Essays on Wuthering Heights
1. One of the themes of the novel is the effect of love as well as the lack of love. Discuss the development of this theme by giving several examples from the plot and by referring to at least three characters.
Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is a novel of extremes, including, predominantly, love and hate. Characters such as young Catherine and Hareton experience love in the novel, while others such as Heathcliff, and actually, Hareton, too, at some points, experience lack of love. These themes greatly influence the development of these characters.
Catherine Linton is born into a house of privilege. Thrushcross Grange is a magnificent estate, and the Linton family has the wealth to back up all the opulence of the house and grounds suggests. Naturally, in such a splendid environment, the stage is set for her to have a happy childhood. Her loving father, Edgar, and doting nurse, Nelly, make that happiness possible. They shower the sunny child with all the love and affection she craves, and she never lacks anything she wants. For example, her father constantly takes her for walks around the grounds. She becomes somewhat spoiled with all this loving treatment, but she is too good-natured to show that side often, especially around the people she loves. Still, her whims can get her in trouble, as when she becomes entangled in a series of love letters to Linton, but her loving family tries valiantly to protect her, such as by halting the delivery of the letters. Cathy grows up into a fine young woman who is confident enough in her own worth from being raised in a loving household to submit to Heathcliff’s insults when she is forced to live at Wuthering Heights. She also grows to share love, first by taking care of sickly Linton, although he annoys her, and then by educating the brutish Hareton.
Hareton experiences love from three sources: first from Nelly, his nurse, then from Joseph, and finally from Catherine. Nelly protects him from his abusive father, Hindley, and her example sets him on the right path in the beginning. He needs this foundation to carry him through the years of living with Heathcliff, during which he finds little love except from Joseph, who allies himself with Hareton since Hareton is the true heir to Wuthering Heights. However, Joseph is a crotchety old man, and Nelly’s influence on him as a child is really what keeps him from being completely hardened by his forced servitude. His generous heart takes in his cousin Cathy, even though she at first scorns him as a brute, and even takes in Heathcliff, his slave driver whom he looks up to as a father figure. Hareton finally becomes the kind and generous gentleman he is always meant to be at the end of the novel, when he and Cathy fall in love, and he then is able to fulfill his true potential.
Love is truly a force for good in this novel, and good characters like Cathy and Hareton are showered by it sometime in their lives, which is what allows them to withstand hate, the other force in the novel. Lack of love formed the character of Heathcliff, and it also touched Hareton for many years.
From the beginning, Heathcliff is unloved. His biological parents abandon him. When Mr. Earnshaw first brings Heathcliff home, the household rejects the dark little boy. Heathcliff grows up suffering abuse at the hands of Hindley and sometimes, the whims of Catherine. The poor orphan is teased and looked down on by the wealthy, civilized Lintons. He builds up great resentment for his treatment by the Earnshaws and Lintons, especially against Hindley, his abuser, and Edgar, who stole from him the woman he loved. He vows revenge, and he accomplishes it with breathtaking cruelty. He breaks up the happy marriage of Edgar and Catherine, marries Isabella Linton to spite the couple, manipulates Hindley into gambling away Hindley’s entire estate to him, makes Hindley’s son a slave, and forces young Cathy to marry his dying son so that he can gain control of the Thrushcross Grange estate. He is merciless in destroying their lives because, since they never loved him, they destroyed his life. In the end, lack of love destroys him, because when Catherine dies, the only thing he loved and that loved him in the world was gone, and eventually, he felt compelled to follow her into the grave.
Hareton bore much of the brunt of Heathcliff’s loveless life. Though Heathcliff is secretly fond of the boy, who resembles the person he could have been, Heathcliff is determined to treat him as a servant to get revenge on Hareton’s father. The years without loving attention cause Hareton to become brutish in mind and manners, and they would likely have permanently corrupted him if Cathy had not eventually brought her love to the Heights.
Therefore, while love can create a good person, lack of love can corrupt that same person. None of the characters in the novel are born good or bad, really. How they emerge as characters depends on how much love they receive. Cathy and Hareton receive love, and they turn into kind and caring people. Heathcliff and the young Hareton lack love, and they become harsh and brutish people. Even Heathcliff, though, could be a respectable and civilized gentleman if he had a true environment of love instead of constant rejection.
2. Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange figure largely in both plot and character. Explain the importance of these two settings to both of these aspects.
Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights is set in two places: the stormy Wuthering Heights and the stately Thrushcross Grange. In general, the characters and events emerging from the Heights are more passionate and violent than those from the Grange, while the Grange produces more restrained and quiet characters and events.
Wuthering Heights is a strong house. It is short and squat, with thick stone walls, resembling a glorified hunting lodge. Trees bent by the howling windstorms that buffet the hill on which it stands surround it. However, the house needs to be strong not only to withstand the storms but also to withstand the stormy emotions the characters and events release within its walls. Catherine and Heathcliff are the two stormiest characters to emerge from the Heights. Catherine is headstrong and passionate. She wants things her way, and she gets terrifyingly angry when her wishes are ignored. Once, she throws an immense temper tantrum during one of Edgar Linton’s calls over a relatively trivial matter. Even a long visit to the Grange cannot tame Catherine completely. Heathcliff, too, is untamable, although his passions take a more vengeful bent. Heathcliff, after suffering abuses as an unloved child at the Heights, vows revenge on the Earnshaws and Lintons. He is diabolical in exacting punishment on those who have harmed him. For example, when he gets into a fight with Hindley, he starts beating the other man senseless, smashing Hindley’s head on the fireplace stones repeatedly.
Events at the Heights all run along this stormy bent. Hindley turns to drink and lets the house fall to ruin after his wife dies in childbirth. Heathcliff runs away from the Heights in the midst of a storm. Isabella, Hindley, and Heathcliff get into a violent fight that leaves windows, a marriage, and many bones broken. Finally, Heathcliff basically goes insane as he nears his death and begins to see the ghost of Catherine.
On the other side, Thrushcross Grange is a place of relative peace and civilization. It stands majestic on a vast stretch of manicured land, a symbol of society and wealth. It produces the characters Edgar and Cathy Linton, two civilized people. Edgar is the most typical of the Grange. He is weak-willed and rather cowardly. For example, he can hardly face Catherine as she starves herself to death in passionate despair. Instead, he buries himself in books, preserving his personal peace. Edgar, however, is a civilized gentleman who is genuinely fond of his wife and daughter and wants to protect them from the corrupting influence of Heathcliff and the Heights. Cathy, Edgar and Catherine’s daughter, combines many of her parents’ characteristics. She has her mother’s stubbornness, but it is tempered by her father’s concern for others. Cathy is a proper young lady, though, and expects others to live up to her standards of society. For example, she laughs at the eager-to-please but uneducated Hareton when he cannot read his own name carved above the door to the Heights.
Events at the Grange are also usually more subdued than at the Heights. Catherine, Edgar, and Heathcliff do fight, but unlike at the Heights, the skirmish avoids severe physical violence and skews more towards an exchange of angry words. When Catherine becomes ill and later dies, the mood is quiet, unearthly, and sad. Catherine spends most of her time simply staring out the window, and Edgar reads in another room. Even Cathy’s kidnapping is not violent. She leaves the Grange freely to sit with Linton outside, then is persuaded rather easily to walk with him back to the Heights. Only when there does the scene begin to turn ugly, as Heathcliff forces her to stay.
Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange form an interesting dynamic in this novel. They are as unalike as night and day, and so they allow for a variety of characters and scenes. Also, these polar opposites are very appropriate for a novel that delves often into extremes.
Copyright © 2002 Colleen Fischer | Last updated October 7, 2002