Sunday, April 3, 2011

An Analysis of "Wuthering Heights" by Charlotte Bronte

Throughout the novel characters are prejudged by their race, class, or education. When Heathcliff is first introduced he is described as a dark skinned boy with dark hair, and because of this people are prejudiced against him. He is called a ‘gypsy’ numerous times, and the Lintons treat him badly and send him away from their house because of his appearance. Heathcliff also quickly dislikes his son because of his light skin and hair. Class is also an issue. There was a class hierarchy in Bronte's England, and this can be seen in the novel as well. The residents of Wuthering Heights seem to be of a lower class than the Lintons at Thrushcross Grange. Even though she loves him, Catherine will not marry Heathcliff after he has been degraded, and instead marries into the rich Linton family, causing all of the major conflict in the novel. The Lintons are of a higher class both because they have more money and do not seem to have to work, and because they are better educated. Catherine tries to better her station both by marrying Edgar Linton and by her constant reading. She laughs at Hareton because of his lack of education. Heathcliff admits that Hareton is smarter than Linton, yet because of how they are raised and what they will inherit, Linton will be the more upgraded while Hareton will remain a servant. It is only when Catherine and Hareton become friends and she begins to educate him that Hareton turns into a gentleman and loses his crude behavior.

Although there are many different important messages in this novel, the main value is the changes that occur in and between the characters. It is a love story that deals with the social classes and the suppression of true feelings. Wuthering Heights is a tragedy because of what happens when the characters finally discover what was truly meant to be. Wuthering Heights bestows a moral value onto the reader of discrimination and true heartbreak. One chief character was Heathcliff. The entire story was written around Heathcliff and yet he was not really the main character. Heathcliff was adopted off of the streets at a very young age. Neither of his foster siblings cared much for him at first. Eventually, his sister grew to like him and his brother grew to hate him. As the years passed, Heathcliff's brother Hindley continued to scar him emotionally and his sister Cathy grew to love him with such a passion that when Cathy and Hindley died in their middle ages, Heathcliff vowed to take revenge on Hindley's son and to not rest until he lay in the ground beside Cathy. There were many instances in the story where one was compelled to feel sorry for the way Heathcliff was constantly barraged by Hindley's acts of contempt. However, no matter how much damage Hindley did, there was no one to blame for Heathcliff's mannerism but Heathcliff. One example of Heathcliff's psychological turmoil was when Cathy died. He bribed the cemetery caretaker to open Cathy's grave after the funeral services had passed. On doing so, Heathcliff kicked one side of the coffin in so that the dust and dirt could be free to intermingle with the body of Cathy. He instructed the caretaker to close the grave and to repeat the same ordeal this time with Heathcliff's coffin when he died.

There are only two houses in this novel: Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The former is associated with the stormy side of life, the latter with the calm. Physically, there is a great contrast between these houses. Wuthering Heights is a strongly built and fierce-looking farmhouse. When Linton first sees it he is frightened by the "carved front and low browed lattices, the straggling gooseberry bushes and crooked firs." The building is battered by severe winds during the frequent storms. Thrushcross Grange, a large estate, is much more protected from the elements. It lies in a valley, and the park around it is enclosed by a stone wall. When Heathcliff first glimpses the drawing room through a window, he thinks it is heaven- all crimson, gold, and silver. Yorkshire, where these houses are located, is a wild, bleak spot. There are few trees; slopes of black rock cut swathes through the heather, which is dull brown most of the year; little streams tumble everywhere. There is a lot of rain, a lot of mist, and a lot of snow. The people are taciturn, close-fisted, and often brutal. There is no other world in the novel, such as many say there was no other world for Emily Bronte.

The home of the Earnshaws and then Heathcliff is called 'Wuthering Heights,' and in the first chapter Mr. Lockwood says that 'wuthering' is a significant adjective, as it is “descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed; one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun” (6). Indeed the wind is an important symbol for change in the novel. It is present during many of the significant events in the lives of the characters. When Mr. Earnshaw dies there is a 'high wind,' and the weather is described as 'wild and stormy.' On the night that Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights there is a great storm with wind and rain. And on the morning that Ellen finds Heathcliff dead, the rain and wind are coming in through his window and beating his lattice back and forth.

I would strongly recommend this book to another reader. The book is well written and is easily read due to the manner in which the text flows. There is no need to tear apart the sentences in order to follow the story as you would in reading many other classic literature books. All in all the book had a good storyline, a wonderful cast of characters, a pleasant ending, and is definitely a classic piece of English Literature.


D.N. Aloysius
Lecturer in English
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities
Rajarata University of Sri Lanka

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