Consider: The setting and atmosphere, narrative technique, including the use of Lockwood as a narrator compared with later narrators and preparation in the opening for the rest of the novel
Emily Brontï¿½’s opening chapter to ‘Wuthering Heights’ creates intrigue and curiosity. This greatly relies on the atmosphere, narrators and setting Emily Brontï¿½ chose to introduce the reader to the different world and people of Wuthering Heights.
Emily Brontï¿½ starts the opening chapter with a date – 1801, therefore suggesting that this is someone’s diary.
The diary belongs to Mr Lockwood, who happens to be staying at Thrushcross Grange. Not suprisingly, Lockwood starts his diary off with the word ‘I’ which sums up Lockwood’s egotistical nature. In this new world which makes a distant memory of the civilised society Lockwood comes from, he feels himself to be above those around him, referring to Joseph as ‘ an old man, very old, perhaps, though hale and sinewy.’
From the very onset Emily Brontï¿½ introduces Lockwood to us as a very unreliable narrator.
He bases all his conclusions on speculations, and his speeches are full of guesswork like ‘ I conjectured’, ‘I detected’, ‘I believe’ and ‘I suppose’.
Some of Lockwood’s comments on the house like ‘other dogs haunted other recesses’, ‘a wilderness of crumbling griffins’, and referring to the chairs as ‘one or two heavy black ones lurking in the shade’ are maybe his closest observations that in fact give an indication to what the people in the house are really like. Like the dogs, they each prefer to distance themselves from things that disinterest them.
Similarly to the chairs they do not amerce themselves in the full flow of life in terms of Lockwood’s society, they prefer the dark which is how Lockwood sees Wuthering Heights.
These people have all been through very hard times, emotionally and physically and what Lockwood is viewing is their ‘crumbling’ souls like the griffin’s and of course set in the ‘wilderness’ of the Heights. Ironically, virtually everything else that Lockwood says that is he has taken time over to analyse, is in fact complete nonsense. For example, in Lockwod’s opening paragraph he admits that ‘Mr Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us’. The reader can already see by the end of the first chapter that there are no similarities between Lockwood and Heathcliff and Lockwood has no notion of the word desolation compared to Heath cliff.
Sadly, only the reader learns from Lockwood’s mistakes as he even tries to explain, Heathcliff’s character, a man he has only spoken to once! This of course focuses the reader’s attention on the way even though we can not accept what Lockwood says as the truth, as it has been filtered through his character and prejudices and then expanded on through Lockwood’s fancy use of language. Against the contrast of Heathcliff’s and Joseph’s monosyllabic, straight to the point returns, Lockwood’s use of the word ‘penetralium’ instead of house, and ‘domestics’ and ‘establishment’ pick up on how out of place Lockwood’s airs are. This of course symbolises the ways in which, with Heathcliff, what you see is what you get, he does not create a fancy facade to cover up any undesirable qualities, therefore this makes the action and language of Lockwood in a place like Wuthering Heights even more absurd.
The fact that Lockwood is always at pains to try to show how educated he is, (for example he refers to ‘Twelfth Night’ when he says ‘I never told my love…’) in a place where no-one cares highlights how inadequate any of his ideas or thoughts about the story are.
Lockwood often uses elaborate similes such as ‘atmospheric tumult’ to mean ‘storm’ which actually suggests that Lockwood is adept at seeing behind the picture and at the under current. But in fact the case is the opposite, demonstrating that Lockwood’s behaviour is merely a show, which is almost as shallow as himself.
The rare pieces of information that Emily Brontï¿½ allows to be presented to the reader without being filtered are all the more powerful and striking when mixed in with Lockwood’s elaborate and foolish pretentious views.
We see the narrator is not neutral and colours events with his own character. For example, when Lockwood says:
‘I bestow my own attributes over-liberally on him. Mr Heathcliff may have entirely dissimilar reasons’
He actually is comparing characters to himself and suing his experiences of life to understand them. Lockwood will not get very far! Lockwood has got the point that Heathcliff’s reasoning is unimaginable. To Lockwood it is beyond his comprehension, and for him to guess at it is just a waste of his time.
Almost strangely, the way Lockwood struggles and clumsily narrators the story would in most cases dilute it’s power and significance, in fact, paradoxically, it shows how the story is based on the uncertainty and intangible motives for characters’ behaviour and that for someone else to point out the true thoughts and feeling of the reader would undermine the essence of the story in it’s ambiguity.
In summary, Lockwood is extremely unreliable, even in the first chapter he makes a judgement on Heathcliff that is entirely wrong. He frequently mistakes social relationships and situations through his hypocritical, but egotistical view of those at Wuthering Heights.
In Chapter one, Lockwood refers to a period when he was ‘head and ears over’ a girl that he met at the coast. His language when referring to the object of his affection includes: ‘a most fascinating creature’, ‘a real goddess’ and on his loves departure he comments ‘a curious turn of disposition’. It seems evident from Lockwood’s language that is full of clichï¿½s and artificial terms of endearment, that Lockwood has not a notion of what love really is, and that which he supposed to be love, he shrank away from. This is in complete contrast to the way Heathcliff submerges himself in his love for Cathy, and particularly picks up on the superficial nature of Lockwood, and how ridiculous Lockwood’s comparison of himself and Heathcliff was, in the first chapter.
Lockwood is obsessed with his image as a misanthropist, yet hypocritically refers to Heathcliff’s behaviour as idiosyncrasy and calls ‘as soon as possible’ after his arrival to pay a social call to his neighbours!
The other main narrator is Nelle Dean, she was a servant girl at Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff was brought there, and therefore she has lived at or near Wuthering Heights her whole life. She acts as a second filter. Not only is the information relayed through Lockwood, but Nelle Dean first tells it to him and often events are told to Nelle as direct speech or a monologue from another character. Therefore we are presented with a unique narrative frame in which there is no first person narrator, yet every word is spoken by characters. The author is always totally absent from the narration, but countering this objective view, every narrator in the story is subjective.
Like Lockwood, Nelle Dean uses guesswork but she frequently reminds us that she is merely speculating.
‘A foolish notion struck me that his heart was quelled, and he prayed, because his lips moved and his gaze bent on the ground.’
She gives us the evidence she based her belief on, consequently it is really left to the reader to decide whether we agree with her or not. Unlike Lockwood she does not force her opinions on us as though it were truth.
Of course, Nelle’s character interferes with the story and hence her narration. She is often introducing her ideas of good and evil, and though she dislikes Joseph’s preaching, in some instances she is no better than him.
‘Gone to heaven, I hope, where we may, everyone, join her, if we take due warning, and leave our evil ways to follow good.’
Nelle even relates to the reader the fact that in life people think that she changes events to suit her purpose. This is when Heathcliff says ‘Come, give me a true history of the event,’ and Nelle obviously trying to feed Heathcliff images of peace and calm tells him a version of events to suit the occasion.
Unlike Lockwood, Nelle frequently intervenes in the story for instance, when she does not tell Edgar how ill Cathy is, her character affects the story in having no sympathy for Cathy’s ‘senseless wicked rages’.
Nelle Dean’s language is not at all flamboyant and superfluous like Lockwood’s, this makes the reader feel like they can rely on her more than Lockwood.
In connection to Heathcliff, Nelle seems to be in a state of confusion and contradiction. She often says that she feels sympathy towards him, yet she frequently insults him telling the reader that he is ‘ a savage beast’. Her psychological needs tend to sway her narration backward and forth and to distort it so we are often being made to sympathise with Heathcliff or being shown Nelle’s disregard for him.
In terms of the after life, Nelle tells us that Cathy says she will ‘not be at peace’ till Heathcliff joins her and recounts Cathy’s dream of rejecting heaven. Yet Nelle is stuck in her ways and refuses to see this as an alternative idea telling Heathcliff that Cathy is ‘gone to heaven’ even though Cathy reverently expressed a different view. This of course presents a limitation in her narration as Nelle is headstrong and will not be swayed by other peoples views, assuming that hers is the only view that could possibly be correct, and therefore is no open to improvement. In terms of understanding the love between Cathy and Heathcliff she is little help.
Nelle Dean, like Lockwood, is often closest to the point, unintentionally, or rather her vivid images often have a much wider significance than she realises. For example, when Nelle refers to Heathcliff’s distress at the death of Cathy like ‘a savage beast getting goaded to death with knives and spears’, this can also act as a summary of the whole of Heathcliff’s unfortunate life. Also Nelle comments on Heathcliff’s appearance after his long absence saying; ‘A half-civilised ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows, and the eyes were full of black fire, but it was subdued.’ Here she is unintentionally referring to his passion for taking revenge on Edgar Linton that became his aim while he lived.
After studying the two main narrators it seems that the story must be changed beyond all recognition once it has passed from the characters lips through the self righteous pomposity of Nelle who will not believe in spirits or dreams (‘I was superstitious about dreams then, and am still’) and finally through Lockwood’s prissy, fanciful wording. Yet the effect makes the story more intriguing and involving, as the reader has to unravel the tale from the biased viewpoints of different characters.
Nelly Dean’s narrative is obviously biased towards her point of view, it is not objective and often we see her ulterior motives come into play.
Importantly, Nelle acts as a stable base to remind the reader of normal and conventional behaviour and morals, but at the same time, this highlights her inadequacy as her morals and behaviour blind her to the truth of passion and feeling between Cathy and Heathcliff. They act as a threat to Nelle’s hold on reality, and what is ‘proper’ and ‘decent’. Their love must be able to be explained in rational terms, and definite sets of rules that comply with the required standard of love. For example, Edgar Linton’s love for Cathy.
The consistent element through both narrators is that they never solve the principal problems, mostly because it unsettles and overwhelms their understanding. They leave it up to the reader who has to find the reality through the mesh of narration and mixed emotions.
The main character of the book, Heathcliff, also narrates a small amount of the book. This is very important as Heathcliff’s language and styles puts forward a number of important points about the narrator and his character that could not have been deduced from Lockwood, or Nelle’s narration alone.
Heathcliff’s language varies in to two types. Heathcliff uses rough and violent language that conveys his energetic and passionate style. His phrases are blunt and to the point, he does not care for any of Lockwood’s arrogance:
‘May she wake in torment!’ and ‘Don’t snivel before me, Damn you all!’
But Heathcliff also uses elaborate and educated language that makes us wonder where he learnt it from, and adds to the mystery of Heathcliff as an unknown ‘species’:
‘…refrain from insult, as much as you are able. Having levelled my palace, don’t erect a hovel and complacently admire you own charity…’
Heathcliff often mixes his two forms of language usually using his more educated language to make a mockery of those who look down on him mixed with cutting sarcasm to insult and point out their pretentious ironies:
‘Cathy this lamb of yours threatens like a bull! He said. ‘It is in danger of splitting its skull against my knuckles.’
This use of cutting between the two contrasting dictions makes the reader feel they are being raised to a false sense of occasion only of course to be brought brutally back to earth with a blunt and cynical truth that highlights the shallow and hollowness of Nelle’s and Lockwood’s narration.
For example, when Heathcliff elaborately refers to Isabella’s ‘marvellous effort of perspicacity’ to find out that ‘I did not love her’ he cuts back to his blunt, no frills language.
The fact that Heathcliff makes a mockery of the world that our two main narrators firmly believe in makes his speech more direct and we feel that it has not been filtered or watered down as his forceful and plain style cuts down the limitations of the third narration, and helps us to understand him better.
Heathcliff’s sentences are loose and are continually changing directing and branching off at a tangent, yet at the same time returning to previous ideas and thoughts. This gives Heathcliff’s speech a spontaneous feel to it and make the reader receives some of Heathcliff’s rush of passion and desperate emotion, making us feel that he does not hold back in expressing himself.
Isabella narrates some of the story, though speech with Nelle and a letter. Isabella’s language is in contrast to Heathcliff’s passionate flow of emotions as her speech always seems to be carefully structured and thought out, though she too speaks with power and feeling. She does not use Heathcliff’s sarcasm or Lockwood’s pomposity and elevated slant on events or even Nelle’s self-righteous judgmental tone. Isabella’s rationalised language highlights the severe difference between herself and Heathcliff, plainly that she can’t possibly understand his passionate and turbulent irrational nature, which at times seem to have no common sense or purpose to it.
Isabella uses romantic imagery to describe Heathcliff, even his worse qualities, which shows that Heathcliff’s description of her as ‘picturing in me a hero of romance’ to be correct:
‘Heathcliff’s forehead ‘ was ‘shaded with heavy cloud’ his ‘basilisk eyes’.
Therefore we must note that even though Heathcliff prefers to remove himself from human contact he still understands how people’s minds work and therefore we constantly see him using this to his advantage.
Isabella says ‘his lips devoid of their ferocious sneer’; this scornful and mocking trait of Heathcliffs is also picked up by Nelle; ‘did she take due warning then asked Heathcliff attempting a sneer’ and ‘ Heathcliff who had raised his eyes at the former speech, gave a sneering laugh’. Therefore Isabella’s attention to detail and facial emotions is in the same class as Nelle, and hence we find her portrait of Heathcliff as attentive and sensitive, though obviously biased with her feeling of hatred and anger.
Interestingly, Heathcliff analyses Isabella well saying that when he wished he ‘had the hanging of every being belonging to her, except one’, Isabella took it as herself, and he knew it would hurt her pride to accept that it was not. Also, suprisingly Heathcliff picks up on the point that ‘no brutality disgusted her- I suppose she had an innate admiration of it’ and this is demonstrated by the way Isabella covets the blade that Hindley shows her rather than being repelled by it. Similarly, Isabella seems to understand Heathcliff well, saying that she sympathises with his depth of grief, comment that Heathcliff was ‘in an expression of unspeakable sadness’ and notes that his eyes were ‘quenched by sleeplessness’. So these two ‘opposite’ characters seem to be able to understand each other, yet when it comes to interpreting their own characters, they are often lying to themselves, intentionally and unintentionally. This shows that they do not know themselves and are still on a path of discovery to express themselves properly with the knowledge of how their minds work.
For example Heathcliff refers to the ‘fact’ that ‘never told her (Isabella) a lie’ about his feeling for her by demonstrating ‘a bit of deceitful softness’. Heathcliff seems to have forgotten about his embrace with Isabella in the garden, which was initiated by him. Isabella refers to her ‘quiet conscience’ and that ‘treachery and aggravation are but ‘spears pointed at both ends – they wound those who resort to them, worse than their enemies’, yet then goes on to say how she enjoys to ‘insult a fallen enemy’, and the ‘delight of paying wrong for wrong’.
Therefore in the midst of every character trying to understand themselves the reader has to discover the character’s motives for behaving how they behave when in fact these people do not yet know themselves and therefore are full of contradictions and hypocritical actions. This of course creates a multi -linkage throughout the story with other people’s views on people becoming as important as those views made about oneself. This too creates a dramatic irony, when other characters seem to understand other people better than themselves.
The fact that the novel never relies upon narrators being objective and neutral, highlights the point that Emily Brontï¿½ has entirely left it up to the reader to decide how they feel about situations and characters, but only after taking in to account every narrators point of view, even though they are varied they must be recognised as equally important.
Cathy’s narration comes in the form of an extract from a diary found by Lockwood. Even though this is her childhood diary it is clear from her narration that she is full of spirit and rebellious energy. Her writing is spontaneous, passionate and at the same time tough and almost violent. This extract is of course before Catherine spent time at Thrushcross Grange and is turned into a lady. This is important in that Emily Brontï¿½ wanted the reader to experience Catherine’s energy and wild like nature, which resembles Heathcliff, and therefore make the reader realise that originally, and still too, even though more hidden, Cathy was untamed, disobedient and boisterous. Her writing conveys her impulsive nature. She thinks of the present, first and foremost, and is not worried about how people will look on her.
Her language is full of indignant exclamations; for example ‘An awful Sunday,’ and ‘a mere titter is sufficient to send us into corners!’. Her rebellion is clear in the way she refers to Hindley, her own brother as a tyrant and ‘how dare he’. Cathy’s language evidently shows how much she detests being held captive in a house all day without ‘a scamper on the moors – a pleasant suggestion.’ Cathy frequently mentions the absence of light; ‘we might receive from the far-off fire a dull ray to show us the text’ and the absence of warmth, ‘we made ourselves as snug as our means allowed’. Therefore this demonstrates that she feels uncomfortable and lethargic inside the house as she belongs outside with nature and the unruly elements.
She obviously feels deeply for Heathcliff, demonstrated by her emotional and moving references to ‘poor Heathcliff’. Her sentences are long and Heathcliff’s name is abbreviated to H. indicating their close nature and easily conveying her passionate outflow of emotion as new ideas and grievances come into her head.
But at the end of the extract we see how helpless she is to the way Heathcliff is treated, and can only list the injustices committed, by Hindley. Gone is the action plan of ‘H. and I are going to rebel’, and we feel that in a way Cathy is having to settle for less. We see this fatal compromise with her emotions reoccur later as they return, re-establishing themselves more deeply than ever before and of course eventually destroying her.
The narrative is such that characters often soliloquise, opening their inner most being to Nelle, sometimes as though she was not there. This of course is a way of conveying the character’s feelings, passing the difficulty of using Nelle as narrator because we read speeches that are not designed for Nelly to understand or be able to comprehend, but just for her to be present as a ‘confider’;
‘But you’ll not talk of what I tell you, and my mind is so eternally secluded in itself, it is tempting, at last, to turn it out to another.
– Heathcliff, page 320
Joseph’s dialect must be noted, as it is unique. It adds to the setting and atmosphere as Joseph is a figure of local authenticity, and therefore is made an example of, as not all characters could have the same dialect in order for the reader to under stand the book fully! He provokes a negative mood at the beginning of the book forecasting doom and gloom and appealing to unearthly forces to intervene and help their miserable souls. This also sets the tone of the novel being to promote new ideas, (her mocking religion), instead of the celebration of old ones.
The narrative is firmly based on the contrasts of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Whenever a character leaves ‘the scene’ for example, Heathcliff leaves for three years, Hindley goes to university, Isabella is sent off to have Linton, etc… the characters are not followed to their new environment and events that happen there are not related, not even Heathcliff’s, thereby underlining the importance of the conflicting twin locations of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange as the centre of events, and intensifying the story and its power. This of course explains the use of different characters to relate events that are of importance to the story that took place else where, for example, when Cathy got caught by the dogs at Thrushcross Grange and when Isabella’s description of Wuthering Heights and the fray between Hindley and Heathcliff.
Emily Brontï¿½ decided to open her book at Wuthering Heights, this setting sets the tones for the rest of the book, as it is stark and devoid of love, that which Heathcliff strives after while Cathy is alive and, long after she is dead. Lockwood picks up on the importance of the name saying ‘Wuthering being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.’ And of course Heights because it is elevated on a hill, which though suggests a sense of importance, in fact shows the isolation and rejection that Heathcliff will bear through the rest of the book.
The image of Wuthering Heights presented in the first chapter is of course in complete contrast to ‘Thrushcross Grange’ also aptly named, and suitably where Lockwood is staying. ‘Thrush’ is a sweet valley bird that is full of elegance and poise. It is gentle and aesthetically pleasing. ‘Cross’ probably refers to cross roads just outside the house but also can symbolise the meeting of people, as opposed to the isolation of Wuthering Heights. Cross could refer to Christianity and moral standards, therefore not the savage, base and primitive ways of Heathcliff. The word ‘Grange’ means a barn, where goods are stored, showing that ‘Thrushcross Grange’ is a place where no one will ever want, as there is plenty of nourishment for mind and body, for all.
In Chapter one Wuthering Heights is always referred to in conjecture with ‘darkness’ and ‘depth’. Lockwood hears sounds from ‘deep within’, dogs ‘haunt other recesses’, and chairs are ‘lurking in the shade’.
The vegetation around Wuthering Heights is bare and exposed to the bitter wind. Trees are described as ‘stunted firs’ with an ‘excessive slant’ because of the ‘power of the North wind, blowing over the edge’. The wind seems to relate to the desires and passion that flow through Heathcliff as unstoppable as the wind, that will finally push Heathcliff to ‘the edge’ and into the ‘abyss’ as referred to by Heathcliff once Cathy is dead. The only other vegetation is ‘ a range of gaunt thorns’ which are starved and death -like, but can still cause pain, like a premonition of Heathcliff near the end of the book.
The air at Wuthering Heights is ‘pure, bracing ventilation’ …’at all times’, the atmosphere at Wuthering Heights is clean and refreshing from the dredge of society where one must behave in a certain way to be accepted. The air is ‘bracing’ and consequently does not let Lockwood relax, it is almost harsh like a shock to the system.
Lockwood refers to the ‘clusters of legs of beef, mutton and ham’ and there are details of farm work, which also involves live stock. This emphasis on meat and livestock, parallels the animal like behaviour of Heathcliff later on in the book where he is referred to as a ‘savage beast’.
The dogs at Wuthering Heights are menacing and inhospitable, almost mirroring Heathcliff’s animal tendencies. The fact that the dogs attack him and pin Lockwood to the ground, is very much significant of the way in which Lockwood is not accepted at Wuthering Heights by man or beast as he does not belong in this raw and harsh environment where dogs are ‘not kept for a pet’ but for labour and likewise the livestock, hence showing that here primitive labour is a practical necessity for survival. Likewise the kitchen is not alive with the sounds of ”roasting, boiling or baking” or ”any glitter of copper saucepans and tin cullenders on the walls” as there is no domesticity, or motherly comforts. This world is bare and stark, and at this point in time devoid of life and love.
Ironically Joseph’s first words of the book are ‘The Lord help us,’ though seeming to refer to Lockwood it is fitting that Joseph’s punishing form of Puritanism which emphasises sin and damnation, be not applied to where it is really needed, but in fact in this case used as an insult!
Wuthering Heights has no introductory lobby, and therefore like the people are not concerned with introductions and polite social skills. They are there to work and will waste no time with fancy airs and graces but rather get to the point in the quickest and simplest way. This point is also highlighted in the way the house has ‘no underdrawn; its entire anatomy lay bare to the enquiring eye’ the eye of course being Lockwood as he surveys the wreck of a man in Heathcliff.
The setting and atmosphere of Wuthering Heights created in the first chapter of the book prepare the reader for the physical contrasts of the exposed and bare Wuthering Heights and enclosed protected Thrushcross Grange. Thrushcross Grange is later described in the book as having a ‘pure white ceiling’ signifying light, surrounded by ‘garden tree and ‘high wall of the court’ therefore it is protected, and the air is ‘sweet’ and therefore relates to the sense of materialism where nothing is natural or bare. At Wuthering Heights people have to work to live, but the opposite view is presented at Thrushcross Grange where Linton spends his time ‘among his books’ and young Cathy plays imaginary games.
Either house has it’s own distinct character which shapes the lives of those living there. The houses are antagonistic towards each other, and their character’s extend out as main themes in the book, embodying themselves within people.
Wuthering Heights stands for primitive, depth, dark desires and passions while Thrushcross Grange is civilised, shallow and rational.
Already on the first page of the book, Emily Brontï¿½ creates an atmosphere of isolation from the rest of the world, in Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff’s ‘walk in’ order to Lockwood, through the closed gate that he is leaning on as if to guard it, already expresses the boundary between public and private reality. In a symbolistic approach, when Lockwood steps through the gates he is stepping into another world where peoples’ principals are entirely different from Lockwood’s pretentious manner.
In Wuthering Heights characters and objects are designed to combat the severe weather of the moors. The house itself is ‘built strong: with narrow windows’ restricting the view out or rather the view in from the world where Lockwood is from. This harsh cold reality is where people are not there to please in looks or manner, but to survive life itself, sets an ominous ambience and sense of dread for the rest of the book.
In all, Emily Brontï¿½ creates tension and suspense by letting the reader see ‘after the storm’. Therefore, as to what produced this miserable house of misfits pricks our curiosity and prepares us for the tragedy about to unfold. There is a sense of inevitability about Heathcliff and Cathy’s destiny, which makes witnessing their love all the more painful.