The mirror is a psychoanalytic symbol for narcissism and in Wuthering Heights Cathy is continuously “straining her gaze towards the glass. ” (161) For Cathy, it is not a “mirror”, it is a “black press. ” (161) Black has resonances of an empty space, whereas a “press” could be a printing press for printing Cathy’s story. Cathy’s misrecognition reinforces the notion, however, that she has no story to print, since her life is empty like a black hole. Ellen says: “There is no press in the room and never was”.
(161) In other words, Cathy has never had a story to tell. Nonetheless, Cathy still attempts to find her own story when she runs to the window and opens it. Cathy is greeted by the “frosty air” of an unfeeling patriarchy, which “cut about her shoulders,” symbolically decapitating Cathy with a metaphorical phallic “knife” (164). The implication being that in confining Cathy to the role of angel, her mind and body have been separated and Cathy is left – as all women were – with only her body. Cathy’s starvation of her body is a form of revenge against patriarchy.
Since, by starving herself as well as her unborn child, she is denying patriarchy’s definition of her as a mere reproductive being. This rejection of her body links with anorexia nervosa, which is induced by feelings of powerlessness and rage. Therefore, her starvation could be interpreted as an attempted to reduce her body back to its childhood shape or, rather, an attempt to return to childhood: “I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy and free ….. I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills. ” (163)
It could be said that it is a desire to return to the pre-thetic and unite with the beloved, Heathcliff, so that she can reconstruct her true identity. In frustration, Cathy attempts to deconstruct the identity patriarchy has constructed for her when she tears open the pillow and begins to rip apart its contents by separating the feathers into their different species: “Tossing about she increased her feverish bewilderment to madness, and tore the pillow with her teeth, … she seemed to find childish diversion in pulling the feathers from the rents she had just made, and ranging them on the sheet according to their different species…
” (160) Cathy’s naming of the individual feathers, “it’s a lapwings’s” (160) is a re-enactment of what Gilbert and Gubar refer to as the deconstruction of “the dead self that is a male ‘opus'”, in order for Cathy to rediscover her “living, ‘inconstant’ self”. 1 In addition, Heathcliffe’s sadism suggest that he is Cathy’s sadistic Other. The birds being starved to death by Heathcliffe is the equivalent to Cathy’s masochistic act of starving herself. It could be said that it is a kind of assertiveness, that this is the monster in Cathy.
However, Cathy’s attempt to re-assert herself through starvation could not be called a significant and positive action against her oppressor, rather she is taking a negative action, because she has turn the monster against herself. Cathy’s confinement in narcissism has internalized her former positive “fiery” assertiveness and transformed it into a negative sadomasochistic fire that is consuming her. (162) Despite her misguided negative assertiveness, Cathy does achieve some kind of freedom, but not an identity or a story.
Towards the end Cathy declares: “My resting-place where I’m bound before Spring is over! There it is, not among the Lintons, mind, under the chapel-roof; but in the open air with a headstone. ” (165)
Here, Cathy is denying both the bourgeois family and the religious authorities which have established a believe in the bourgeois family ideal. It is a final relation against the many faces of patriarchy, but it is a relation which has come too late. 1. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic p. 17.