Mythic proportions Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 11 July 2017

Mythic proportions

Linton Heathcliff is a contradiction in terms. His name signifies the unnatural union between Heathcliff and the Lintons or between passion and convention and his sickly nature demonstrates the impossibility of such a union. In Linton both love and convention emerge as corrupted by each other. He is described as ‘a pet’, a ‘puling chicken’ and a ‘whelp’. Like both his parents, however, Linton’s view of the world is singular, and it is his inability to see it in any way but his own terms which renders him absolutely available for manipulation by Heathcliff. Hareton

Of his generation, Hareton’s character is perhaps the most intriguing, reversing the comparative lack of interest we feel for his father, Hindley. Hareton is brutalised by Heathcliff, structurally repeating Heathcliff’s own suffering at the hands of Hindley. Hareton’s relationship with Cathy has similarly been read as mirroring Heathcliff’s with Catherine, in as much as he is desirous of impressing her, and he is proud in her presence. His love of Cathy, however, might be said more closely to resemble Edgar’s love of Catherine in as much as it is moderate yet tender, devoted yet restrained.

Hareton also exhibits an unwavering love for Heathcliff, in spite of the ill-treatment he has received at his hands. Like Catherine, Hareton is constant in his initial affections, and when Heathcliff first arrives into his life they form an alliance against Hindley. Although Hareton’s name is inscribed above the door of Wuthering Heights, his inability to read, coupled with the repetitious doubling of names and signatures, means that he fails to inherit his rightful property.

Hareton is dispossessed by Heathcliff, but can also be seen as a rewriting of Heathcliff, a surrogate or symbolic Heathcliff. The development of Hareton’s characterisation revolves around his education. He is initially nursed by Nelly, the novel’s surrogate mother, and under her tuition he begins to learn his letters. However, left to the ministrations of his dissolute and unpredictable father Hindley, Hareton grows wild and uncultivated, unable to read, and with no social skills.

His attempts at self-improvement are the source of mockery and derision by Linton and Cathy, and it is not until the end of the novel that he is able to acquire the skills necessary for him to achieve social status with Cathy and come into his rightful inheritance. The domestic romance which typifies the final union between Cathy and Hareton may well resolve some of the conflicts that thwart the other relationships in the novel, but their union lacks the grand passion, the wild power of the original love between Catherine and Heathcliff.

Cathy Structurally the second Cathy can be seen as revising her mother’s story. She achieves her identity at the price of her mother’s, and Edgar always differentiates her in relation to the first Catherine, whose name he never diminished. Unlike Linton, who has the misfortune of inheriting the worst of both his parents, Cathy appears to have inherited the best from both of hers. Nelly sees Lockwood as a possible escape route for Cathy should he be induced to fall in love with her.

We are privy to reports of Cathy’s pride, and her insensitive mockery of Hareton’s lack of formal knowledge. The revolution of the novel in which she and Hareton form their attachment is something of a mythical resolution, a romantic conclusion which transcends the central conflicts of the novel to restore a traditional novelistic plot of courtship and marriage. Cathy and Hareton’s relationship restores to the novel and version of domestic bliss that was the Victorian ideal, but it is well to bear in mind that Bronte’s is a version in which Cathy clearly has the upper hand.

Nelly Nelly Dean is the second and dominant narratorial voice in this novel. She takes up the story from Lockwood and gives it both substance and credence. Lockwood’s inability to read the signs of the culture in which he finds himself cannot sustain the story, though it acts to remind us that all narratorial voices, including Nelly’s, are partial. Nelly Dean is a local, and has known each generation of the Earnshaw and Linton families. She is therefore well-placed to offer Lockwood a commentary upon the events she describes.

Her position of servant is differentiated from that of that of other servants, both in terms of the fact that she appears to move effortlessly between the two houses, mediating between their differences, and in terms of her voice. Nelly Dean does not share a regional dialect with the other servants but she understands it perfectly. She also emerges as an educated woman, having read most of the books in the library at Thrushcross Grange – the house of culture – and in having experienced the vicissitudes of Wuthering Heights – the house of nature.

In keeping with her dual roles, Nelly has two names, Ellen, her given name which is used by those wishing to accord her respect, and Nelly, the name her peers and familiars employ. Nelly is one of the most interesting characters in this novel, not least because of the language she uses. She occupies a unique cultural position in this novel. She has access to a range of discourses that might be considered beyond her ken in terms of her position as a family servant; yet as the central narrator Bronte presents her as a speaking subject, partially excluded from culture but nonetheless positioned so as to be able to comment upon it.

Nelly acts as a surrogate mother to many of the motherless characters in this novel: she brings up Hareton for the first five years of his life; she cares for Cathy from birth through to her marriage to Linton; she regrets the brevity of her charge of Linton, which is forced by circumstance; and she acts as confidant and advisor to Catherine and Heathcliff. She also acts as a mother-figure to Lockwood as she nurses him back to health. As surrogate mother Nelly provides food and moral sustenance to her nurslings.

Nelly Dean is most carefully, consistently and convincingly created for us as the normal woman, whose truly feminine nature satisfies itself in nurturing all the children of the book in turn. This reading of Nelly as the mother-figure alerts us to another of her roles, for Nelly is a mother goose, the teller of this fairytale, the keeper of its wisdom. The name might also be a corruption of Mother Gossip. Both of these definitions are pertinent to the figure of Nelly, since the knowledge she conveys is at least twofold: it is about women’s experience, and it is about the nature of love.

Nelly knows that her story has to entertain and ensnare us. Yet her voice is rooted in the realist narrative. With her love of a well-brushed hearth and gleaming copper pans, Nelly weaves for us a fairy tale of mythic proportions. Given our narrator’s sympathies we are inevitably drawn to the novel’s celebration of passion, and find the strictures of its dominant discourses of marriage and religion as stifling and incomprehensible as do its main protagonists.

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  • Date: 11 July 2017

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