Why Catherine and Elizabeth Are Great Characters

Emily Brontë invented Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, and Jane Austen invented Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Both are subject to the same social conventions of late 18th century England: they enjoy no rights to land, title, income, or inheritance on account of their gender.

In Catherine Earnshaw, we see one response. Her world offers few outlets for her primal desires so she lives vicariously, split, between the wild, ill-bred (but bizarrely romantic) Heathcliff and the gentile (and boring) Edgar Linton. Of course, the two parts of her cannot be reconciled. Dissonance ensues driving her mad and leading to her demise.

Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet takes a different journey. Elizabeth uses her wit and intellect to distinguish herself from her silly sisters and mother, but despite her pride, she gets it wrong. She misjudges douchy Mr. Wickham and uptight Mr. Darcy based on first impressions. In the end, Elizabeth yields her pride and her heart to Mr. Darcy (who is both boring and romantic), not in a flit of girlish infatuation, but in gratitude and affection. Because it’s Mr. Darcy who offers Elizabeth a better understanding of herself.

So, Elizabeth learns more about who she is and changes. Catherine does not and goes nuts.

We women are a little bit Catherine and a little bit Elizabeth. Keep it together! Learning leads to resolution. And resolution leads to gratitude and understanding of self. Choose more Elizabeth, less Catherine.

Metaphor, Figurative Language, and Silos

My parents have a patio that backs up against a small pond, surrounded by a forest preserve along the opposite side from where I’m sitting. It’s pretty, lush, and verdant (green!). The air conditioning unit just kicked on, and it’s drowning out the sounds of distant birds squawking (I haven’t learned my bird calls yet) and the pitter-patter of the usual Florida afternoon rain against the gutters. It’s nice outside, even though it’s humid and warm. My dad will go days without stepping outside. When I asked him about this, he just shrugged. I don’t know how he does it.

I had been giving metaphor and figurative language a lot of thought, not lately, but in general, when I find a great metaphor in a book I really enjoy it. Here’s a couple I love:

Arthur Dent was grappling with his consciousness the way one grapples with a lost bar of soap in the bath.

The Restaurant At The End of The Universe

“Thousands of refugees wailed as if attending a funeral, the burial of their nation, dead too soon, as so many were, at a tender twenty-one years of age.”

The Sympathizer

Creativity with metaphor and figurative language is a gift, but I think it can also be learned. These don’t come naturally to me. I had been searching for books and articles that go beyond definitions to figure out how I could learn this. And then, after much thought and contemplation, it dawned on me: metaphors compare what something does, not what something is. For example, if I say, love is fire, I’m saying that love burns (what love does), rather than love is painful (what love is).

In the first simile, Arthur Dent grapples with his consciousness because he is confused. Rather than Adams trying to relate grappling with confusion, he relates grappling with being lost (a verb!), and somehow comes up with a hilarious image of groping in the bathtub for a lost bar of soap. In the second simile, Nguyen relates the death of Vietnam with the death of a person with mourners. He relates it with the way one feels after a tragic, violent death, rather than what it is. I hope you follow what I’m saying.

As of late, I have been feeling quite siloed. Perhaps it’s COVID. Perhaps it’s me checking out from my military unit. Perhaps it’s combining households with my parents and having everyone in one place. Perhaps it’s me. Whatever the reason, my mind is a pinball machine and my thoughts rattle around with no place to go. See! I’m getting better already.