Interweaving Characters and Surroundings in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights
Length: 1715 words (4.9 double-spaced pages)
Definitive criteria for judging the success or failure of a work of fiction are not easily agreed upon; individuals almost necessarily introduce bias into any such attempt. Only those who affect an exorbitantly refined artistic taste, however, would deny the importance of poignancy in literary pieces. To be sure, writings of dubious and fleeting merit frequently enchant the public, but there is too the occasional author who garners widespread acclaim and whose works remain deeply affecting despite the passage of time. The continued eminence of the fiction of Emily Bronte attests to her placement into such a category of authors: it is a recognition of her propensity to create poignant and, indeed, successful literature.
Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is a novel about lives that cross paths and are intertwined with one another. Healthcliff, an orphan, is taken in by Mr. Earnshaw, the owner of Wuthering Heights. Mr. Earnshaw has two children named Catherine and Hindley. Jealousy between Hindley and Healthcliff was always a problem. Catherine loves Healthcliff, but Hindley hates the stranger for stealing his fathers affection away. Catherine meets Edgar Linton, a young gentleman who lives at Thrushcross Grange. Despite being in love with Healthcliff she marries Edgar elevating her social standing. The characters in this novel are commingled in their relationships with Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
The setting used throughout the novel Wuthering Heights, helps to set the mood to describe the characters. We find two households separated by the cold, muddy, and barren moors, one by the name of Wuthering Heights, and the other Thrushcross Grange. Each house stands alone, in the mist of the dreary land, and the atmosphere creates a mood of isolation. These two places, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange differ greatly in appearance and mood. These differences reflect the universal conflict between storm and calm that Emily Bronte develops as the theme.
Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange both represent several opposing properties which bring about all sorts of bad happenings when they clash. For example, the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights were that of the working class, while those of Thrushcross Grange were high up on the social ladder. The people of Wuthering Heights aspired to be on the same level as the Lintons. This is evident by Heathcliff and Catherine when the peek through their window. In addition, Wuthering Heights was always in a state of storminess while Thrushcross Grange always seemed calm.
Wuthering Heights, and its surroundings, depicts the cold, dark, and evil side of life.
Bronte chooses well, the language that she uses in Wuthering Heights. Even the title of her book holds meaning.
“The very definition of the word wuthering may be viewed as a premonitory indication of the mysterious happenings to be experienced by those inhabiting the edifice.”1
“Wuthering Heights, built in 1500, suffers from a kind of malnutrition: its thorns have become barren, its firs stunted, everything seems to crave for the ‘alms of the sun’ that sustain life.”2
“This tenebrous home is decorated with crumbling griffins over the front of the main door.”3
Its lack of congeniality and “warmth is augmented by stone floors.” 4
The windows are set deep in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones. Although Wuthering Heights, the land of the storm, sits high on the barren moorland, “The world of Wuthering Heights is a world of sadism, violence, and wanton cruelty.” 5
It is the tenants of the Wuthering Heights that bring the storm to the house. The Earnshaw family, including Heathcliff, grew up inflicting pain on one another. Pinching, slapping and hair pulling occur constantly. Catherine, instead of shaking her gently, wakes Nelly Dean, the servant of the house, up by pulling her hair. The Earnshaw children grow up in a world “where human beings, like the trees, grow gnarled and dwarfed and distorted by the inclement climate.”6
Wuthering Heights is parallel to the life of Heathcliff. Both Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights began as lovely and warm, and as time wore on both withered away to become less of what they once were. Heathcliff is the very spirit of Wuthering Heights. Healthcliff is a symbol of Wuthering Heights, the cold, dark, and dismal dwelling. “The authors use of parallel personifications to depict specific parts of the house as analogous to Heathcliff’s face reveal stunning insights into his character.”7
Emily Bronte describes Wuthering Heights having “narrow windows deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.”8 This description using the characteristics of Wuthering Heights is adjacent to Heathcliff when he is illustrated having, “black eyes withdrawn so suspiciously under their brow.”9 Heathcliff lived in a primal identification with nature, from the rocks, stones, trees, the heavy skies and eclipsed sun, which environs him. There is no true separation from the setting of nature for Heathcliff and the lives with which his life is bound.
Thrushcross Grange, in contrast to the bleak exposed farmhouse on the heights, is situated in the valley with none of the grim features of Heathcliff’s home. Opposite of Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange is filled with light and warmth. “Unlike Wuthering Heights, it is elegant and comfortable-’a splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson covered chairs and tables, and a pure white ceiling bordered by gold’.”10 Thrushcross Grange is the appropriate home of the children of the calm. The atmosphere of Thrushcross Grange illustrates the link the inhabitants have with the upper-class Victorian lifestyle. Although the Linton’s appearance was often shallow, appearances were kept up for their friends and their social standing.
While Wuthering Heights was always full of activity, sometimes to the point of chaos, life at the Grange always seemed placid. Linton’s existence here at Thrushcross Grange was as “different from Heathcliff’s ‘as moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire’.”11The Linton’s often portrayed themselves as shallow, arrogant people, but life here was much more jovial than the inmates of Wuthering Heights lives were.
Catherine Earnshaw, also a child of the storm, ties these two worlds of storm and calm together. Despite the fact that she occupies a position midway between the two worlds, Catherine is a product of the moors. She belongs in a sense to both worlds and is constantly drawn first in Heathcliff’s direction, then in Linton’s. Catherine does not ‘like’ Heathcliff, but she loves him with all the strength of her being. For he, like her, is a child of the storm; and this makes a bond between them, which interweaves itself with the very nature of their existence. In a sublime passage she tells Nelly Dean that she loves him- “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. . . . 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. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. 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. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind; not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”12 Despite the fact she loves only Heathcliff, she marries Edgar Linton.
Catherine realizes that even though her love or lack of love for Edgar is questionable, she feels that someday she will learn how to love him. “Catherine sees that, whatever his faults, Heathcliff transcends the Lintons’ world.”13 “Catherine’s account of Heathcliff may appear on the surface to be scarcely more favorable than Linton’s; but it is certain that she understands him in a way that Linton never could.”14 The bond between Heathcliff and Catherine was formed long ago during their childhood at Wuthering Heights.
The setting throughout the novel often corresponded with the characters emotions. It is best symbolized “in a passage about nature’s obviousness to Heathcliff’s grief over Cathy’s death. A symbol for tears lurks in the image of ‘the dew that had gathered on the budded branches, and fell pattering round him’.”15 Even though Heathcliff was a hardened person, Catherine’s death truly devastated him. Heathcliff’s emotions also corresponded with nature when he disappears into a raging storm after hearing Catherine say that it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff. Emily Bronte gives a brief description of Catherine’s actions after it is brought to her attention that Heathcliff heard what she said. Catherine, going out to the road in search of him, ‘where heedless of my expostulations, and the growling thunder, and the great drops that began to plash round her, she remained calling, at intervals, and then listening, and then crying outright.”16 This description symbolizes the relationship and the internal bond that the characters of Wuthering Heights had with nature.
It is Bronte’s remarkable imagination, emotional power, figures of speech, and handling of dialect that makes the characters of Wuthering Heights relate so closely with their surroundings. Emily Bronte’s style of writing is capable of drawing you into the novel because of her ability to make inanimate objects become the characters of the story. The contrast of these two houses adds much to the meaning of this novel, and without it, the story wouldn’t be the interesting, complex novel it is without the contrast between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The contrast between them is more than physical, rather these two houses represent opposing forces which are embodied in their inhabitants. Having this contrast is what brings about the presentation of this story altogether. Bronte made Heathcliff and Wuthering Height as one. Both of these being cold, dark, and menacing similar to a storm. Thrushcross Grange and the Lintons were more a welcoming and peaceful dwelling. The personality of both is warm and draws itself to you by the warmth of the decor and richness of the surrounding landscape.