An Antithesis and It’s Letdown

Wise and honest, Mary Reilly proves a very relatable character. She expresses sentiments and perceptions, both painful and hopeful, that many readers have personally felt but perhaps have not vocalized or identified. Throughout the first half of this novel, the most relatable quality may be the way Mary deals with the pain of the past. Rather than deal with the pain by contemplating it face-on, she suppresses it and finds solace and salvation in soothing else or someone else. Mary earnestly hopes in Dr. Jekyll for the redemption of the mark her father left on her.

Writing her story out for “Master”, Mary paints a haunting image of her father, with his “low, sick laugh” and merciless outlashes. Though Mary notes that she has “seldom thought on the past and [has] tried to put it behind [her]” (37), the scars of her fathers abuse prove deep and dark, despite her suppression of them. Page 35 provides perhaps the most telling remark of her sentiments. As she toils in her garden, Mary reflects, “I believe to hate my father would be to give in and make small my real feeling, which is strong but not like hate, as that seems simple, pure and clean” (35). Here, Mary indicates her feelings towards her father are deeper and and fouler than hatred, and, in comparison, hatred seems “pure and clean”. Significantly, Mary’s view of her father as not a monster, but as “an ordinary man” prone to drinking, supplements the view that her childhood tainted her view of men, or of humanity in general. She believes most men are prone to ill, as her father was. Discussing the closing of Dr. Jekyll’s school and the philosophy of moral forces, Mary states her belief that good doesn’t seem to come naturally to humans. Unable to forgive her father (as stated on page 36), Mary instead finds healing in the virtue of her Master. His goodness grants her hope in mankind.

For Mary, Dr. Jekyll stands as the antithesis of her father, as the redemption of man in her eyes. Though she seems to have mild romantic feelings towards her Master, perhaps he also symbolizes the ideal father for her after her experience of a father so cruel and savage. Jekyll’s patience, kindness, and interest in Mary quickly becomes her source of life and self-worth. More than this, I would submit that the reason Mary has such a difficult time accepting Dr. Jekyll’s moral failings might lies in the fact that she has elevated him above reproach in order to cope with her past.

During her visits to Mrs. Farraday’s, Mary processes the innuendos of her Master’s misconduct by telling herself, “that doubtless this was some good thing Master had contrived, to lighten the suffering around [her]” (66). When she sees the bloody bedroom at Mrs. Farraday’s and the monogrammed handkerchief condemning her beloved Master, her confidence in his goodness wavers. Yet still, she clings to his innocence, doing “whatever [she] can to stay calm, so that, when this is all made clear to me, [she] may find the best way to serve him” (110). She refuse to let herself think, lest she see the truth.

What it Means to be Human

The narrative of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde exudes tension. This theme (tension), which we’ve been analyzing in different forms and measures all semester long, bellows from every page as it composes not only the predicament of this novella, but the predicament of every human life.

It is the internal warfare between good and evil that wages within the breast of every human being. This combat, which Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde highlights, constitutes the fundamental friction responsible for every other character tension we have noted in previous books. This battle, inherent to man, propels the plight of Dr. Jekyll and rouses every reader.

From the first introduction, Mr. Hyde is presented as a creature bereft of humanness, as he is described as “troglodytic”. This description aligns with the theory of de-evolution that was circulating during Stevenson’s time. De-evolution surmised slum inhabitants, but more specifically criminals, were the pinnacle of biological human regression. Within this context, Hyde represents an erosion of human nature.

The textual allegations of Hyde being sub-human raises the reverse question: what does it mean to be human? As one traces his de-evolution, one can likewise discern what true human nature means, for it is against this standard that Hyde’s behavior appears starkly fallacious and inhuman. These two subjects— the definition of humanity and the definition of inhumanity— prove inseparable.

In his narrative, Jekyll himself pinpoints perhaps the cardinal characteristic of human nature: the very duplicity with which he struggles. He laments how his transformation to Hyde “severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature” (76). Furthermore, Jekyll contends it “the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were thus bound together—that in the agonized womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling” (77). In his attempt to separate these natures, then, Jekyll takes a deathly stab at his humanity. To be only wholly good or only wholly evil would eliminate the humanity from that being. If humans were morally perfect, with no inclination towards evil, they would be gods but not humans. If humans were solely desiring of evil and had no inclination towards what is good, they would be devils. The ability to discern between right and wrong, the inner conscience of man that compels us towards what is right and burdens our hearts and minds with guild when we have done wrong, is largely what it means to be human. In his final descent, as Edward Hyde takes over Dr. Jekyll more completely and as he becomes only evil with no inclination towards good, he becomes a “child of Hell” with “nothing human” within him (88).

While every human struggles with the internal combat between right and wrong, redemption, as Jekyll finds, cannot be found formally detaching these two natures. His discovery poses another question: if detachment proves not the redemption of this dilemma, what redeems us? While duplicity marks human nature, there is also a longing within every breast to be redeemed. This desire to be redeemed, in some shape or form, also cardinally constitutes what it means to be a human.

The Way We Perceive

Throughout the narrative of Jack Maggs, there are several significant sways among the characters’ perceptions of one another. For their frequency and weight, these alterations, or revelations, become key narrative strategies. There are multiple instances where one character’s personal desires influence their impression of another character. These impressions endure until daunting circumstances challenge and crumble those views.

The first notable shift is Mercy’s altered perception of Mr. Buckle, a man whom she had hitherto worshipped, body and soul. As she grows acquainted with Jack Maggs, seeing his strength and the safety it wields, Mercy’s confidence in her savior dwindles. In light of Maggs, a formidable force, Buckles is exposed as a coward. The comparison between the two men akins a candle before a bonfire. In light of this contrast, her liberator loses his luster. Mr. Buckles transforms before her eyes. Observing an exchange between Maggs and Buckles, Mercy notes the similarity between Buckle’s face and that of a ferret. Here,  “she [sees] him as she had never seen him before”, and though “she wished it were not so”, “her saviour had begun to cut a pathetic figure in her eyes” (175)

A keenly similar alteration occurs before the eyes of Lizzie Warriner regarding Tobias Oates. After informing Tobias of her pregnancy, Mercy watches as he responds in agitation and anxiety. Mercy then lies to her sister, who inquires the cause for the tears on her cheeks, and in her cover story about her necklace being stolen, Lizzie makes an all-too-accurate comment about Tobias: “He cares only for his own pleasure”. The silence following this statement confirms its truth and the recognition of it by both sisters. Undoubtedly realizing the truth of her utterance, Lizzie describes an altered perception of Tobias: “He had always appeared to her as fierce and fatherly, but now she saw how the mantel was too tall for him, and how he stretched to accommodate himself to its demands” (213). Unnerved by this new view, Lizzie accounts it as “a vision profoundly discouraging, and one she wished to God she had not seen” (213).

These occurrences call into question the nature of reality. Is truth malleable according to our hopes and desires? Or do those desires simply encourage or impede our acceptance of reality?  I would submit the latter to be true. Buckles is a coward, but it took a contender to reveal this to Mercy. It took a reorientation of her desires to reveal how those desires had filtered her view of her master. Likewise, Lizzie’s revelation concerning Tobias proves on target, yet had the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy not occurred, her infatuation and sexual intimacy with Tobias would have continued to idealize him in her mind.

It must be acknowledged that not all revelations sully impressions of the characters, for as Oates grasps more of Magg’s suffering, his heart towards him softens and he considers him, at least for a time, his companion. A realization of shared experiences shift Maggs in Oates’ from a monster to a man, a man for whom he feels pity and grief. For Maggs, empathy is the agent that alters his perceptions: “I’m sorry, Jack, from the bottom of my heart. I also have a son. It is not hard for me to understand your feelings. I would never make light of your misfortune” (275). Previously, his desire to write a killer novel about the criminal mind obstructed Oates from seeing Maggs as a creature worthy of his sympathy.

Empathy As Shoes: To Try or To Refuse

Tobias Oates and Percy Buckle juxtapose one another in their approaches towards Jack Maggs. Empathy, or lack therof, proves the chief component constructing these differing views and behaviors. While Buckle shows compassion on the convict, lamenting what he has suffered and endeavoring to empathize with his pain and experiences, Oates operates out of selfishness, numbness, and manipulation.

Mr. Buckle, bearing the same character that led him to care for Mercy and her mother as his neighbors, sympathizes with Magg’s crude state. Upon seeing the scars on his bare back and hearing of the cat tail with which he had become well-aquainted, Buckle challenges an unfeeling Oates, “did you ever imagine yourself in his position?” (97). More than this, he cries out that he “felt the damned thing” as if he himself were the double-cat’s victim (97). Percy’s concern proves genuine by the continuance of his lament for what his footman has suffered. Not only did Buckle weep at the sight of Magg’s injuries, but the wept as he recounted them to Mercy.

The introductory chapters diagnose Oates as, for all his life,  carrying with him “a mighty passionate to create that safe warm world he had been denied” as a child (41). His childhood, the omniscient narrator informs us, left Tobias with a gaping whole inside his chest and an impotence to fill it. Though Tobias himself fails to identify this cavity, it looms as “the curse or gift his ma and pa had given him: he would not be loved enough, not ever” (43). Not only does this diagnosis help explain Tobias’  unfaithfulness to his wife, but it also illuminates his intentions with Maggs. Tobias aspires to use his story as a means of proving himself as a writer, and thus furthering and securing the admiration of the public and of his peers. Thus, he manipulates Maggs into the strange hypnotic agreement, whereby he pans the paths of Magg’s mind for gold that will crown him the as the criminal mind’s “first cartographer” (99). The fact that Oats presents to Maggs a false rendering of the transcriptions of his mind confirms that he cares little for the subject himself and the identity crisis or emotional confusion this may cause.

Several passages, however, suggest there may be an auxiliary explanation for Tobias’ obsession with Maggs. In chapter twenty five, as the omniscient narrator, describing Magg’s surprise at his own mental processes, makes a short yet sharp comment regarding the obscurity of these scenes: “For the writer, stumbled through the dark  of the convict’s part, groping in the shadows, describing what was often a mirror held up to his own turbulent and fearful soul” (100). He is attached and intrigued to this Magg’s mind largely because his soul seems so familiar to his own. He treads along well-known paths. However, like his inability to recognize his insatiable desire to be love, perhaps Oats cannot clearly distinguish these similarities that unite him to Maggs. If he did, we would assume he might treat Maggs with more concern, as if he were treating his own soul. Because he does not, but continues his experiments devoid of empathy and attachment, it implies that Oates’ does not yet distinguish similarities as the basis of his strong attachment. Though the narrator knows and publicizes this fact, perhaps Oates proves still ignorant of it.

The irony of Percy and Tobias’ reactions is that, while Tobias recognizes himself in Magg’s, he refrains from putting himself in his shoes. Percy, on the other hand, who acknowledges no resemblance, strives, at least for a while, to see through Magg’s eyes and taste his pain.

Details Witheld

The purposeful concealing of information proves unusually significant and recurring throughout the narrative of Great Expectations. Whether the characters withhold information for the good of their peers or in hopes of their demise, the intentions vary. Yet almost all of the characters ascribe to this action at one time or another. It proves a central theme and behavior for the cast. The story commences with Pip aiding a convict, an event of which he does not tell his sister or Joe, continually fearful that his actions might be discovered. His secretiveness at this moment commences the successive series of secrets throughout the novel.

Other significant untold intelligence includes the mysterious identity of Pip’s benefactor, as well as the fact that Miss Havisham knew she herself was not the benefactor. She withheld this information and instead led him on to believe it was her. In London, Wemmick hides his pleasant home life and gentle, devoted disposition from Mr. Jaggers, desiring to keep the two spheres entirely detached. Other crucial secrets include Pip’s refusal to tell Magwitch that his inheritance will be taken from him, his desire to make Pip a gentleman razed, upon his execution and death. These are merely a handful of the multitude of secrets threaded throughout Pip’s account.

This abundance of withheld information, in addition to a small passage towards the end of the novel made me question Pip’s reliability as a storyteller. The narrator of the novel, Pip’s method of delaying answers to plot questions proves instrumental for the story’s trajectory and suspense, but it causes reservation regarding Pip’s absolute dependability as the relator of events. While Magwitch lays in the infirmary, awaiting his fate, Herbert asks Pip to join him as a business partner. Pip defers the offer for the time being, informing the reader of his reasoning for doing so: “Firstly, my mind was too preoccupied to be able to take in the subject clearly. Secondly—Yes! Secondly, there was a vague something lingering in my thoughts that will come out very near the end of this slight narrative” (471). Thus, he delays clarity for the sake of suspense, yet, in the end, Pip never reveals exactly what that “vague something lingering in [his] thoughts” was. This vague notion could have been anything. It could have been a an acknowledgment that he needed to redeem his relationship with Joe, or a plan to marry Biddy, or a still strong desire that he might one day have Estella. Whatever that vague lingering was, Pip never explicitly tells his audience. This proves not the sole instance in which Pip leaves readers in the dark without ultimately enlightening them of his meaning or personal revelation.

This specific occurrence is rather harmless and unintentional, however, it attributes to Pip an inconsistency that affects his relationship with the reader. It causes one to question if Pip left out other details, whether intentionally or not, that would change one’s interpretation of the story. Pip’s past of withholding information for the good of those around them bolsters this suspicion of his reliability. Perhaps he left out some details for “our good” as well. By no means does this reservation spoil my view of Pip or thwart my joy in his reconciliation and redemption towards the end of the novel. Rather, it simply causes me to question what other details and stories may be floating out there that Pip did not see fit or profitable to tell us in his account.

 

Eeneagram Aid

By and large, one predominate tension within Great Expectations proves Pip’s attachment to Estella, despite the irrationality of his affection. Subdued by her beauty, Pip dismisses Estella’s cruelty, contempt, and conceit. He sets aside her “air of inaccessibility” and her statement that she possesses no softness, no sympathy, and no sentiment. He knows that she has given him no hint of a reciprocated fondness. He perceives Mrs. Havisham’s encouragement to love Estella resembles a curse more than a blessing. However, for Pip, Estella’s beauty eclipses every omen.

After seeing Estella for the first time in years, Pip publicizes his passion for her to an already knowing Herbert. Their conversation that evening illustrates the absurdity of Pip’s attachment, for Herbert points out that Pip has no reason to believe that his expectations include Estella, nor would she necessarily prove a pleasant prize. Herbert challenges him to “think of what she is herself” and thus take caution, warning Pip that his obsession with a girl of her disposition “may lead to miserable things” (279). Though in agreement, Pip admits himself unable to upbraid his devotion, declaring the idea of detaching himself from her as” impossible” (279). Thus, Pip exemplifies the irrational hope and “wonderful inconsistency into which the best and wisest men fall every day” (161).

To reference the enneagram— a tool that collectively describes the way in which certain personality types react to themselves, others, and the world— I would submit that Pip’s disposition as a Type 4, namely an “individualist” or “romantic”, adequately explains his behavior here. Though sensitive and self-aware, as Pip’s childhood has proven him to be, Type 4s typically operate out of a basic fear that they have no identity of personal significance. In response to these worries, Type 4’s envision a perfect self, whom they aspire to become. Several statements from Pip in previous chapters bolster this designation of him as a 4. Pip attributes his reason for wanting to become a gentleman as self-dissatisfaction, a discontent elicited by Estella calling him a commoner. His self-indignation derives from being looked down upon my Estella, and his self-aspirations spring out of a desire to win her approval. Type 4s also often seek to attract “a rescuer”, someone who they believe can redeem them. Pip, thus, envisions his redemption in life as Estella herself, whom he expects to attain through self-improvement. If personal significance and worth had not been so elusive for Pip, perhaps his affection for Estella would not have proved as strong. On the night of his departure for London, it seems a lack of self-approval proves the root of Pip’s sorrow, for he notes, “dissatisfied with my fortune, of course I could not be; but it is possible that I may have been, without quite knowing it, dissatisfied with myself” (176).

Just as Pip’s gloom often has to do with self-frustration, his aspirations typically revolve around his ideal self. For Pip, that ideal self and Estella’s approval are inseparable entities. He becomes so attached to this fantasy self that he accedes it impossible for him “to separate her, in the past or in the present, from the innermost life of my life” (265). His ideal self has become so entrenched in winning Estella that not only does he find all personal significance in her, but “all of [his] expectations [and happiness] depend” on her as well (277). Thus, we thank the enneagram for helping us understand the seeming absurdity of Pip’s devotion.

The Peril of Pride

Comparison is often identified as a chief thief of joy and contentment. This truth resounds throughout the first volume of Great Expectations as Pip’s experiences at Mrs. Havisham’s leave him dissatisfied with his life at the forge. Despite seasons of contentment in his current position, seasons which offer “sufficient means of self-respect and happiness” (165), a mere “remembrance of the Havisham days would fall upon [him] like a destructive missile, and scatter [his] wits” (165). The memory of Satis, more attractive and alluring than his modest home life, spoils satisfaction for life with Biddy and Joe. Only at times when he juxtaposes his life with that of the inhabitants of Satis does Pip express unrest. Comparison proves the poison, as Pip himself acknowledges, noting “what would it signify me, being course and common, if nobody had told me so” (161). If he had not known the glory of Satis, his home life would not seem so dull, for he would have nothing to compare it with.

However, Pip’s discontent may have as much to do with pride as it does comparison. Biddy notes that pride takes many different forms. She attributes to Joe a pride that keep him from ever leaving the forge, an occupation and place for which he feels well suited. Though Biddy does not directly identity pride in Pip, her words cause the reader to consider what form it takes in him. C.S. Lewis offers a helpful analysis, noting that pride, by nature, is competitive. No one takes pride or shame in their circumstances apart from comparing them with the circumstances of another. Pride, a fault of which no man is innocent, derives from having more of something than others do. If everyone were dealt the same hand, there would be nothing to pride oneself or shame oneself in. As the tides turns and Pip hears of his good fortune, the pride once mingled with shame manifests itself in new ways, primarily in his relationships at home. Joe, tender and kind and often identified by Pip as his savior and best friend, becomes an embarrassment. Looking back, Pip bemoans the way in which he and Joe parted. He asked to walk alone because the contrast between his new self and Joe would be too irregular.

This analysis by no means chastises Pip for his tussle with pride, for no human being proves exempt from this struggle of comparison. At the same time, the detection of pride is helpful in understanding Pip’s transition and his actions, both before and after his elevation.

 

Two [Stories] Diverge…

Wide Sargasso Sea answers, and yet continues to raise, many questions concerning the case of Antoinette Mason, as it offers a very dissimilar account of Rochester’s marriage to Bertha from the narrative he paints for Jane in Jane Eyre. Though Rochester himself recounts both versions of the history of his courtship and marriage to Bertha, his accounts contradict each other at many points.To begin, in Jane Eyre, Rochester tells Jane that he was originally ignorant of the money that would be gained through this marriage: “My father said nothing about money, but he told me Miss Mason was the boast of Spanish town for her beauty” (Bronte 395). However, in Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester’s mental rough draft letter to his father implies that the money had been discussed between them prior to the courtship and marriage, for Rochester imagines informing him “the thirty thousand pounds have been paid to me without question or condition” (Rhys 41).

Next, the details concerning the courtship itself also contrast. When telling Jane of the event, Rochester implies the period was brimming with festivities and parties and that “all men in her circle seemed to admire her and envy me” (Bronte 395). In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester informs the reader that he “was married a month after [he] arrived in Jamaica and for nearly three weeks of that time [he] was in bed with fever” (Rhys 39). Neither does Rochester mention any social gatherings or any contenders for Antoinette’s affection. Likewise, Antoinette’s account of her society, at least the society knew before attending the convent, was very scarce. The peers she did speak of, whether black or creoles like herself (such as the red-haired boy who pestered her on the walk to the convent) treated her with more indignation and disgust than adoration.

In Jane Eyre, Rochester describes himself as having been originally “dazzled” by Antoinette, and he confesses that he thought he loved her. He implies this period of infatuation endured throughout their honeymoon, the end of which Rochester marks as the moment he “learned [his] mistake” (Bronte 395). The first few pages of Part II in Wide Sargasso Sea submit an altogether divergent illustration of Rochester. He presents himself as one who already seems disinterested in his wife and whom has already given up on the marriage. As they arrive to their final honeymoon destination, he describes himself “watch[ing] her critically”, rather than gazing after her in admiration (Rhys 39). He notes that her “pleading expressions annoy [him]” and, upon entering Granbois— their honeymoon home— immediately identifies the writing desk as a potential place of refuge (Rhys 41). Refuge from what? His new wife? More concerning, however, is his comment concerning his wife’s bedroom. Rochester expresses feeling unsafe, and surveys the room “suspiciously” before comforting himself by the notion that ‘the door into her room could be bolted, a stout wooden bar pushed across the other” (Rhys 44). This surprising comment, as well the myriad of contradictions between his two tales, imply that Rochester knew more about Antoinette Bertha Mason as he entered the marriage than disclosed to Jane.

Choosing Souls Over Social Silhouettes

The Victorian Era, in which Jane and Rochester dwell, can rightly be understood as a period that underlined and accentuated the inequality between men and women, primarily through assigned gender roles. Within this milieu, Jane abjures the social silhouettes of the time in both actions and speech, primarily through her relationship with Mr. Rochester himself. Consequently, both characters, and their relationship with one another, become anomalies.
A few days into her position as governess at Thornfield, Jane pauses to consider the nature of her role and the disposition of the other women inhabitants. While she commends the goodness she sees in them, she expresses a longing for a “more vivid kind of goodness,” which she outlines in the following lines (178). Restless in nature, she opposes the notion that “women are supposed to be very calm generally,” insisting instead that they “feel just as men feel”, and thus “must have action” (178). Through these internal reflections, we first glimpse Jane’s inner struggle with the gender roles from which she feels so estranged.
As her relationship with Rochester develops, Jane continues disputing those social gender convictions. In the orchard scene, before Rochester avows his love for her, Jane, believing her master to be toying with her affections, rebukes him, “I have as much should as you, —and full as much heart!… I am not talking to you now through medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even mortal flesh: —it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,— as we are!” (338). To such a declaration, Rochester consents, repeated her words and calling her his “equal” and his “likeness” (339).
From this foundation, their courtship takes a novel course, for not only did they view each other entirely as equals, but in many cases Rochester proves the one subdued. Concerning her own struggle between passion and reason, Jane often expresses her ardent desire for self-mastery, voicing frustration when this becomes unattainable and her emotions predominate. She carries this devotion to self-control and self-autonomy into her relationship with Rochester, and to such a stance he concedes. Rochester then, in response to Jane’s independence and self-discipline, allows himself to be the subdued one. The day after the proposal, he notes to Jane the peculiarity of her character, that he “has never met [her] likeness” and yet accedes that she “master[s]” him (345). In the same conversion, Jane teases him regarding his fondness of feeing “conquered, and how pleasant overpersuasion is to [him]” (347). Such a description would have characterized women in this time, but never a man in relation to a woman. Finally, the night following their would-be wedding, as Jane weeps earnestly before him, Rochester, unable to see his beloved so rent, entreats her to solace, “his softened voice announce[ing] that he [is] subdued” (393).
With their affection for one another built entirely upon a mutual understanding of equality, Jane and Rochester, freed from the social ideologies of gender hierarchy, exhibit a love for one another born of admiration for each other’s very souls. And it is out of love for Rochester’s soul that Jane rallies her will to depart from him.

Sequels of Suffering

The opening scenes of Jane Eyre offer an interesting commentary regarding the discourse of nature verses nurture, a query that also imbues the narrative of Wuthering Heights. Like Hindley and Heathcliffe, Jane was raised under the heavy hand of physical and emotional abuse. She, too, experienced bitter estrangement and pure disdain from family members. Yet while Hindley and Healthcliffe suffered under one or two abusers, Jane received such treatment from the whole house. Mrs. Reed, as well as her children and (often) the servants, regarded her a a scape-goat and impressed in her the idea that she was both wicked and “not worthy of notice” (85).

While similar treatment warped and perverted Heathcliffe and Hindley, despite the fact that they were shown love by other household members, it seems for Jane to establish a deeper sense of and thirst for justice.  Wuthering Heights ushers the reader to justify the antagonist’s actions due to their oppression, but Jane proves an anomaly within this schema. If Emily’s Bronte attempts to warrant the effects of abuse on Heathcliffe and Hindley, Charlotte presents an illustration of a women (who would have then been understood as the weaker gender) remaining reputable under persecution. Instead of losing her moral compass, as seems to be the effect of despotism on Heathcliffe and Hindley, Jane’s conscious preserves her and affirms the injustice of her situation as she suffers silently. It seems that nature, namely the sincere sense of right and wrong that all humanity innately knows, prevails over the abusive nurture that Jane experienced at Gateshead. This observation does not neglect the reality and intensity of Hindley and Heathcliffe’s suffering nor the undeniable impact of nurture on children. Yet it demonstrates that, despite oppression, it is possible for the oppressor to maintain their sense of justice and their longing for goodness.

Later on, Helen demonstrates another example of how abuse does not necessarily always bring about the debasement of the abused. This character presents a stark contrast to the Earnshaw boys, for her very oppression actually refines her virtue and integrity, rather than simply preserving it. She responds by forgiving sincerely, again and again, and by returning good for evil. One evening near the fire, after Jane has described her sufferings at Gateshead, Jane advises her new friend: “Would you not be happier if you tried to forget [Mrs. Reed’s] severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in ursine animosity, or registering wrongs” (120). Helen views suffering, an experience to which she is not unaccustomed at Lowood, as an opportunity for patient endurance and a means of sanctification. Perhaps it would have proven interesting to witness a conversations between Heathcliffe, Hindley, and Helen, the latter of whom would calmly, sympathetically entreat her fellow-sufferers just as she did Jane by the fire that night: “It is far better to endure patiently… than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you” (117). For the men of Withering Heights, Helen would have offered timely counsel.

A Desire Disguised

The strange narrative of Nelly Dean poses an interesting question, “What comprises a duty?” Who and what determines its parameters? Is it subjective to the one upon whom it is placed?  Most would say no. Yet, the justification for all of Nelly’s undertakings bank upon duty’s subjectivity to the one upon whom it is placed.

From a young age, Nelly’s mother instills in her a devotion to duty and a caution towards pursuing desire when duty crosses it. As the novel continues, Nelly, fearful of the farmer’s tale that forewarns the danger of desire, extends the framework of her duty as servant of Wuthering Heights to encompass her deepest wishes and, in doing so, quiets her conscience.

Nelly’s understanding of her duty can be summarized as such: to save the Earnshaws from themselves. This responsibility, and her adoption of it, issues originally from Mr. Earnshaw’s sincere remark in his belief that she  was “born to be the salvation of [the] house” (105). Nelly, in turn, banks her life upon this statement. Henceforth, she endeavored to save them, and from that salvation to attain her heart’s yearnings: the love of Hindley. Upon discovering that he is returning with a wife, Nelly walks the moors to clear her head and choose a course of action. Resolving to stay her post, Nelly “tells herself “that [her] prior good influence with [Hindley] and [Heathcliffe] made it [her] duty to stay and bring about peace between them” (237). She later discerns that “in truth it was compounded in equal parts of selfish interest and pride” (237).

As time goes on, contemplations and conversations continue to reveal the latent desires that drive Nelly’s understanding of her duty to Wuthering Heights. When Mr. Earnshaw was dying, Nelly admits her dream of delivering him, through her committed care, from his illness in order to win his approval and thus earn the right to Hindley’s hand in marriage. Later, she likewise acknowledges her initial supposition that, if Hareton embraced her as his mother, Hindley would follow suit and embrace her as his wife.

Several characters challenge her notion of duty, beginning with Heathcliffe, who, as a child, furious at Nelly’s nursing of Heathcliffe, asserted, “it’s all very well to say you were only doing your duty, Nelly,… but you half killed yourself to save him” (110). Likewise, Bodkin urges her to remember that she is not “obliged to keep working” at Wuthering Heights, to which she simply responds of her affection for the residents and their need of her (117).

Nelly’s undertaking to bind Hareton to herself through Elspeth’s means prove telling portent of her muddling of duty for desire. Though her endeavor to sustain his life is honorable, her duty as a servant did not necessarily warrant her actions at Pennington Crag. Instead, they were driven by her deepest wishes, which in turn imbued her view of her role in at Wuthering Heights.

In the end, Nelly concedes what drove her all those years, for what she had wanted “more than anything, was to be one of the Earnshaw’s to be truly a member of their family (447).

A Seeming Dichotomy: Duty and Desire

While most characters in Wutheirng Heights operate out of their passion and emotion, Nelly Dean highlights a new type of character, one driven by duty over desire. The divergence between duty and desire proves consequential, according to Mary Dean, who stresses the necessity of the former in all she does. She advises Nelly to “not get in the habit of imagining [her]self entitled to more than [she] have earned by [her] own labours” and to “leave off making idle wishes” (67). She tells to remember her place and live accordingly, reminding her in a letter to “do [her] duty” (82). Likewise, Mary urges Mrs. Earnshaw, who would rather treat Heathcliffe according to her distaste of him, that her “duty is now to this child” (29) and that it is her “duty to bring him up to be a credit to the family” (28). Page 82 provides perhaps the most telling passage regarding Mary’s dedication to duty over desire. When Mrs. Earnshaw laments her departure to Brassing, Mary responds with, “You wouldn’t have me neglect my duty to Tom, would you?” (82). This seems an interesting response. What drives her to Yorkshire is not an overwhelming love for her husband and sadness at the thought of being separated from him, but an allegiance to her duty as a wife.

Was this sober, unemotional fidelity to duty the common stance of woman at this time? Not necessarily. Rather, women were stereotyped as being driven by their emotions.

However, this stereotype seems to contradict the picture of women illustrated in Mary’s story, “The Heart’s Wish”, which she conveys as a well-known local tale. The wife in this story seems, like Mary, more devoted to duty than desire.

She asserts her duty to speak against what might destroy her family, while her husband, the farmer, follows his own hankering to his downfall. Perhaps her portrayal of the heroine as one driven by responsibility and reason rather than emotion indicates that Mary tweaked the story in order to provide an memorable illustration for her daughter of what happens when desire overpowers duty.

Though resolute in her duty as a wife and in Nelly’s place as a servant, Mary proves less adamant in her stereotypical role as a woman. She adheres to class boundaries while pushing gender boundaries. For example, when addressing Mr. Earnshaw after Nelly has been expelled from the Heights, Mary presses him “with directness that rather startle[s] [Nelly]” (20). Furthermore, she questions Earnshaw with confidence, challenging his decision to bring Heathcliffe home and interrogating him on his business trip to Liverpool. As a woman and a servant, Mary would have no right to speak this way to her master. This implies, then, that either Mary takes quite a progressive stance regarding gender or that there is a history between Mary and Earnshaw that solicits her treatment of him. Her behavior resembles that of the wife in “The Heart’s Wish”. Perhaps then, their relationship at one time extended beyond servant and master.