Wuthering Heights Essay, Research Paper
March 16, 2001
Wuthering Heights: A Novel With No Certain Theme
Over the years, Wuthering Heights has been analyzed and re-analyzed, and each analysis seems to come to a different understanding of the main theme of the novel. Critics have argued that the novel is geared toward Romantic themes; the emphasis on nature, the reference to a kindred spirit, and the theme of the wanderer (Heathcliff) all tend to validate this reference. Others have argued that it focuses on the strong impact of the class system in British society during the Eighteen hundreds. There are countless disputes as to how the language should be interpreted, or if the book is a representation of Emily Bronte s subconscious desires, or even if the novel warns against self-obsession (as in the case with Catherine Earnshaw, whose self-obsession leads the disastrous train of events).
All of the different opinions of how all of the different themes should be conveyed add to the mystery of the novel. The abundance of material in the work aids in the mystery by inviting the reader to believe that there is some certain meaning that the novel wholly suggests. Which poses an interesting question, What if the novel is not meant to suggest one certain meaning, but if it is to be freely interpreted by the reader themselves? Emily Bronte provides us with a variety of themes, which allows for a wide range of explanations of Wuthering Heights. Also, her unique, first person narrative style allows for the deconstruction of the novel because it provides us with unbiased opinions about each of the main characters, and, thus, requires each reader to take his own standpoint as to which character he or she will sympathize with (Miller 371-384).
The most obvious idea that coaxes the reader into believing that it is the main theme of the novel is the supernatural theme. Sheila Smith cites this theme as the most convincing because it is a constant and [is] accepted as a way of life (500). When Mr. Lockwood first stays at the heights he has a dream in which the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw frightens him. When Heathcliff responds to Lockwood s yelling, Lockwood tells him that the house is swarming with ghosts and goblins, (44) to which Heathcliff replies by yelling back at Cathy to come back: Cathy, do come. Oh, do- once more! (45). This passage demonstrates the awareness that the characters have of ghosts and their belief in the revenants presence.
Smith cites the presence of apparitions as being an important theme, as well as, their presence being significant to the structure of the novel. Heathcliff returns to the Grange out of love for Cathy, and Cathy returns from the grave in response to this love. The narrators themselves even help to convey the structural importance of revenants. Nelly returning to the Heights (figuratively) to tell her story makes her seem as a ghost returning to its home. Smith also remarks that Lockwood returning a year later to the Grange makes him seem an unwelcome apparition to his ill prepared housekeeper (505). Other evidence of supernatural is apparent throughout the novel, such as the ending of the novel in which Lockwood wonders how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth, (285). In this passage he is referring to Cathy and Heathcliff s undying love for each other and how it could ever be quieted, therefore, he concludes that they are ghosts upon the Moors. Smith concludes her essay by saying, the novel s power lies in Emily Bronte s perception of the supernatural as an essential dimension of the actual She uses the supernatural in her narrative to give direct, dramatic, and objective expression to the strength of [Cathy and Heathcliff s relationship] . (517). This is simply expressing Smith s belief that the supernatural theme is central theme to the novel, and that the execution of the theme is effectively done (498-517).
If the supernatural is the central idea of the novel than why are there so many other different interpretations of the novel? Marianne Thormahlen bases her interpretation on Catherine Earnshaw s self-obsession. Throughout the novel we see Cathy as a self-absorbed person who cares about only her feelings, and disregards the feelings of anyone else. This first becomes evident when Cathy is still a child, provoking her dying father: she was never so happy as when we were all scolding her at once, and she defying us with her bold, saucy look, and her ready words (56). Shortly after, she then begins to identify Heathcliff as a part of her, not her twin soul or her soul mate, but as an actual part of her existence. Her selfish thinking leads her to the conclusion that marrying Edgar Linton will be helping Heathcliff s social status as well as her own (183-197).
Catherine s self-obsession also starts the disastrous events in motion. She indirectly kills the Linton parents as a result of consumption, destroys the lives of the two men that love her, brings ruin and misery to Isabella by provoking her to marry Heathcliff, and leaves her small nephew in the hands of his drunken father when she greedily takes Nelly to be her servant at Thruscross Grange. In each of these events, Cathy selfishly sees herself as the one who is suffering. For example, on her deathbed she says to Heathcliff, You have killed me- and thriven on it, I think (147). She only seems to recognize her own sufferings, and continually blames them on others, as if she has no control over her own life. It is this egotistical frame of mind that produces the domino effect on disaster (Thormahlen 183-197).
Characteristics of the Romantic period continually appear in Wuthering Heights, and critics often see this as the major classification of the novel. But this is just yet another interpretation of the novel. Some major Romantic themes are evident in the novel, but who is to say that this work is to be restricted to only this classification. The emphasis on nature in the novel is unique, in that, nature surrounds the action, but does not interfere in the story. The nature references seem to coincide with the events. For instance, when Heathcliff overhears the conversation in which Catherine tells Nelly that she is going to marry Edgar, there is a big storm, perhaps to illustrate the anger and sorrow that Heathcliff is feeling. Heathcliff then leaves, and another Romantic theme appears- that of the wanderer. The supernatural references also are Romantic themes, which are consistently placed throughout the work.
The existence of Romantic themes coincides with Romantic love. This is not the type of love that involves courtship and marriage, but love that means much more than that. Characteristics of Romantic love incorporate the idea that there is or should be an existence of yourself beyond you (522). This is evident in Cathy and Heathcliff s relationship: Nelly, I am Heathcliff (87). This type of love derives its intensity from an unfulfilled desire, or, in other words, this love is sexless. Another Romantic characteristic is evident in the conflict between men over Catherine. This is a trait of Romanticism that appeared in medieval times when men truly did fight over a woman. Despite being won by another man, Catherine recognizes her love for Heathcliff as being the most enduring type of love- love that could last through eternity. Juliet Mitchell once said, Romantic love represents a triumph of death over life, (522) and that is exactly what Heathcliff and Cathy s love does- triumphs over death. Cathy and Heathcliff s reunion after death equals a promise of consummation (Stoneman 521-533).
The narration scheme in Wuthering Heights has often been a main concern as to how the work of fiction should be interpreted. We are actually given two narrators who each communicate the story with unbiased opinions about each of the characters. Our first narrator, Mr. Lockwood, gives us this sense of impartiality because he is not very familiar with the characters. He does not know them, and, therefore, cannot make an accurate judgment on their personalities. In the beginning of the novel Lockwood describes Heathcliff as a capital fellow! (25), which shows us that he does not know Heathcliff at all. Because he does not know the each characters personality he, therefore, gives us an impartial view of the events in the novel. Nelly, on the other hand, knows each of the characters, but is a reasonable person with unprejudiced opinions. She neither favors nor sympathizes with any one certain character. We know that Nelly is capable of love and warmth, as in the cases of young Hareton and young Cathy, but she seems strangely unmoved by the sufferings of the two lovers (Thormahlen 190), even thought she acts as a confidant to both. It is the two unbiased opinions that ensure(s) that a reader s sympathy is not naturally driven to fuse with any viewpoints of theirs (Thormahlen 185).
The abundance of material in Wuthering Heights allows for diversity of themes to be incorporated, and because of the wide range of information that we are given, Bronte indirectly leads the reader to believe that there is one specific meaning of the novel. The truth to this is that there cannot be one single interpretation that is the right interpretation. The beauty to Wuthering Heights is that there are so many details, which enable the reader to make their own assumptions about a true meaning to the work. Each time a critic analyzes the novel it seems to build on a previous elucidation. The uniqueness in which the story is told, and the fact that every detail counts effectively depicts a novel that is, and will forever be, open for interpretation.