Wuthering Heights

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade October 2001

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Upon receiving this assignment, I read up on what other critics had written about Brönte's Wuthering Heights. I was not altogether surprised to find critics had taken it upon themselves to 'unravel' the mystery of the novel as if it were some finished jigsaw puzzle they saw fit to deconstruct and reconstruct and then state 'Aha, how clever am I?'. Often reconstruction is a perverse distortion of an original. I am disturbed by the ease with which critics play a spin on everything ever written (I have a suspicion most critics are writers with a fear of their own plots.) Last I heard, Plato was in fact a homosexual who invented Socrates as the most perfect being so that he not act upon his sexuality with any living man out of his perfect love for his imagined ideal. Imagine what they say about the apostles and Jesus these days.

And as Socrates, invented or not, I offer this as my apologia-- I present nothing more than the answer to a question from a prospective reader. What is, after all, literary criticism but an appraisal of books for the benefit of those who have not read them? The aim of a novel is revealed throughout its process and not in small fiery sections. Although Brönte's novel is filled with hundreds of the latter which fill the novel with small fiery insights on the nature of man, society and so forth, it is the overall theme of change that presents the novel's conclusion to its conflict. It is important to begin with the resolution because it is in essence an integral part of the conflict itself. Brönte plays parable against parable between parallel borders but not, as some would have it, as a literary means to convey a point, but as a steady recreation of the parallels of the lives we lead within the parallel borders of the earth we inhabit. And what, you ask, is the conflict exactly? As in everday life, the characters of Wuthering Heights are faced with the moral conflict of good versus evil.

At the end of the novel the reader is asked in the novel's last line to pass judgement on the different characters. Indeed, the way the story is told through several mouths (Catherine's diary, Lockwood's narrative, Sally Dean's storytelling which at many points is derived from other stories) itself proposes to the reader several perspectives of a same continuum, but this aspect only broadens the line of the otherwise thin continuum and it is not until the denouement of the novel that the continuum suddenly branches out leaving no indication of which branch is the continuation of the line followed throughout the novel. Herein lies Brönte's genius at displaying the equivalent weight of all within the parallels of the world-- an integral part of what we as human beings are forced to deal with daily. The elements of change in the novel are mentioned strongly in the narrative, but most clearly seen in the progression of the plot. Even though Catherine states in a dialogue she would much rather be a child forever, half-savage and hardy, this is most clearly seen when her aparition to Lockwood presents herself as a child even though her last name be Linton. Heathcliff's love for Catherine changes and distorts itself into madness by the end of the book, but it is in no specific passage that we are revealed his evolution-- only in his behaviour. As Hindley's position in Wuthering Heights falls to one that we as reader's should pity him, the lack of explicit description leaves readers with their old prejudices against Hindley for his treatment of Heathcliff. The narrative of Wuthering Heights is such that in the same way readers are unable to feel true pity for Hindley, readers cannot see how dead and desensitized Catherine becomes after the death of her father or how we should detest Heathcliff's deranged cruelty towards the end of the novel. It is this setting of equals that gives power to the otherwise undecisive conclusion.

In the beginning of the novel, readers find an immediate afinity with Heathcliff and Catherine's innocent escapades, while detesting Hindley's despondant attitude and Edgar Linton's sweet but incredibly naïve way of being. As highlighted in the above paragraph, this affnity towards certain characters is misleading, because as the characters subtly change so does our perception about their acts. Heathcliff's initial bravado warps itself into cruelty that in itself becomes indeed heroic, and the character almost seems to mock the reader when he exclaims "I can hardly regard her in the light of a rational creature, so obstinately has she persisted in forming a fabulous notion of my character . . .". Catherine's flighted spirit turns to stringent apathy towards most everything after the death of her father, and yet one can hardly bring oneself (unlike Nelly) to criticize her behaviour as peevish. Hindley's tyrant oppression becomes slave-like repulsion, and yet the reader cannot forget his cruelty to Heathcliff. What changes the most throughout the course of the novel is Heathcliff and Catherine, more specifically the love they have for each other. As it deranges itself into a sick and harmful relationship, little shame does the reader think they should have. While Edgar, on the other hand, is perceived as weak and undesireable-- an intrusion between Heathcliff and Catherine's selfish love. As everything that in the beginning was becomes something completely different, the reader is pulled apart between loyalties and perspectives to ask himself, well, who's right and who's wrong? Who is the moral character of the story? The answer to that question is revealed within the pages of the book, and is largely left to the readers interpretation. There is no hand that redeemeth the righteous or condemns the wicked. The only character quick to judge is Joseph, and his character is a mockery of moral judgement. As in everday life, something Brönte must have noticed, one man's good is another man's ill. Heathcliff may not be a moral character, but he is a hero. And Catherine may not be the shining lady, but she is none the less his princess. Hareton and Cathy may not have the flame and fire of their formers, but their love is just as righteous and as righteous as Edgar Linton's love for the first Catherine. Brönte leaves perhaps two defining statements on the topic of moral good and moral evil. The first being that in the end, we are all weighed the same-- as human beings with both the capacity of good and the capacity of evil. Secondly, that true righteousness does prevail in a sense above all, as we see in the union between Hareton and Cathy and their moving away from Wuthering Heights to Thurcross Grange. Perhaps as a third possible point is the overworked concept that there is no good that from evil has not come. Hareton is born to an evil father, and Isabella's and Heathcliff's marriage yields Linton and so on.

That a moral conflict exists between the book is an obvious fact. That little judgement is passed by the author is too an obvious fact. But whether or not Brönte intended to play certain elements in her plot in order to heighten this elemental conflict, or whether in fact the conflict was so elemental that she paid no mind to it at all-- this is in the end up to the reader. If her intention was the former, then Brönte succeeds in controlling her narrative with the skill of a dialectic philosopher-- if this is but a side-product of a realistic narrative, then Brönte was a good observer and better recorder of the human nature. Is there more merit to one than to the other? No. The pleasure in Brönte's novel is the unintrusiveness of the author upon the tiny world she creates. If you barely listen, however, you can almost hear her breathing between the commas.