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Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3599 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Throughout history, oppression has existed in various forms. Merriam-Webster defines oppression as the “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.” While many cultural groups have been oppressed, there seems to be a phenomenon regarding women being victimized. Specifically, that it “extends beyond class conflicts, but it also cuts through all collective social realities – ethnic, national, religious, local (Treillet).” From ancient Mesopotamia and the Code of the Assura (c. 1075 BCE) to the fight for woman’s suffrage in North America and the need for the Feminist movement which followed, women have been subjected to control by men. Suppressed and undermined, women had been considered property rather than people. Dominated by ideas of male superiority, women had to fight for their individuality. It was necessary then, for women to find a means to rebel against their male oppressors and achieve individual self identity. Simone Weil, a french philosopher in the early to mid 20th century stated that “Oppression can only survive through silence.” Whether subtle or flamboyant, women have risen above the misogyny, prejudice, and societal guidelines expected of them. Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I rise, perfectly portrays this concept . Many writers express this throughout literature through the ages. In Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, literature and articulation is used as a means for the women within the novel to rebel and wreak havoc. Kate Chopin’s Mrs. Mallard, illustrates the lack of self identity of a woman in the 19th century in The Story of a Hour. Additionally, another famous poem written by Angelou expresses her discontent as a woman being caged within her poem I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings. As demonstrated throughout history and especially literature, the oppression of women in a male dominated society stirs rebellion through various forms of expression.

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Emily Bronte, a daring female writer shocked the world with her novel, Wuthering heights in 1847. Born in 1818 to an Anglican clergyman from Ireland, Bronte lived at the Haworth parsonage for most of her life, with her relatively large family . Living in a fairly secluded area of England, her entertainment derived from interacting and playing with her siblings Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick and Anne. Bronte’s mother, Maria, died while the children were still young. Three years after their mothers death, Bronte and her older sisters, Maria, Elizabeth, and Charlotte entered the Cowan Bridge school . In 1825, two of Emily Bronte’s sisters died, Maria, at age 10 and Elizabeth, 9, of Tuberculosis due to the malnourishment and intentional neglect of the children at this institution. Cowan Bridge would serve as inspiration for Emily’s sister-Charlotte’s novel, Jane Eyre. Immediately after their sisters deaths, Charlotte and Emily were withdrawn from Cowan Bridge and taken home to their remaining family. The isolation and solitude that the four remaining Bronte children lived in allowed for them to engage in writing and creating fantastic worlds. It offered them an escape from their tragic childhood. Through the collaboration between Bronte and Anne, they created a “female-governed fantasy realm” that they named Gondal. These concepts of female, rather than male domination in society, illustrated even at a young age, would carry on and reflect in their later writings. Resuming her education in 1835, Bronte attended Roe Head School for three months before she returned to her home as a result of homesickness. In 1839, ill health made it impossible for her to teach and after six months, she again returned home. After realizing that all three sisters were writing poetry, they combined their poems and after having gathered enough to create a book, they compiled them and had published Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, in 1846. In an attempt to evade negative criticism as a result of their gender, they took male pen names. Charlotte chose Currer, Anne-Acton, and Emily decided upon the name Ellis. And, Ellis Bell was the pseudonym under which Bronte published Wuthering heights. Each sister wrote a novel and jointly sent them to be published. Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights. After her attempt at teaching, Emily traveled to Belgium with her sister. Bronte was marked by her nonconforming behavior. For instance, she “apparently made no attempt to make herself likeable and refused to go a long with her sisters adoption of male continental fashions (Bloom).” When taunted by school mates, she would state “I wish to be as God made me.” Bronte’s younger brother, Branwell died, and not long after, she too caught cold. On December 19, 1848, she died. Not much is actually known about Emily Bronte as a result of her early death at the age of 30. However, one must recognize her talent and accomplishment in writing Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights is a story of the entaglements of love, revenge, selfishness and oppression. Set in the desolate moorlands of northern England, much like where Bronte was raised, the story takes place over about 40 years. Encircling the two protagonists of Wuthering Heights, the doomed love between Catherine and Heathcliff consumes and shapes the novel in its entirety. Wuthering heights is introduced to the reader through the diary entries of Lockwood. One must be weary of these entries as Lockwood is a prime example of an unreliable narrator. However, his curiosity and tenancy at the Thruscross Grange estate allows one to examine the story of the neighboring estate and landlord-namely Wuthering heights and Heathcliff. Throughout Lockwood’s visits to Wuthering heights, he discovers the secrets and history it contains of the characters who reside there. On a trip out to the estate, Lockwood both inconveniences his host by having to spend the night due to a snowstorm and offends Catherine and Heathcliff by mistaking Catherine for Heathcliff-then Hareton’s wife. When in fact, Lockwood discovers, that Catherine is Heathcliff’s widowed daughter in-law. Neglected by everyone else, Nelly, the housekeeper accommodates him, showing Lockwood to a small bedroom. There, he discovers the existence of the late Cathy Earnshaw-or Cathy Linton through her old books and the personalized scribbles they contained. That night Lockwood is plagued by nightmares of Cathy Linton’s ghost. The cry he utters, while jolting awake rouses Heathcliff, and he is ordered out of the room. At this point, Heathcliff opens the windows in the room, and believing himself to be alone, passionately cries for Cathy’s ghost to enter. Here the reader discovers that Heathcliff, the protagonist and antihero of the story is capable of love and has loved and lost. Having caught a cold on his way back to Thruscross Grange, Lockwood is sentenced to bed rest for most of the remaining story. There he hears the history Wuthering Heights through the eyes of Nelly, the housekeeper.

Nelly begins the story with Heathcliff’s arrival to the manor as a young orphan by from Liverpool. Mr. Earnshaw, her employer, and the owner of Wuthering Heights, was determined to raise Heathcliff as one of his own kids. However, Cathy and Hindley both initially loathed their foster brother. Although Hindley’s hateful attitude towards Heathcliff is consistent throughout the novel, Catherine’s changes quickly. Catherine and Heathcliff form an inseparable bond.

The death of Mrs. Earnshaw results in Mr. Earnshaw’s preference to Heathcliff instead of his own son, Hindley. Because of Hindley’s cruelty to Heathcliff, Hindley is sent away to college. Three years later, Hindley returns to Wuthering Heights with a wife, Frances, at the death of his father. Unfortunately for Heathcliff, Hindley’s return marked a downward turn for the welfare of Heathcliff’s being. Hindley degrades Heathcliff, transforming him from a foster brother and into a servant. Yet, Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship continues. One day, Heathcliff and Cathy, run wildly to Thruscross Grange in hops of teasing the “snobbish” children that live there-Isabella and Edgar Linton. While the Earnshaws represent the untamed wild that is reflected in the stormy moors, the Linton’s represent the taming of nature by society.

Caught and bitten by a dog, Catherine must stay at the Grange for five weeks. There, Mrs Linton tames Catherine, or at least makes the attempt to shape her into a proper young lady. During Catherine’s stay she becomes infatuated with Edgar, obviously complicating her relationship with Heathcliff. Frances, Hindley’s wife dies, giving birth to a boy names Hareton. And, as a result of her death, Hindley becomes an alcoholic and his treatment of Heathcliff grows progressively worse.

Catherine yearns for social advancement and thus she becomes engaged to Edgar Linton. Her selfish nature prompts her to defend her decision, despite her love for Heathcliff. However, when discussing this with Nelly, Heathcliff only hears that it would “degrade her” to marry him. Thus, he takes his leave of Wuthering Heights. Shortly after Edgar and Catherine marry, Heathcliff returns, appearing to be a gentlemen. He visits Cathy, and while she is pleased to see him, Edgar certainly is not. Isabella Linton, visualizing Heathcliff as a Byronic hero, falls in love with him. At the time that Edgar and Catherine feud, resulting in Catherine locking herself in her room in a frenzy, Heathcliff and Isabella run away together and marry. Heathcliff’s return was motivated by a deeply rooted plan for revenge. Isabella gives birth to Heathcliff’s son and Catherine gives birth to Edgar’s. Thus a new generation of twisted characters accumulate. Catherine dies, and a second generation Catherine takes her place. This Catherine is raised by her father, entirely isolated from Heathcliff and her cousin Linton Heathcliff. Eventually, Heathcliff kidnaps Catherine and forces her to marry his son. Not long after their forced marriage, Linton dies, leaving Catherine on Wuthering Heights. Catherine redirects her attentions to the illiterate Hareton, the deceased Hindley’s son. Heathcliff loses his sanity in his grief for Catherine, looking for her ghost, and finally dies, leaving the estate to Hareton and Catherine. Catherine and Hareton plan to get married the following year. The love between the first and second generations differs immensely. While the love between the first generation, Catherine and Heathcliff is doomed to fail in its static nature, the younger Catherine and Hareton are both dynamic in nature, thus the success and engagement of the couple.

The female characters of Wuthering Heights use the power of language and text as a weapon against the oppression they face. Catherine is the most rebellious female character and also cherishes the ownership and power of words greatly. When given books or the Bible to read, Catherine always takes pen to paper in order to personalize the text. For example, in her New Testament, she filled up all of the empty spaces with words of her own, in fact, she “literalizes the conventional phrase ‘Catherine Earnshaw, her book’ (Barreca).” Joseph, an illiterate male character constantly attempts to condemn the female characters with his patriarchal text, yet both Cathy and Nelly defy him, overwriting his words with songs and by embracing his language to claim it as their own. The women “invert the paradigmatic system in which women are absorbed and oppressed by the unavoidably patriarchal nature of language (Barrecca).” Even Isabella, a frail and weak character begins to write letters and use language against the babbling and inarticulate Heathcliff. “By inscribing the action, the women in the text can exert control and contain action, resetting boundaries through narration of the event (Barrecca).” The male characters who take pride in their libraries, like Lockwood and Edgar, are only owners of books, they do not reach out to the text to form a relationship with language. Overall, through the claim of text and authorship, expressing themselves through these means, the female characters of Wuthering Heights are freed rather than bound by words.

Mrs. Mallard, the main character in The Story Of an Hour, written by Kate Chopin, is a young, attractive woman suffering from a week heart. Her life changes immensely when one day, an important piece of news came to her household. A friend of her husbands, Richards, who worked in the news paper station had received a telegram stating that there had been an accident and that Brently Mallard had been killed. Because of Mrs. Mallard’s weak heart, Richards recruits Mrs Mallard’s sister to aid him in breaking the news. Mrs. Mallard, immediately broke down into hysterical sobs. However, after the shock had diluted, and she was alone, she began to exult in the new found freedom she realized she had obtained. With this in mind, it must be noted that it isn’t until Brently Mallard’s death that we even learn Mrs. Mallard’s first name, Louise. Josephine, Mrs. Mallard’s sister, and Richards witnessed the moment when Mrs. Mallard’s heart gave out at the sight of her husband walking through her front door, alive, and well, if not a little worn. Despite Richards attempt in shielding Mrs. Mallards view of her husband, the shock was too much. After the doctors arrival, it was declared that Mrs. Louise Mallard “had died of heart disease- of joy that kills.”

The Story of an hour echoes of Aristotle’s classical unities, specifically the unity of time. The short story follows the three conditions of plot, place, and time. The title simply serves as a reminder of this fact. It is not until Brently Mallard’s death that we even learn Mrs. Mallard’s first name, Louise. Furthermore, her name is a female version of the name Louis, so even after having been given make her individual identity with her first name, she still is tied to a man. Louise is the embodiment of repressed women in the late nineteenth century. “Tops of trees that were all a quiver with the new spring life,” signifies the opportunity for new life and growth. “The delicious breath of rain was in the air.” Rain, repeated throughout various cultures, represents cleansing, renewal, and even baptism. All symbols reflect Mrs Mallard’s new found hope for the future. The patches of blue sky symbolize the emergence of her new life. In a story of an hour, Kate Chopin utilizes numerous literary devices to elucidate Mrs. Mallard’s story. In the third paragraph, “a storm of grief” overwhelms Mrs. Mallard. Clearly, the metaphor indicates that the sorrow she felt at her husband’s death was powerful, and fearful. In the fourth paragraph, “physical exhaustion that haunted her body” is both personification and a metaphor. Exhaustion cannot literally haunt a person, or for that matter, her body. Additionally, the haunting is a metaphor for the effects the physical exhaustion takes on her. In the 20th paragraph, Mrs. Mallard, “carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of victory”. This simile is comparing the effects that her sudden joyous feelings initiated to those like a goddess of victory, content and satisfied. It contrasts sharply with the previous literary devices, since this takes place after Mrs. Mallard’s epiphany. In the last paragraph, the doctors determine that Mrs mallard died of heart disease-of “Joy that kills,” which is extremely ironic considering it is most definitely quite the contrary. One of the most important devices used is foreshadowing. In the very opening sentence, its hinted that Mrs. Mallard’s heart condition will effect the result of the story. This makes the ending plausible. If it had been omitted, the ending would seem unrealistic and unbelievable.

The Story of an Hour exemplifies the conditions of the oppressed woman who submits to societal expectations. It is not until Mrs. Mallard believes that her husband is dead that she truly even realizes how restricted and oppressed she felt, despite the lines on her face that “bespoke repression, (Chopin)” which hint that her husband dominated their daily lives. Mrs. Mallard’s realization that “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself” (Chopin) demonstrates that Mrs. Mallard is a dynamic character. While contemplating the importance of love, she recognizes that the “possession of self-assertion” is “the strongest impulse of her being (Chopin).” Thus, knowing that self identity and freedom is more important than love, she looks forward to the future without her husband. After having imagined a future without Mr Mallard, his walking through the front door, alive and well is too much, keeping her individual identity, she dies of a heart attack, no longer repressed by her husband.

Dr. Maya Angelou is one of the most celebrated and influential women of our time. Born and raised in the south, she faced racial discrimination as an African American and a woman. Angelou is a Renaissance woman, having traveled, published literature, acted, danced, and wrote many renowned pieces of literature.

Maya Angelou’s most famous poem, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings allows for the interpretation of the oppression of women. The poem in its entirety is a metaphor that illustrates the imprisonment of women. I know why the Caged Bird Sings incorporates rhyme scheme and repetition to emphasize key concepts. The free bird that flies, claiming the sky can be interpreted as the male sex. They are able to take risks, go out into the world, careless and unrestricted by bars. If the free birds are male, then the state of the caged bird reflects women. Woman’s “wings are clipped” there rights to individuality and freedom are restricted, perhaps by domestication, or a dream that can never occur, which too is referenced to within the poem with the words, “the caged bird stands on the grave of dreams.” Despite the fact that women have been oppressed, or their ‘wings have been clipped,’ that doesn’t change the natural instinct to long for independent rights and freedom, to be able to fly, and do as one wants. Unfortunately, for the oppressed, it is not possible, so women may express themselves with ‘songs’ of their hope for freedom and the future.

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Still I rise is another one of Maya Angelou’s most celebrated poems, second only, to I know why the Caged Bird Sings. Although this poem addresses the condition of racial discrimination, it can just as easily be applied to the oppression of women. The poem consists of a abcb rhyme scheme, and stylistically seems to call for pride and encourage assertiveness. Still I rise enforces the idea that it does not matter what is written in history, what someone says, especially if it is slander, but that the speaker will still rise. The idea of rising above the nature of opposition is consistently repeated. In fact, stanza three is dedicated to a metaphor to describe the inevitability of the speakers rise, like the moons, suns, tides, and hope, she’ll keep springing on high. Stanza seven specifically asserts the speaker’s pride in her sex, when saying “That I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs.” Overall, it concludes with expressing oneself assertively by rising above the fear and past and looking towards the future, recognizing that those living in the present, or that the speaker is the hope for the future against oppression.

In conclusion, literature from various time periods demonstrate that despite the numerous ways of revolting against oppression, women use expression through writing, speech, poetry, or literature to rebel against their male oppressors.


Angelou, Maya. And Still I Rise, A Book of Poems by Maya Angelou. 3. 1978 Casey, Ellen Miller:1982

Angelou, Maya. I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, A Book of Poems by Maya Angelou. 3. 1978 Casey, Ellen Miller:1982

Barreca, Regina. “The Power of Excommunication: Sex and the Feminine Text in Wuthering Heights.” Sex and Death in Victorian Literature, Regina Barreca, ed. pp. 227-240. © 1990 Regina Barreca. Reprinted in Bloom, Harold, ed. Wuthering Heights, Updated Edition, Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2007. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc.http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= MCIWH08&SingleRecord=True (accessed January 10, 2010).

Bloom, Harold, ed. “Brontë, Emily.” Wuthering Heights, Bloom’s Guide. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2008. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= BGWH002&SingleRecord=True (accessed January 15, 2010).

Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour”. The Seagull Reader: Stories. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2001. 45 – 47

Treillet, Stephanie. ” Women’s oppression in globalization .” International Viewpoint (Mar. 2004): n. pag. Web. 10 Jan. 2010. .


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