Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Paper on Wuthering Heights

Matt Butcher
English 222
Ms. Zeedyk
December 11, 1992
An Investigation of Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights has been considered one of the greatest love
stories of all time. Simply calling it a love story, however, would
not do it justice. It is a tale of love that is stronger than death.
It is also a tale of passion and revenge. With its unique style and
structure, Emily Bronte's only novel, Wuthering Heights, has become a
classic of English literature.
The love story of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff was very
unconventional for the time period in which it was written, the
mid-19th century. When Catherine marries Edgar Linton of Thrushcross
Grange instead of Heathcliff, Bronte is making commentary on the
social structure of the time. "It would degrade me to marry
Heathcliff now," says Catherine. The class system is very much a
force behind her decision to marry Edgar. Even though she is
betraying Heathcliff as well as her own heart, the class system is
more important. The outlook of the marriage is everything. This
choice sets up the rest of the novel's plot and the foundation for
Heathcliff's revenge.
If this were an ordinary love story or romantic novel, one would
have to look at Heathcliff as the villain and Catherine as the
heroine. Catherine dies before the novel is half over and at first
the reader is left wondering at how Bronte can sustain the novel for
two hundred more pages. The next generation also brings a unique new
outlook to the story.
The passion in Wuthering Heights is only restricted by the
reader's imagination. In the last meeting of Catherine and
Heathcliff, they embrace other with such desire that Catherine wishes
they could hold each other until they were both dead. "And now he
stared at her so earnestly that I [Nelly] thought the very intensity
of his gaze would bring tears into his eyes; but they burned with
anguish: they did not melt." In this embrace, Heathcliff holds her
so hard that there were "four distinct impressions left blue in the
colorless skin." In earlier accounts of their feverish love, it
seems like Bronte holds back only because of the time period. It
would have been considered filthy then, but today would probably be
seen as quite tame.
The love between Heathcliff and Catherine is one that goes
beyond thee physical plane of existence. They seem not only to love
each other, but to be one with each other. As Catherine tells Nelly,
she loves Heathcliff "not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because
he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and
mine are the same." This passionate love even goes beyond life into
death. "Two words would comprehend my future--death and hell:
existence, after losing her, would be hell," says Heathcliff when he
discovers Catherine's impending death. Even after both their deaths
they are still together. A little shepherd boy tells Nelly he saw
Heathcliff and a woman out on the moors, after they were dead.
Heathcliff is a character that the reader starts to look at in
earnest. He is by far the most dynamic character in the novel. His
lifetime obsession of revenge is one that the reader absolutely has
to know how it affects the other characters. Although the reader
begins to sympathize, considering how he was treated and his lost
love, he cannot help but think how Heathcliff is in charge of this
story. The narration seems to delve into Heathcliff's thought
processes. While Heathcliff may be revenge personified, he has a
direction and a reason that the reader can clearly see. He is the
one character that a reader will remember.
Revenge is another significant theme throughout Wuthering
Heights. Heathcliff was treated so badly by Hindley Earnshaw as he
was growing up that he thirsts for vengeance. Heathcliff is also
warring with Edgar Linton, mainly because of his marriage with his
beloved Catherine. His whole plan consists of the takeover of both
the Grange and the Heights as well as the degradation of Hindley's
son, Hareton. Heathcliff swears to treat Hareton as terribly and
cruelly as Hindley treated Heathcliff. Heathcliff is a man torn
between his love of Catherine and his hate. He never swerves in his
course to eradicate his enemies. In reading the novel, the reader
can plainly see why Heathcliff believes he was wronged. One can
understand why he seeks revenge.
The structure of the novel is an odd one but one that works.
Mr. Lockwood is the true narrator of the story. Nelly Dean,
housekeeper of both houses at different times, is privileged to much
information. She relates her tales to Mr. Lockwood when he is
seeking information about his landlord, Heathcliff, when he takes
residence at Thrushcross Grange. Most of what Nelly sees is
believable. While this type of narration generally tends to distract
from a story, it works in this case better than an omniscient
narrator. Her position in the houses would receive the information,
especially since she is Catherine and Cathy's mother figure. The
reader tends to forget that Nelly is the narrator and is just a
character in the story.
The style of Wuthering Heights is simple and clear but written
with intensity. When describing the Heights and the moors in the
opening chapter, Bronte paints a picture that lasts with the reader
throughout the story. It seems that Bronte picked all of her words
carefully, even down to the choosing of the names of her characters.
There is no humor or true happiness in the book, but the reader gets
drawn in to these powerful charcters. While all the characters seem
to have one major flaw that prevents the reader from sympathizing
with them, these characters are so intense and drawn so well into the
reader's mind that we are compelled to understand them. Nelly Dean's
narration is so fluent that the reader believes to actually be
watching the events unfold before him, and all the characters seem to
speak for themselves. The characters gain lives of their own. Their
words are not forced.
Of the novel, the only fault that I can attribute to it would be
Heathcliff's disintegration at the end. When he finally possesses
both houses under his control and now has the ability to crush Cathy
and Hareton before their love grows, he no longer has the will to do
it. This is not significantly explained, although Heathcliff does
make a remark about thwarting himself. All he can do is think of
Catherine. After defeating all of his original enemies, he must not
see the point of destroying Hareton and Cathy. He is one step away
from his final revenge that he has planned his whole life for and he
cannot pull the trigger. Since before Catherine's death almost
twenty years ago, he cannot finish his plans. All he wants to do is
get to Catherine as fast as he can. It doesn't seem believable that
he couldn't have waited a little longer, considering that Catherine
has been dead for eighteen years.
Whatever Wuthering Heights is, every reader will give his own
interpretation. It is simply a love story. It is a tale of good and
evil, of revenge and retribution. After finishing the story, one can
see why it has been aptly called a classic of English literaure.

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