Over the last half-century, much of the scholarly discourse concerning Wuthering Heights has considered Catherine Earnshaw’s struggle for belonging in the social order, using a transgressive mode of gender criticism to challenge the constraints of traditional femininity found in the space of Brontë’s world and within the norms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Using Lacanian and Althusserian theoretical analysis, this article argues that Brontë’s novel effects an uncanny interpretation of womanhood, placing Catherine between two impossible, failed identities. The first, beginning in childhood, is rooted in an Imaginary form of identification with Heathcliff, who acts as the image with whom she identifies. The second emerges through her participation in the Symbolic order as a socially recognized wife, mother, and upper-class lady. Unable to find satisfaction in the self-mediation necessitated by these Imaginary and Symbolic identities, she lacks any identity at all. Instead, it is only in death that Catherine attains freedom from the agony of identification. By tracing this search for a fully realized sense of self throughout her life, this article endeavors to illustrate how Lacan offers a framework for understanding Catherine’s inner conflict, revealing the fundamental futility of searching for oneself in an external object or system.

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