Power and Passion in Wuthering Heights

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In his book, The Leviathan, Hobbes argues that the desire for power is inherent in all humans, and that desire is also a fundamental aspect of human nature. In Susan Jaret McKinstry’s Desire’s Dreams: Power and Passion in Wuthering Heights, these themes are explored in the context of Emily Bronte’s novel. McKinstry shows that power and desire play a crucial role in the characters’ actions and motivations, particularly in the isolated setting of the manors. Here, social norms and laws do not apply, leading to unrepressed and savage emotions and actions in order to fulfill desires. This leads to socially unacceptable violence and cruelty, as characters strive for economic and emotional advantages. The struggle to fulfill uncontrollable desires haunts the characters throughout the novel, manifesting in revenge and greed.

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In his renowned book of philosophy, The Leviathan, Hobbes described that “perpetual and restless desire for power” is a fundamental quality shared by all humans. He also points out that desire is another important aspect of human nature, since it provides motivation for us to strive to reach our individual needs regardless of the possible outcomes of our actions. These two themes are insightfully explored in Susan Jaret McKinstry’s “Desire’s Dreams: Power and Passion in Wuthering Heights”, in which she shows the important role that power and desire play in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. From the desire, passion and the ambition for power being displayed in a relatively closed environment such as the isolated manors, it is clear that Bronte’s view of human nature is that humans will do whatever is necessary in their contest for individual power and fulfillment of desires.

In a place where law and social rules do not seem to apply due to isolation from society, childish and primitive instincts begin to be unrepressed, with wilder acts of violence showing savage emotions and actions in order to fulfill desires. As McKinstry claims, the characters are living in a world where “fantasy and desire overcome adult laws of reality and order” (McKinstry 142). This isolated environment leads to many acts of socially intolerable violence, such as physical harming of others and the putting of more helpless lives in danger. Unacceptable cruelty is apparent from the very beginning of the novel, when Heathcliff is first brought to the Earnshaw manor and is treated as an inferior being by being called “it” by Nelly and……

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One of the most absurd examples of this is when Hindley is retrieving Hareton from Nelly during one of his common drunken order to be able to inherit Thrushcross Grange. It seems that Heathcliff is mainly intent in gaining control of the manors to not only gain economically advantageous positions, but to also prove to the ghost of Catherine, which still wandered around the moors, that he would have been worth marrying and that she made the wrong decision. Catherine also had very strong desires for power, which are shown by her telling Nelly that she would never be able to marry Heathcliff because he had been put so far below that she believed it would be degrading to her to marry him, and therefore she decided to marry Edgar Linton instead due to his stability.

The struggle to fulfill their uncontrollable desires haunt Bronte’s character’s throughout the novel. Not only do they imitate each other’s desires at times, but they also have their own purposes, whether it be revenge or greed.

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Power and Passion in Wuthering Heights. (2018, Feb 10). Retrieved from


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