The story of Heathcliff, the sadistic protagonist of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” is so upset that Edgar Linton does not want his lovely daughter, Cathy, to hear it. Heathcliff and Cathy, two prominent characters in the novel, interact in the second half of the novel. Heathcliff’s passages reveal that the tortured character comes about from a childhood without the care of parents (33) while Cathy’s goodness (164) reflects her being raised by a loving father. The different supervision each character experienced while growing up is reflected by their behavior, showing that nurture is a greater factor over one’s personality than nature.
Beginning her description of Heathcliff with the lowly word “degradation”, Nelly, the narrator, tells Lockwood how Heathcliff and Catherine (the mother of Cathy) grow more reckless daily without parental guidance. Nelly recalls these events right before Catherine is injured and stays at Thrushcross Grange for five weeks. Nelly also said that Heathcliff and Catherine “promised… to grow up rude as savages.” The punishments the two received from Joseph and the Curate, Nelly notes, haven’t helped her increase the “small power” she holds over the two, due to the lack of parental guidance. It is also important to note some of the foreshadowing that occurs here: Heathcliff’s return alone in the rain foreshadows his demise. His lack of respect for the church also symbolizes his lack of will and later on immense greediness. Bronte’s genius shines throughout this passage, mixing savagery, love, symbolism, and foreshadowing all in one page.
Nelly’s description of Cathy is spoken on a very positive note, including many of the same devices seen in Heathcliff’s passage. She says that Cathy has not seen or even heard of any bad deeds except for her “slight acts of disobedience”, and that Cathy is “amazed at the blackness of spirit” of Heathcliff. Nelly describes Cathy as a sheltered, gentle, book-loving young daughter of Edgar. In addition, Cathy is said to be extremely well mannered within this section.
Edgar tries to protect his daughter from having to know about an evil soul such as Heathcliff, attempting to prevent the malicious outside force from corrupting her personality. The passage even contains Cathy crying over the miseries of someone she has only met twice so far. She also has a pretty convincing argument as to why she should meet Linton again, foreshadowing her disobedience of her father by going to meet Linton, her only companion outside of Thrushcross Grange. This disobedience will be the main factor in her future encounters with Heathcliff.
Cathy’s extreme kindness and Heathcliff’s great roughness contrast very well. Heathcliff’s description shows him as a wild, undisciplined being. Cathy, on the other hand, is portrayed as a very nice, helpful daughter and a devoted friend to Linton. Heathcliff’s lack of education (Catherine being his only educator) also differs from Cathy’s “lessons for a couple of hours” that she has. Heathcliff’s vow to “grow up as rude [as a savage]” is far from Cathy’s melancholy over not being able to meet Linton again. There is not much that is similar between the two characters, due to both of them being on opposite ends of the spectrum. This lack of similarities is what makes these two characters interesting to follow throughout the novel.
The language in these passages is quite interesting. Nelly uses much harsher language in the passage with Heathcliff than the passage with Cathy, representing the behavior of the two characters. The paces of the narratives also differs, with Heathcliff’s being a more intense rate than Cathy’s, also due to their contrasting actions. Another interesting thing to note is the use of the word naughty. Both passages employ this word, showing a mild form of being disobedient, which cannot be explained by any other means other than just saying that the both have the same author and narrator: Emily Bronte and Nelly Dean, respectively. Also, as seen throughout the book, an unusal amount of referrals to doors are present, most likely to show frames within the framed narrative. Studying these two passages against each other brings one to a deeper meaning than reading each one separately.
Nelly’s descriptions of Heathcliff and Cathy shows that nurture predominates over nature. Cathy, the mix between the peaceful Edgar Linton and the wild Catherine Earnshaw, shows only her positive traits, due to the fact that she was brought up by Edgar alone. Heathcliff, an orphan brought home by Mr. Earnshaw, has had his good qualities disappear through a process which Nelly calls “degradation;” because he was raised up with Hindley, who constantly thought of Heathcliff as an “other.”
These two characters are so dramatically different, even though they were both blessed with good looks and intelligence. One might argue, however, that because Bronte does not give the origins of Heathcliff, he might be born of a family with a tendency to be selfish and greedy. This idea can be countered, though, because Heathcliff was said to have “bore his degradation pretty well at first”, a quality that not many natural tyrants can boast of. Also, the fact that Cathy is the daughter of Catherine and yet shows few of the violent characteristics of her mother tells us that genes play no, or very little, role in how she behaves.