1. THE AUTHOR AND HER/HIS TIMES: Emily Brontë, one of six children, conceived by Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë, was born at Thornton in Yorkshire on July 30, 1818. (Merkin) Maria Branwell Brontë died of cancer when Emily was three, leaving the Brontë siblings in the hands of their father and aunt, Elizabeth Branwell. Emily’s sisters, Maria and Elizabeth died, of what they called it at the time, consumption which was pulmonary disease (Merkin), when she was seven. Growing up, Emily and her sisters quite extensively wrote and performed works inspired by toy soldiers that their father Patrick Brontë gave to their brother Patrick Branwell.
Patrick Brontë was the curate of Haworth, a remote Yorkshire village, where Emily was happiest in the moors, inspiring the setting in her novel Wuthering Heights. Emily’s sister, Charlotte Brontë, was a major factor to Emily’s writing because she convinced her that her writing needed to be seen by the public. In 1845, Emily began writing Wuthering Heights. Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847, but when trying to publish the novel, it was delayed because at the time writing was “very much a male domain” (Merkin).
2. FORM/STRUCTURE, PLOT: Emily Brontë integrated a series of tales that come full circle, literally creating a story within a story. Lockwood, a perspective renter for a manor called Thrushcross Grange, introduces the frame. Curious of his stern landlord, Heathcliff, Lockwood seeks information from his housekeeper, Nelly Dean about the history of the moors. Nelly presents the content in a way that strays away from the normal sequence of events by using flashbacks to accentuate numerous significant events that make up the plot.
Her story begins with the arrival of Heathcliff a “dirty, ragged, black-haired child… gipsy rat” taken in as charity from the late Mr. Earnshaw, and his children. An innocent friendship develops between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, which soon grows into a passionate and complicated romance. Simultaneously, Catherine’s brother, Hindley Earnshaw, torments Heathcliff incessantly. The desire to advance in the social class, pressures Catherine to marry Edgar Linton, leaving Heathcliff at a state of betrayal, sparking his need for vengeance towards Catherine. Repetition occurs, first the relationship between Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar, and the second presented in the next generation, involving Catherine and Edgar’s daughter, Cathy, Heathcliff’s son Linton Heathcliff, and Hindley’s son Hareton Earnshaw. (Dawson) The second generation must overcome obstacles of what the first generation left behind.
3. POINT OF VIEW/ PERSPECTIVE: The primary narrator of Wuthering Heights is Lockwood, who convinces Nelly Dean to tell stories about Wuthering Heights by stating, “Well, Mrs. Dean, it will be a charitable deed to tell me something of my neighbours: I feel I shall not rest if I go to bed; so be good enough to sit and chat an hour” (Brontë 34). The perspective of the novel is told in first person; Nelly is the most influential narrator of the novel henceforth. Though she is informative of her information, Nelly “lack[s] [of] sympathy with the people who are supposed to be in her charge” (Shapiro 35:152). Readers are able to interpret emotions the narrator is saying and keep a biased idea of what they think the story really is portraying.
Nelly tells the story in a way that Lockwood describes as something that “would prove a regular gossip” (Brontë 32). Lockwood presents himself at various times in the novel when situations are referred back to the present. Wuthering Heights is completely hypnotizing because it questions the reader constantly on the different points of views each narrator presents. The novel is fascinating in way that I became aware of the different perspectives that are in the story.
4. CHARACTER: The most highly developed character in Wuthering Heights is the stages of Heathcliff. He is described as being a “sheer dazzling sexual and intellectual force” (Shapiro 35: 151). He was a minority within the Earnshaws, “he is given a first name, not a last name, as though to emphasize that he can never be part of the family” (Shapiro 35:151). Betrayal and his obsession for revenge morphed Heathcliff into a person capable of bringing misery into everyone’s lives. Out of spite towards his lover’s husband, Heathcliff convinces the husband’s narrow-minded sister, Isabella, he is of genuine attributes and marries her.
When he reveals his true nature to Isabella, she is convinced he is not human, exclaiming, “I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death, and flung it back to me” (Brontë 169). He harassed his sickly son Linton to coerce Young Cathy to marry him, and put Hareton Earnshaw, the son of his former tormentor, Hindley Earnshaw to work for him as he did before him. Heathcliff’s sadistic nature to torture those who have wronged him is directly focused on Edgar Linton. Born into the spoils and of well-mannered frivolity, he “sulks and frets when he is faced by a problem that he does not know how to solve” (Shapiro 35:155).
Nelly Dean is a headstrong loquacious woman who has worked at Wuthering Heights for eighteen years. She is however the only character that does not show signs of childish emotions. She showed great maturity and was there to reveal the faults of others For example, when Cathy was throwing a temper tantrum, Nelly described her as “the worst-tempered bit of sickly slip that ever struggled into its teens” (Brontë 233). Nelly serves as the chief narrator in the novel along with Heathcliff’s new tenant, Lockwood. Although Lockwood is not as contributive to the story as Nelly is, he adds insightful information on how it is to discover this story as an outsider. The story is only half-lived for Lockwood’s persistency, “if Lockwood was typical, then the outside world it too corrupt, self-seeking, and uncomprehending” (Shapiro 35:152).
Catherine Earnshaw, later was referred to as Catherine Linton when she married Edgar, can be dubbed the instigator to the problem that is Heathcliff. Trouble from the beginning, “she was never so happy as when we were all scolding her at once, and she defying us with her bold, saucy look, and her ready words” (Brontë 42). She was refreshingly compassionate and ordinarily narrow, but her ignorance made her into a beautiful but selfish creature. Her relentless spirit possessed Wuthering Heights even after she died of childbirth to her daughter, Young Catherine or was sometimes referred to as Cathy.
Nelly describes her as: That capacity for intense attachments reminded me of her mother; still she did not resemble her: for she could be soft and mild as a dove, and she had gentle voice and pensive expression: her anger was never furious; her love never fierce: it was deep and tender” (Brontë 183). Unlike her mother, Cathy’s second marriage to Hareton Earnshaw “represent[ed] the ostensible triumph of the secular, moderate-liberal, sentimental point of view over the mythical, tragic point of view” (Shapiro 35:151). Cathy developed into a pleasurable character partly because Edgar practically raised her all by himself. She is the way she is because he raised her well, with the obvious help of Nelly Dean.
5. SETTING: Wuthering Heights has two main settings that clash together to create the action and dramatic romance that occurs in the novel. Located in Northern England, the Yorkshire moors contains the manors of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. (Shmoop Editorial Team). The settings of Wuthering Heights are filled with passion, lack of hospitality, and power. Relatable to how Heathcliff treats Hareton and Linton. Thrushcross Grange mirrors Wuthering Heights completely differently, as it is never changing and it “symbolizes the acquisition of a certain social status” (Shmoop Editorial Team). The stormy weather, with its powerful energy, describes the complexity of Wuthering Heights in contrast to Thrushcross Grange. The dull, cookie-cutter behavior of the people that came from the Grange is lifeless like the manor itself.
6. THEME: A major theme that presents itself in Wuthering Heights is the chaos that is unraveled by unrequited love. Catherine’s love for Heathcliff is overcome by her desire for a higher social status. She defends her marriage to Edgar as a reasonable thing by stating: The others were the satisfaction of my whims: and for Edgar’s sake, too, to satisfy him… What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself… Nelly, I am Heathcliff!” (Brontë 80). When Catherine reveals this to Nelly she still believes that her being with Heathcliff is “impracticable” (Brontë 80).
By this point, Heathcliff has already been destroyed and begun his plot for revenge. Catherine was the only person who could completely extinguish the fire within him. After finding out he could never have Catherine, Heathcliff “becomes the unwitting tool of the world, embodying all of society’s egoism and cruelty” (Shapiro 35:153). Along with destroying any human quality he had left, Heathcliff tormented the lives of those he deemed would benefit his social gain. Wuthering Heights serves as a model of love, things get messy and if you’re not wise about whom you love the one you love may end up hurting.
7. CRITICAL REVIEW: In Arnold Shapiro’s criticism of Wuthering Heights, Shapiro states that along with Great Expectations and Vanity Fair, “Emily Brontë is on the main road of Victorian social criticism, attacking those who judge others solely by surface appearances or money or birth” (Shapiro 35:152). Shapiro describes the characters as selfish and “he [Lockwood] too is guilty of dehumanizing other people, using them for his own end” (Shapiro 35:153). Shapiro’s entire criticism attacks each character’s weaknesses, describing them in extremely negative terms. He also questioned how had Heathcliff not have died at the time he did, the relationship between him, Cathy, and Hareton would have been chaos. It is a very insightful question because of its affect on how I begin to think of the possibilities had things gone differently. When describing all the characters, Shapiro states that, “the characters in Wuthering Heights are childish in this way, fixed in set positions that never change” (Shapiro 35:155).
The critic knew what road he was taking and he stuck true to what he thought of the characters in the novel. Shapiro began with an overview and comparison of Victorian literature to Wuthering Heights and they are both the same in “ethical and moral tradition” (Shapiro 35:151). I was confused with Shapiro’s statement claiming that many critics stop reading Wuthering Heights when Catherine dies. When I came to that part in the book, I noticed the large amount of reading that was left and was curious to see how her death linked harmoniously to themes further on in the story. I agree with Shapiro when he described the characters as childish because, when I was reading the novel, all I pictured was a bunch of college students acting like they were still in high school. That insight created a fantastic image inside my head inspiring the fact that I enjoyed the novel whole-heartedly.
8. DICTION: The language in Wuthering Heights succumbs to each character that is speaking. The purpose for diction is to show the influence of characters contributing to the plot of the novel with their text. For example, the dedicated religious antagonistic servant at Wuthering Heights speaks with a heavy Yorkshire accent, which makes his speech immensely difficult to read. Joseph states, “I’d rather, by th’ haulf, hev’ ‘em swearing i’ my lugs fro’h morn to neeght, nor hearken ye hahsiver! … Oh, Lord, judge ‘em, for there’s norther law nor justice among wer rullers!” (Brontë 294). Because of his lack of literary conventions, readers are forced to contemplate how the words are annunciated and try to make sense of what he is trying to say.
Nelly Dean, whose narration is present for the majority of the novel, obtains an average intelligence of formal and expressive language. With great wisdom, Nelly contradicts Cathy by saying, “Compare the present occasion with such an affliction as that, and be thankful for the friends you have, instead of coveting more” (Brontë 216). When speaking to Cathy, Nelly is maternal-like towards her “well-meaning, but sometimes unconsciously cruel” (Shapiro 35:152). Having practically raised Catherine, Nelly puts aside Catherine’s pleas as over dramatizations than being plausible. When Catherine is unhappy with her love-life, Nelly talks with great disdain observing, “You’re hard to please: so many friends and so few cares, and can’t make yourself content!” (Brontë 75). Nelly’s language adjusts to the person she needs to address, whether formal or maternal.
9. SYNTAX: The structures of the sentences in Wuthering Heights constantly change throughout the novel from simple sentences to compound and complex sentences. For example, Isabella revealed, “He [Heathcliff] has extinguished my love effectually, and so I’m at my ease” (Brontë 168). This is an example of a compound sentence connecting the action of ease by using coordinating conjunctions. It shows a clear image of her abstain from Heathcliff’s love by using descriptive language and the proper use of a comma. The novel also has simple sentences when Nelly observes, “Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves” (Brontë 55).
Also, when Nelly Dean Describes the treatment towards Heathcliff when he was younger, she says, “He [Heathcliff] seemed a sullen, patient child; hardened, perhaps, to ill-treatment: he would stand Hindley’s blows without winking or shedding a tear, and my pinches moved him only to draw in breath and open his eyes, as if he had hurt himself by accident and nobody was to blame” (Brontë 37). By using semicolons and colons, long paragraphs can be separated and connected properly throughout the text. Each separate punctuation mark represents a complete thought without the sentence becoming a run-on. The variation of sentences keeps the reader intrigued, while at the same time stimulating each atmosphere of text.
10. SYMBOLISM: Nature, and the way it can alter significant aspects in Wuthering Heights influences the drama that happens between Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. The moorland represents different things to each character. For example, when Lockwood first visits the moors he describes it as “completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist’s heaven” (Brontë 3) beautiful in its confinement and simplicity. A place where Cathy, as a young girl, thought was a mysterious adventure needing exploring.
Nature is also used to symbolize Catherine’s love for Edgar and her love for Heathcliff by confessing, “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary” (Brontë 80). Catherine degraded her marriage to Edgar by using nature as a metaphor because of her selfishness and ignorance. Each house is also a symbol to the novel by highlighting Heathcliff’s revenge to have complete ownership of both properties. (Shmoop Editorial Team) Wuthering Heights symbolizes a place that feels unwelcoming and uncomfortable, while Thrushcross Grange represents a world of class and propriety. Both show significant differences by what life should be like at the Grange, and how life really is at the Heights.
11. TONE: Emily Brontë’s tone in Wuthering Heights “has great sympathy for her characters, but she mercilessly exposes their weaknesses as well as the weaknesses of the society surrounding them” (Shapiro 35:151). Brontë reveals her understanding of the social stigma and her compassion towards others through her characters. For example, Catherine admits: I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, 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; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire” (Brontë 79). Through tone, Brontë shows how conflicted people were in society during that time. The majority of the novel is about how people are judged by appearance and social ranking, making the tone tense and agitating. Overall, the tone of Wuthering Heights is not really that extensive, “it’s either grim or grimmer” (Shmoop Editorial Team). Sometimes, however, the tone changes at random intervals at short periods of time. For example, Linton was drained of any emotion when he first arrived at Thrushcross Grange, but was greeted with Cathy’s child-like tendencies, as Edgar observed would help Linton because “the company of a child of his own age will instill new spirit into him soon, and by wishing for strength he’ll gain it” (Brontë 195). This spark of innocence helps to alleviate the tone a bit even when forces around them are miserable.
12. TITLE: In Wuthering Heights, it is described as a place that must endure ferocious winds and having an “atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather” (Brontë 4). The word “tumult” can describe the situations the characters face while at the same time describing the plot at Wuthering Heights. It is also ironic how the title is described as “heights”, as in royal-like, when actually the place is corrupted with selfishness and low moral stability. It is an appropriate title for the novel, because it is where most of the action happens (Shmoop Editorial Team). Also because it was the dwelling where Heathcliff began his development. He had started at the bottom and managed to rise to the top, diminishing any sign of compassion, which is represented in the title. The title is also grim like the novel itself. Wuthering Heights serves as a symbol to show the falling standards of humanity in a desolate place. The title is also grim like the novel itself.
13. MEMORABLE QUOTE: Wuthering Heights has countless amounts of memorable quotes, so it was actually unbelievably difficult to choose a significant one to analyze. The quote that stood out the most describes how Cathy was still in love with Linton even though she knew the true intentions of his affection was influenced by the fear of Heathcliff’s wrath, and also Catherine reveals why Heathcliff shall never be loved and know love again. It reads thusly: I know he has a bad nature, said Catherine: he’s your son. But I’m glad I’ve a better, to forgive it; and I know he loves me, and for that reason I love him. Mr. Heathcliff, you have nobody to love you; and, however miserable you make us, we shall still have the revenge of thinking that your cruelty arises from your greater misery.
You are miserable, are you not? Lonely, like the devil, and envious like him? Nobody loves you—nobody will cry for you when you die! I wouldn’t be you! (Brontë 274). The reason behind the decision to choose this quote was because, literally from the page itself, I felt the compassion and hatred emanating off the page. The style of writing, especially when Brontë emphasizes things with italics, helps understand the raw power of what Cathy is saying. Cathy has accepted the fact that her life with Heathcliff and Linton at Wuthering Heights is her future. The utter beauty of her embrace to this unimaginable situation was completely inspiring me because it shows how love can create forgiveness and endurance. People are selfish creatures; it is just plain black and white. But to give up a life of freedom for the one you love, is absolutely insane. Wuthering Heights contains valuable information and examples on how people should and should not accept and give love.
14. PERSONAL RESPONSE: In its entirety, Wuthering Heights was a discombobulated, harmonious, and very powerful novel. Each theme that was revealed caught my attention and continuously was highly entertaining. Wuthering Heights captured the full extent of life in that time by being “ blindingly original, undimmed in its power to convey the destructive potential of thwarted passion as expressed through the unappeasable fury of a rejected lover” (Merkin). Emily Brontë’s style of writing was elegant in a way that showed the true emotions of the characters within each story, though it also stimulated the mind to keep you acute and it was overall easy to understand. Also I noticed a lot of Brontë’s diction, to me, made her characters sound sarcastic, and it sounds questionable but I found it highly entertaining.
With all the chaos and compassion that presented itself, it left me wanting to read more and more each time I put down the book. I became very aware that emotions are an intense thing because “love defies all logic and common sense; it is a mystery that is both unanswerable and endlessly fascinating” (Hoffman). I would recommend Wuthering Heights to anyone who enjoys genuine affection and dramatic situations. Brontë repeatedly, throughout the novel, “shows how the limitations of human beings and society can make the love unattainable” (Shapiro 35:151). The most captivating part of the story was the growth of the man that was Heathcliff himself. His loss of true love and lust for revenge kept things interesting. Wanting to know what would happen to the characters with such a dominating crusader became the most viable reason I continued reading until the end.