Racial and Gender Issues in Victorian Society

The way in which Heathcliff and Catherine are treated reflects the discrimination targeted at. Prior to meeting Heathcliff, Cathy lived comfortably with her brother, Hindley. Mr. Earnshaw promises to get the children a gift on his journey, to which they request a violin and horsewhip. These material items show the financial status to which these children inherited by birth. Once Heathcliff arrives, however, there is a shifting dynamic in the family. Heathcliff is treated as inferior based on the difference in his skin color. Arguably, racial biases are a stronger tool for oppression than gender in the Victorian era. 

When Catherine and Heathcliff are discovered by the Linton’s, the treatment of each child shows how women were still treated better than non-white individuals. From his moment of arrival at the Earnshaw home, he is simply identified as a “dirty, ragged, black-haired child.” There isn’t a high chance for him to be accepted into this family due to being “as dark almost as if it came from the devil.” These disparaging remarks are constantly made about Heathcliff, which may reflect his attitude towards humans later in life.  Despite the “proper” lifestyle that women of this time were expected to follow, Catherine breaks these rules in favor of a more adventurous lifestyle with Heathcliff. She is constantly causing trouble with her brother, but Heathcliff suffers far greater consequences. 

Women of this era undoubtedly faced oppression, exhibited in the restriction to domestic and social spheres. Being a woman of the working class, however, was much different than one of a higher rank. The fictional Earnshaw family did well for themselves, as evidenced by Catherine’s upbringing. Another woman of privilege was Ada Lovelace, the real-life daughter of Lord Byron. Like Cathy, she shared greater access to resources than what was afforded to most women at the time. As an upper-middle-class woman, she was still expected to adhere to traditional roles. Gaining an education was just an additional expectation for someone of such rank. Lovelace emphasizes her love for mathematics and the use of geometric models as a learning tool. With guidance from professors at the top universities, Ada became known as the earliest developer of technology used in programming. This success may not have been possible without her social standing, especially given the intensity of the white male-dominated society.

Growing up in a well-known family gives Catherine Earnshaw a special pass that is not given to her own male brother, Heathcliff. In their encounter with the Linton family, the treatment of each Earnshaw child is very different despite the exact same offense. Isabella Linton is absolutely terrified of him, exclaiming, “Frightful thing! Put him in the cellar, papa. He’s exactly like the son of the fortune-teller that stole my tame pheasant.” Like the comparison made by his own family to the devil, there is racial bias against non-white people as being savages with no morales. The Linton family recognizes Cathy and is shocked that she is around a “gypsy.” They don’t stop to consider that he could be with her for a valid reason. Instead, they are upset that she is around such a “heathen” and ensure that she receives proper care.

The issue of gender roles in Victorian society has been discussed by many writers of then and now. Racial differences were overlooked at the time since White women would still have been considered superior to any individual of a different race. This isn’t to suggest that Catherine Earnshaw and Ada Lovelace went through life without unique difficulties as women. Rather, we see how racial biases were just as, if not more, detrimental to one’s survival. 

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