Mason dies, committing suicide. It is interesting to notice that Mr Rochester will be permanently injured in the endeavour of saving Bertha from the fire she had herself set. After all, as his shadow, she was part of him, therefore, letting Bertha die was just like dying himself.







12 thoughts on “The Darkness behind the Locked Door

  1. This is a helicopter comment (stepping back and away from the subject itself). The above was very interesting reading but . . .

    I’m curious how much of what you write is attributed to the author. By that I mean, did the authors themselves expressed these interpretations of their works?

    The reason I asked is because I took a few advanced English courses in college and I was struck by something. Namely, when asked to review/comment on a work, I would make up something based on this criterion: what will get me marks for a novel interpretation of the work. I got all As and was often complimented on my novel (get it? novel . . . nevermind) interpretations.

    But, I made stuff up. Not for a moment did I actually view the work as I presented it and I seriously doubt the author did at the time. Side note: my professor tried — in my junior year — to talk me out of finishing my engineering degree and switching majors. I didn’t, but sometimes wish I had.

    The point is that even in my writing I get readers who “see” things (message, themes, morals) in my words that I neither thought about nor intended. They spin their own experiences, biases, and worldviews into what I wrote. Occasionally I might agree that it could be interpreted thus, but even then, I know that’s not what I was going for.

    So, again, the question . . . do we know that the above was the intent all along? I ask because — based on my own experiences in writing and some of the other writers I speak with — beginning a story with that deep — and at the same time nuanced — of an intent seems to me improbable. Not impossible, but improbable.

    How much of what we interpret today, posthumously, do we know for a fact that the author intended? How much is our view of things influencing the credit (or castigation) we might give an author?

    The question is also raised because few people are aware of “the times” they live in. It’s just life. They probably do write about that life and thus may reflect it in their work, but it seems we pile onto these works much more intent than seems reasonable.

    I ask this fully granting I don’t know. Perhaps this was the very thing these authors intended all along. Just curious to know.

    • Well, Emilio, of course neither Charlotte nor Emily Bronte were conscious of writing about ” shadows” , “id” , “ego”……, but these psychoanalytic patterns fit so well. The Freudian read of Hamlet is magnifcent, in my humble opinion, but I am sure William Shakespeare would be quite astonished at certain interpretations. Commenters give new points of view rather than absolute truths.

    • I asked because it’s often presented as fact. I find that . . . well, disturbing is too strong a word but I think it has the potential to mislead a reader (of the analysis) with regard to the author themselves. Note, I’m not singling out the above but rather speak to the aggregate of many similar treatments of literary works where the analysis is presented as if the author intended the given interpretation.

      I’m not faulting it, just saying that someone reading these types of articles without the qualifier that it’s an interpretation possibly not shared by the author might go on to repeat it as fact that a given author purposefully wrote the story with the described intent.

      I saw this in the classes I’ve taken and even saw it in the discussion of modern writing (living authors) where some become symbols for this or that cause when they specifically stated that was not their consideration (most accept the accolades if not outright embrace them).

      On the one hand, I like that these articles offer the opportunity to discuss these things, but on the other hand, I often encounter resistance to discussion because the assumed intent is presented as fact while, in actual fact, it’s often solely based on current fashion and sensibilities.

      Anyway, not a big deal. I was curious because I often find myself in discussions where the impression is given that the basic premise or intent is a given — if not absolute truths, nearly so — whereas I don’t always find them thus.

  2. Pingback: The Darkness behind the Locked Door — e-Tinkerbell – Earth Balm Creative

  3. In my own humble and plebian view, giving interpretations based on Jung, and whoever, is taking things not only beyond the scope of what was intended by the writer, but also getting away from the simple facts of the story being a good one and well told.

    • I understand what you mean and this was exactly my objection when I was at university and I had to study the manifold interetations of novels, poems etc. Is this really their intent? I often wondered dubious. But that was a wrong question, because literary critics don’t have to guess the right meanings , but rather point out the striking, innovative elements of writings. For what concerns the Brontë sister, all their characters have such a degree of complexity, that it is really quite natural for them to become a case study for psychoanalysis.

      • In short, though, that simply means that the author has given a true depiction of human beings and their nature — every one is a nut case of one kind or another. Telling a good story within such framework … now THAT is the art.

  4. Each of us has a “bertha mason”, a shadow that we keep hidden and that we don’t want to show. It can be a person, an episode, anything. Sometimes we try in every way to remove it, but in the end it always comes back. So, each of us is bound to his own shadow and will be forever.

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