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It is important to point out the recurring contrasts of bareness and clothing in the text, and its symbolic meaning with identity. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar interpret Catherine’s bleeding foot after being bitten by Thrushcross Grange’s dog as ‘obviously’ having ‘sexual connotations, especially when it occurs to a pubescent girl.’ Whilst they may be right in drawing attention to Catherine’s adolescence, and the connotations of change that surround it, it seems misplaced to attribute a sexual meaning onto this image. It is more apt to see it within the context of the novel’s other instances of Catherine’s feet. We are told that when Catherine and Heathcliff explore the moors she is ‘barefoot’. This not only suggests, again, her wild rebelliousness, but it also suggests that this is her natural, or ‘bare’, identity, not something contrived. The Lintons firstly wash her feet, and then ‘[give] her a pair of enormous slippers’. Not only does this indicate that they wish to cloak her natural identity, but that the slippers are ‘enormous’ suggests an ill-fitting, something that does not ‘fit’, as it were, her naturalness. Thus, her bleeding foot seems less to be about sexuality, and more symbolic of how injurious the Linton household will be to her identity. The slippers and the other abundance of clothing she is wearing are emblematic of the layers of social conditioning covering up her natural identity. Her learned ways are seen in her platitudinous reasons for choosing Edgar over Heathcliff, why she suddenly notices Heathcliff’s dirtiness, and why she notices a conflict between her head (signifying what she was been taught and socialised by the Lintons) and her heart (her ‘soul’). Catherine’s reform is not a holistic one, but, like the clothes she wears, artificial.
This tug-of-war between nature and artifice is allegorically represented in Catherine’s relationship with both Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Feeling an affinity with Heathcliff’s primitiveness as well as being socially conditioned by the Lintons leads Catherine ‘to adopt a double character without exactly intending to deceive anyone.’ However, it is evident which side she feels more aligned with. Catherine says to Nelly, ‘I am Heathcliff’. This is not just hyperbole for dramatic effect. It takes on its symbolic meaning in conjunction with her later assertion, that ‘he’s more myself than I am.’ This seems at once paradoxical – how can another person be more someone than that someone? Its sense relies on a temporal distinction: the ‘I’ she refers to is herself in that moment, the Catherine who has been subjected to the conditioning of the Lintons, and the ‘myself’ is her intrinsic identity.
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