Identity Crisis and Doppelganger in Gothic Fiction. An exemplary psychoanalytic interpretation of Brontë’s "Wuthering Heights"

Hausarbeit, 2011

16 Seiten, Note: 2,4


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Catherine’s Crisis of Identity and Fragmentarity
2.1 The Symbol of Mirror
2.2 Lacan’s Mirror Stage

3. Transmission of Identity and Self-Splitting
3.1 Heathcliff as Catherine’s Shadow
3. 2 Heathcliff and Linton as Catherine’s Id and Superego

4. The Doppelganger in Gothic Fiction

5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

A. Kettle hits the mark when he says that “Emily Brontë works not in ideas but in symbols, that is to say concepts which have a significance and validity on a level different from that of logical thought” (Kettle 140). Indeed, Brontë’s novel “occupies a singular position in the canon of English fiction. It is widely regarded as a masterpiece of an imaginative order superior to that of most novels – more powerful […] and deeper in symbolic value.” (Carroll 109) Actually, Wuthering Heights contains a variety of symbols which enable the reader diversity in interpretation. One of these symbols is that of mirror and glass, a reappearing motif in the plot revolving around the protagonist Catherine Linton. Likewise, she is the only character in the novel looking at her own mirror image and this act is actually repeated several times within a very short period of time. Thus, the implication is clear: There must be some deeper meaning behind her noticeable act of looking into the mirror.

This term paper deals with Brontë’s unique novel Wuthering Heights focusing on the protagonist Catherine Earnshaw and her fragmentarity. However, why does she even have a fragmentary identity and what are the consequences for her own self and as well as in terms of Gothic Fiction? Exactly this question is tried to be answered applying mainly the psychoanalytic approach by Lacan, Freud and Jung and using the hints given by the text’s symbolic value.

To fulfil a rational overview, the paper is structured in three main parts: First the conventional symbol of mirror and Lacan’s mirror stage will be analysed as a hint for Catherine’s problematic self. Then the consequences of her crisis of identity will be examined applying the psychoanalytic theories by both Jung and Freud. Lastly, her split self will be analysed in context of Gothic Fiction in general.

Normally, the psychoanalytic approach in literature as well considers the psyche and the motives of the author (cf. Berg 69); in addition, a wider field of approaches could have also been used to explain the different phenomena; however, this would have gone beyond the frame of this paper.

2. Catherine’s Crisis of Identity and Fragmentarity

2.1 The Symbol of Mirror

Generally, the mirror often serves as a symbol for the subject’s problematic state with his/her own reflected self and for being in crisis of identity. Often the reflected images assume an independent existence, and these gloomy doubles establish the recognition of lost orientation, and sham entirety where actually disparity exists (cf. Butzer/Jacob 358). However, what precisely does it even mean for the subject going through crisis of identity?

Erikson popularized the idea of the ‘identity crisis’ through which perplexed youth passes on its way to adulthood. The resolution of the identity crisis leads to ‘final self-definition, to irreversible role patterns, and thus to commitments for life’. The person with a successfully achieved sense of individual identity feels unique, whole, and coherent, although in pathological cases identity formation may fail and the person suffer from ‘identity diffusion’. (Gardiner 349)

So according to Erikson the term identity crisis describes a phase of the subject while developing into an adult. This crisis may either resolve in self-discovery or the subject may suffer from being fragmentary. Lichtenstein continues Erikson’s theory by saying that the society consists of the steady identities of individuals (cf. 78). So “[w]hen the cultural storehouse of available roles fails to fit the identity themes of enough people, the mismatched persons may suffer identity crises and the culture suffer catastrophic change” (Gardiner 350). Thus, although every individual has an early formed identity, still it might be fragile, because the "loss of identity is a specifically human danger and maintenance of identity a specifically human necessity" (Lichtenstein 78). The difference Lichtenstein points out in contrast to Erikson is that identity actually is a “human necessity” (ibid.), so if the identity crisis should end in the individual’s loss of identity, the subject would not only suffer from it, but would not be able to continue living without it. (cf. ibid.)

Indeed, a closer look at the passages in which Catherine gazes at her mirror image states this assumption. By the time she is first confronted with her reflected double, she is not even 16 years old – though she is obviously in a transitional period from a young girl to a woman. When her husband Linton attacks her lately returned childhood friend Heathcliff and disallows him further visits to Trushcross Grange, Catherine stays at her room for days going on a hunger strike. She pretends being seriously ill and when Nelly Dean implies that Edgar Linton is insensible to her condition, rather reading books than caring for her, Catherine’s reaction is as expected (cf. Brontë 102 ff.):

‘Among his books!’ she cried, confounded. ‘And I dying! I on the brink of the grave! My God! does he know how I’m altered?’ continued she, staring at her reflection in a mirror hanging against the opposite wall. ‘Is that Catherine Linton? He imagines me in a pet in play, perhaps. Cannot you inform him that it is frightful earnest? (ibid. 107)

Catherine Linton cannot see her older self in the mirror, at this point, she literally feels alienated from her former being. She questions her own mirror image, namely the possibility of the reflection being her own.

The second time she looks into the mirror she not only sees an unfamiliar reflection of herself, but a completely different face of a stranger. She does not know whose face it is, however, she feels observed and it deeply frightens her although Nelly Dean tries to cover her reflection with a shawl.

‘Don’t you see that face?’ she inquired, gazing earnestly at the mirror.

And say what I could, I was incapable of making her comprehend it to be her own; so I rose and covered it with a shawl.

‘It’s behind there still!’ she pursued, anxiously. ‘And it stirred. Who is it? I hope it will not come out when you are gone! Oh! Nelly, the room is haunted! I’m afraid of being alone!’ (ibid. 109)

Her raising emotional outburst when she sees her own image in the mirror reaches its climax when the shawl covering the mirror drops to the ground.

I attempted to steal to the door with an intention of calling her husband; but I was summoned back by a piercing shriek. The shawl had dropped from the frame.

‘Why, what is the matter?’ cried I. ‘Who is coward now? Wake up! That is the glass the mirror, Mrs. Linton; and you see yourself in it, and there am I too by your side.’ (ibid.)

It is actually interesting that Catherine never looks into the mirror during her childhood, though it in fact is an act on her way becoming an adult. To be precise it is the moment when she has to behave maturely and is forced by her husband to make a decision:

‘To get rid of me – answer my question,’ persevered Mr Linton. ‘You must answer it; and that violence does not alarm me. […] Will you give up Heatchcliff hereafter, or will you give up me? It is impossible for you to be my friend and his at the same time; and I absolutely require to know which you choose.’ (Brontë 104)

As choosing between two opportunities, weighing the odds and standing by a decision are qualities that are usually expected by an adult, she feels unable to cope with the situation. Furthermore, this shows that she did not already pass the way from youth to adulthood. Consequently, she indeed suffers from identity crisis which physically finds expression in a fatal illness. She feels gradually alienated from her reflected double that in the end she becomes a complete stranger to her own reflection. She has lost her orientation and cannot bear her own fragmentarity, hence identity is an important “human necessity” (Lichtenstein 78). There is no resolution of this crisis which leads to a final self-definition. However, her incoherent and diffused identity ultimately ends in death, which will be analysed in more detail in the following.

2.2 Lacan’s Mirror Stage

The mirror stage describes in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan the infant's development from 6 to 18 months. In this period of time the ego is formed via the process of identification with one’s own mirror image (cf. Evans 115). In the first 6 months the infant is absolutely dependent on his mother, and cannot understand that they are two separate individuals. This ends when the infant first recognizes his specular image developing a self-awareness (cf. Lacan 63). However, “at six months, the baby still lacks coordination. […] The baby sees its own image as whole […], and […] this image produces a sense of contrast with the uncoordination of the body, which is experienced as a fragmented body” (Evans 115). Furthermore, the infant develops a rival feeling against its own image, “because the wholeness of the image threatens the subject with fragmentation, and the mirror stage thereby gives rise to an aggressive tension” (ibid.). For resolving this aggressivity, the infant identifies with the image (cf. Lacan 63). However, the wholeness of the body in the mirror is just an illusion as the infant does not see itself in the mirror but only an image. This image is located beyond the self; therefore, in the mirror stage the infant also experiences an alienation and a self-splitting as result. So Lacan differs between the ego and the self; whereas the self is only the mirror image which is tried to be approached by the ego (cf. Lacan 64ff).

However, Catherine Linton cannot identify with her mirror image, since she does not see herself in the mirror but an unfamiliar face:

’Don’t you see that face?’ she enquired, gazing earnestly at the mirror. […] ‘And it stirred. Who is it? I hope it will not come out when you are gone! Oh! Nelly. the room is haunted! I’m afraid of being alone!’ (Brontë 109).

Her ego is completely alienated from her self. She tries to regain her diffused identity, yet there is no possibility for her to return to the mirror stage – in contrast, her feeling of being alienated increases (cf. ibid. 109f.). Consequently, she cannot see herself as a whole being and the realisation of her own lack of power increases her crisis of identity. Her powerlessness against her own condition results in her acceptance that she most probably will not escape this situation during lifetime and thinks of death as salvation. For this reason, she “[would] kill [her]self directly” (ibid. 107) and she is willing to “end the matter, instantly, by a spring from the window” (ibid. 113).

In fact, Catherine seems to have found her way back to the mirror stage after her death, because in Lockwood’s dream when she gazes through the window glass her silhouette is that of a little child, her period of time when she neither experienced crisis of identity nor fragmentarity, which in her youth prevented her from looking at herself in entirety:

[M]y fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: 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!’ ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of Linton? I had read Earnshaw twenty times for Linton) ‘I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!’ As it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window. (ibid. 20)


Ende der Leseprobe aus 16 Seiten


Identity Crisis and Doppelganger in Gothic Fiction. An exemplary psychoanalytic interpretation of Brontë’s "Wuthering Heights"
Universität Mannheim
Proseminar Literatur
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
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identity, crisis, doppelganger, gothic, fiction, brontë’s, wuthering, heights
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Sitem Kolburan (Autor:in), 2011, Identity Crisis and Doppelganger in Gothic Fiction. An exemplary psychoanalytic interpretation of Brontë’s "Wuthering Heights", München, GRIN Verlag,


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