Wuthering Heights Essay, Research Paper
This study will examine Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, focusing on how evil is related to love. The study will explore the main relationship in the book, the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. That relationship is full of both love and evil and will show us what happens when evil and love become tied to one another.
The first thing we need to do is define evil. It is perhaps impossible to define love in a way, which will satisfy all of us. We will probably all agree that love is usually an attraction between two people, which makes them feel good about themselves and the other person and about life in general. On the other hand, the love that is powerful and romantic goes way beyond such a feel-good experience. For the sake of this study, we must agree that Catherine and Heathcliff love one another, but the question is whether that love is healthy. Just because it is unhealthy does not mean that it is not love.
However, if it is so unhealthy that it becomes destructive to both of them, and then we can start to see it as evil. To this reader, their love is tied up with evil because their love has become more important than anything else in their lives and because it is destroying both of them. It is evil to expect another human being to do for you what it is impossible for another human being to do. Heathclif and Catherine see each other as gods, or as God, and expect to be saved by the other as God would save one. They see love as something, which they can throw themselves into and disappear, and at that point love becomes destructive and evil.
The love which Catherine and Heathcliff share is a love which many people would like to have, but only because they see the passion and the thrill of such a powerful love. They forget that the passion can get out of control and begin to destroy the lovers, as well as those near and dear to them. That is what Bronte’s novel shows us and reminds us about this kind of powerful, romantic love. It does not get out of control in the case of these two lovers, and becomes evil.
Heathcliff is shown to be a dark and even hateful character the moment we meet him on the first two pages of the book. Lockwood sees himself as a kind of kin to Heathcliff, and sees the region as a fit for heir dark personalities.
A perfect misanthropist’s Heaven— and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable
pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how
my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so
suspiciously under their brows (45).
Lockwood has no idea how much more dark and evil Heathcliff is. Heathcliff is shown to be an evil man even before he meets Catherine, so we cannot say that he learned to be evil because of his extreme love for Catherine. We see Heathcliff not as a loving person, not as a lover, but as a hater, a misanthrope, or a person who hates people. This might be a clue helping us to understand the evil part of Heathcliff’s love. Perhaps a love for one person, which grows out of a hatred of all other people, will end up being evil, sooner or later. Perhaps true love leads a person to feel warm and loving toward all people, or most people. And perhaps a love, which is evil, is one, which comes from a hatred for people in general, and a feeling that one other person, the beloved, will heal the pain of that huge hatred. In Heathcliff’s case, that did not happen. He was not healed by love, but driven even madder than he was at the beginning of the book.
In contrast to Heathcliff, Catherine is pictured as a warm, playful and loving person in the early part of the book. However, the first important scene in which we hear of Catherine and Heathcliff together gives us a sense of the evil of Heathcliff and the possibility of Catherine being affected by that evil. Again, we must keep in mind that we do not know what the irrational feeling is that ties two people together, even if the world is against them. In fact, when the world is against them and their love, it often drives them even closer together, as is the case with Catherine and Heathcliff. This is especially rue for these two lovers because even in childhood they had had a very close relationship in which they were themselves fighting the world together.
In that first scene, from their childhood, Catherine and Heathcliff are spying on their neighbors, who have everything material and are believed to be happy. But when Heathcliff and Catherine look through the window, they see a miserable family screaming at one another. Heathcliff’s reaction in telling this story gives us an idea of his deep feeling for Catherine as well as his rage at the rest of the world;
The idiots! That was their pleasure! To quarrel… and cry… We (Catherine
and himself) did despise them! When would you…. find us by ourselves, seeking
entertainment in yelling, and sobbing, and rolling on the ground…. ? I’d not
exchange, for a thousand lives, my condition here, for Edgar Linton’s at
Thrushcross Grange— not if I might have the privilege of flinging Joseph
off the highest gable, and painting the house front with Hindley’s blood! (89).
We see Heathcliff’s hatred for the world, except for his beloved Catherine, and also his pride. He fears that he is socially inferior to others, and in response he wants to destroy them. This sense of inferiority was born in childhood, and it is not cured by adulthood when he has become rich and dignified. He still hates the world in part because of his pride. As Nelly Dean the narrator says, “Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves” (97), and, she might have added, for others as well, especially those they love and who love them. This is part of the reason that the love between Heathcliff and Catherine becomes evil. Love cannot be healthy if one of the lovers hates the world and is eaten up inside by a sense of his inferiority.
In fact, when Heathcliff as a child complains to Nelly that he will never be as handsome and fair-skinned and light haired and rich as Edgar, Nelly shows him his reflection in a mirror and warns him to fight against the evil showing already in his face. She calls his eyes “black friends, so deeply buried, who never open their windows boldly, but lurk glinting under them, like devil’s spies” (97).
The evil is there in Heathcliff early, then. Can an evil, unhappy, angry, prideful person truly love? If one is already so full of hatred, is love possible? And if another person loves such a man, is it possible for her to avoid entering into that evil?
In the scene in which Heathcliff and Edgar fight, we see that Catherine is steadily becoming more evil herself. We could argue that she is a good person at heart, but her relationship with Heathcliff is dragging her down into the darkness. She is seen as not able to resist the evil he carries with him. She becomes confused and frustrated and angry she, trying to figure out what is going on and how to deal with Heathcliff’s rage.
In truth, she could keep her sanity and goodness only if she left Heathcliff and never had anything to do with him again. But she is tied to him by a power reaching back to their childhood. It is a connection, which is not rational, so her reason is completely useless in trying to figure out Heathcliff or her love for him.
It is clear to the reader; however, that she is becoming more and more like Heathcliff the more she stands by him or has anything to do with him:
I want to frighten (Edgar)… I’m certain I should recriminate, and
God knows where we should end! …. Heathcliff’s talk was outrageous….
The fool’s-craving to hear evil of self that haunts dashes all wrong
some people like a demon…. I did not care, hardly, what they did to each other
(i.e., Heathcliff and Edgar), especially as I felt that….we should all be driven
asunder for nobody knows how long…. I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking
my own (155).
This is a woman who is becoming insane, if not evil. She is driven to hurt those who are hurting her, just as Heathcliff tries to hurt Edgar. The love between Heathcliff and Catherine even at this point in the novel seems clearly hopeless. Heathcliff is not sane enough to see reality, to let go of the past, and to love a woman who loves him in a healthy way. He is out of control. He cannot resist following his angry emotions. And Catherine does not have the mental or emotional skills to see Heathcliff for what he is and to get out of the relationship. She is tied to him, for better or worse, just as he is tied to her. Her goodness is not strong enough to stand up to his evil. The only hope she has to save herself is to leave him and never have anything to do with him again, but she is not strong enough to take such a step.
Catherine becomes sick and weak as she tries to deal with the madness and evil brought into her life by Heathcliff. When Heathcliff comes to her on her sickbed, she shows him, and us; how far down she has sunk into the darkness. Long gone is the sweet, loving, warm and playful girl who we met at the beginning of the book. Her love for Heathcliff is destroying her, and turning her into a person who wants to do harm in return for the harm, which has been done to her.
When Nelly comes to see her, she sees Catherine as one doomed to decay “the flash of her eyes had been succeeded by a dreamy and melancholy softness.” And when Heathcliff comes to see her, it is clear to Nelly that Heathcliff sees Catherine dying as well: “The same conviction had stricken him as me, from the instant he beheld her, that there was no prospect of ultimate recovery there— she was fated, sure to die” (193-194).
If Heathcliff truly loved Catherine, he would leave her life forever, for that is the only way she could ever recover. However, the two are so deeply connected by this time that even if he did leave her out of love, she would probably still not recover. This is the evil out of their love— it makes them weak, insane, unhappy, and willing and eager to do harm in return for harm done them.
Here is Catherine expressing her sickness and rage to Heathcliff, in a way which makes her sound as evil as Heathcliff himself:
I shall not pity you, not I. You have killed me—and thriven on it, I think. How
strong you are! How many years do you mean to live after I am gone… I wish
I could hold you till we were both dead! I shouldn’t care what you suffered. I care
nothing for our sufferings. Why shouldn’t you suffer? I do! (195).
Catherine evilly says that Heathcliff will forget her someday and love many other women. He responds, “Don’t torture me till I’m mad as yourelf” (1950).
Clearly, this is a relationship, which might be called love, in an extreme and romantic sense. But it is even more certainly a relationship, which by this time has become destructive and evil. These are two people who are tied together by feelings, which we do not normally think of when we think of love. Today psychologists would call their relationship a co-dependant. Such an analysis would not blame the evil Heathcliff for corrupting the good Catherine. Instead, the two personalities would be seen as equally at fault. They would be labeled as two psychologically unhealthy people who found each other so they could work out their problems. Catherine needed Heathcliff as much as he needs her. However, with no professional help from outside, and without a strong religious faith to give them perspective, Heathcliff and Catherine are hopelessly lost. The evil, which draws them together, is bigger than both of them. They do not have the knowledge or skills to desire to save themselves. To change themselves, they would have had to know themselves first, and neither of them is able to do that. Heathcliff is controlled by his rage and pride, and Catherine is controlled by her weakness, her beliefs that she needs Heathcliff to be complete.
The evil destructiveness of their love finally kills Catherine, and Heathcliff is in a state of madness. The sign of goodness is in the fruits of the acts of love. The sign of evil is also in the fruits of the acts of evil. It might not be fair to say that the love of Catherine and Heathcliff is entirely evil, but it is clear that much evil has come out of it. Still, the love is a good thing, and then it is difficult to see how we can call such a miserable relationship love at all.
Perhaps love is first and foremost a caring for the beloved, which leads us to do everything, we can to avoid hurting him or her. Heathcliff was incapable of controlling himself in such a way that he would not hurt Catherine by his rageful actions. And Catherine, hurt so many times directly and indirectly by Heathcliff’s anger and pride, was finally driven to evil herself by her pain.
When Catherine dies, Heathcliff’s insane misery shows us a man left alone with the evil results of the selfish actions of a lifetime:
I distinguished Mr. Heathcliff’s step, restlessly measuring the floor;
and he frequently broke the silence, by a deep inspiration, resembling a groan.
He muttered detached words, also; the only one, I could catch, was the name of
Catherine, coupled with some wild term of endearment, or suffering; and spoken
as one would speak to a person present—- low and earnest, and wrung from he
depth of his soul (362).
This is a portrait of a man in a living hell, a hell he created for himself because of his evil actions.
It is up to the individual reader how he or she interprets the relationship of Heathcliff and Catherine. It may be that these two people who were indeed helpless to do anything differently than how they did it in the book. They can be seen as tragic lovers who had no chance to avoid their miserable fates. If we see them in that way, then they can hardly be seen as evil, because they had no choice and no choice to be good, to l love one another in a healthy way, or to leave one another out of love because they saw they could not love healthily. If we see them in this way, they are not any more evil than a drug addict who cannot help himself from trying to get the next fix of the drug that is killing him.
On the other hand, if we see them as free individual human beings who have the power to make choices between good and evil, than they are themselves evil because they continued to hurt one another, sometimes cruelly, after they knew that their relationship was destructive. Even if we see them as hopeless as junkies in their addiction to one another, at some point they had to have realized they were destroying each other. If it were truly love which they felt, they would have done whatever they could to stop themselves and separate because of that love.
As it is in the book, however, author Bronte has painted Heathcliff and Catherine as two people who never really had such a free choice. From the beginning, even in childhood, there were powerful and dark connections, which bound these two, together against the world. Certainly we can say that Heath cliff was by far the more evil of the two, but Catherine willingly stayed in the relationship, and/or allowed herself to be brought back into it by Heathcliff. Evil or not, she is as much responsible for the misery and destruction of their “love” as Heathcliff.