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Sympathetic Background in Wuthering Heights Essay

How does Emily Bronte use sympathetic background in Volume One to convey tragedy? Volume One contains a jittery narrative which is a mark of Bronte’s ominous style from which tragic events occur. With this jumping between events, there is an obvious foreshadowing of tragedy through a combination of pathetic fallacy, emotional symbolism and sympathetic background. Sympathetic background is the literary device where the surroundings mirror, mimic or elope with the emotions of the characters in it. Sympathetic background is especially evident when Bronte uses much of the settings of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights to convey the feelings of the characters within.

The use of sympathetic background can be seen as early as the first chapter, in which the Heath is described. Bronte uses “Wuthering” in the sense that it’s a “significant provincial narrative, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.” This sets the tone for the beginning of the novel and the turmoil many of the characters have to endure in order to achieve some kind of parity. This view is embossed with “stunted firs” and “large jutting stones”. She uses the image of “gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving the alms of the sun”, depicting a sense of the Heights always being shrouded in darkness, never fully escaping it.

The other effect of it is the idea of zombies, the undead, craving some kind of human energy to survive, a yearning for balance. Sympathetic background at times is used to display to the reader the time at which the novel is written. Bronte’s first volume doesn’t get to grips with chronological exactitude, more discarding it in favour of letting the story unfold through the reader’s intellect and piecing the narrative together. Use of the background is most evident where the settings outside are the markers of what season the dwellers must endure, whether it is a harsh storm or a serene backdrop on the Yorkshire moors, overlapping with pathetic fallacy at times to evoke tragic consequences of unruly actions.

Chapter 2, Lockwood’s return to the Heights is marked with unwelcome gestures on behalf of Heathcliff et al. As the tension heightens, the blizzard outside gets continually worse. The surroundings are mimicking the emotions of the characters, with Heathcliff mistaking the dead “heap of rabbits for a cushion full of cats” is black humour employed by Bronte to show Lockwood being unsettled. The following chapter, the writings on the wall and the palimpsest bemuses Lockwood in his quarters, with his following dreams a symbolic foreshadowing

. The background brings about changes in the novel and sometimes can redirect the narrative towards another focus. This psychoanalytical part of the novel defies the boundary between the rational and irrational, the self and the world through dreaming. The product of this is a underlying statement that there are far deeper meanings that what we can see and touch, which becomes a cyclical allusion at the end of the novel.

The tone after the death of Mr Earnshaw is bitter and unequal as the power struggle between Earnshaw and Hindley takes place. After returning with Frances in Chapter 6, the rivalry between the two become more feral and raw, with Heathcliff at one point being locked outside by Joseph, after being instructed to do so by Hindley. He is forced into the barn, bringing him down to the lowest level possible. After being found of the streets of Liverpool, he is back in muck and squalor, with the background mimicking the feeling that he’s in the doldrums for his sins, and after being described as “devilish”, this helps to enforce the psychoanalytic perspective that he is and represents the power of the devil in its human form, condemned to hell.

This chapter also gives Heathcliff his first major speech, from which he scorns “I’d not exchange, for a thousand lives, my condition here, for Edgar Linton’s at Thrushcross Grange-not if I might have the privilege of flinging Joseph off the highest gable, and painting the house-front with Hindley’s blood!”. These graphic, gothic lines show his emotional bonds with the Heights, that he and the Heights share each others’ feelings in times of hardship and struggle. It’s showing that both houses are representative of classes, from a Marxist perspective. The natural power of the Heights is matched by the moral power of the Grange.

This balance turns into another struggle in Chapter 8, this time between Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. With Catherine caught in a trap of whether to follow her heart or her head, with Heathcliff pressuring Catherine into giving into him, who is then distraught when he overhears a conversation between her and Nelly, hears the wrong part, then running off. The conversation by the fire with Nelly isn’t as covert as planned, as the surroundings, the howling gale outside influence the characters. Uttering the cutting line “I am Heathcliff”, she is distraught as he gallops away.

With her new found opulence, the new Misses Linton is beset by woe 5 years on when Heathcliff returns to the Grange in Chapter 10. This immense jubilation is matched by despair as Heathcliff chooses Isabella to get back at Catherine. This blending of classes, attitudes and houses can only end one way in a Marxist perspective; tragedy. Nelly returns to the Heights to see it in decay, with Hindley in a similar fashion. The surroundings once again mimic the state of the characters. As Hindley’s life lies in decay, the Heights follows. The last chapter switches time to the present, with Lockwood “trying” not to fall in love with the current Cathy. The surroundings now have evolved, but Heathcliff is still stuck in a rut at the Heights.

Bronte’s use of the literary device of sympathetic background perfectly befits the characters and surroundings in Wuthering Heights, setting the tone and giving the characters another layer and more depth within the novel. With both houses representing natural and moral values respectively, and the unpredictable moors showing the irrational temperament of each of the characters, the device effectively utilises all the ominous events and foreboding symbols in Volume One to convey tragedy.


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