Wuthering Heights Review Essay, Research Paper
Wuthering Heights is an attempt to understand and reconcile those natural forces within us with the expectations of society. Heathcliff is an example of the effects of cruelty, deprivation and alienation that are the by products of civilization. His brutality is a direct result of his having been denied the fundamental need for nurturing that children thrive on. Abandoned as a child, uncared for and unloved, he was left to fend for himself in what must have seemed a hostile and frightening world. Constant rejection and humiliation stimulated his desire for revenge. Having been rejected he in turn rejects the system that spawned him and he sets out to destroy it. He attempts to turn the cruelty he experienced back on those whom he feels have wronged him and thereby relieve his own suffering. He substitutes hate for love, violence for peace, and disorder for harmony. He brutally separates those whom he considers his enemies from their comforts and security, their honor, and finally from those for whom they care. Unable to accept the need to control and modify his passions as a means of partaking in the love and acceptance he craves, his efforts leave him lonely and tormented. He finds himself no closer to the retribution for the love he lost nor the peace of mind for which he desperately longed.
Heathcliff was an exile and an outsider from the first. On his arrival at Wuthering Heights, Nelly describes him as dirty and ragged, of unknown origins and speaking gibberish. He is immediately regarded as a source of discord. Catherine’s reaction is to spit in his face and Nelly leaves him in the hall overnight in the hope that he will disappear. Hindley loses no time in expressing his disdain for Heathcliff; bitterly resenting his father’s alienation of affection in favor of his “imp of Satan,” he persecutes Heathcliff relentlessly. Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff, in Nelly’s opinion, was “enough to make a fiend of a saint.” In spite of this adversity Nelly remembers Heathcliff as “the gentlest child that was ever watched over… as uncomplaining as a lamb.”
Heathcliff’s relation with Catherine was the only comfort he had. They formed a bond that enabled them to endure the harsh treatment they were subjected to by Hindley after the death of old Earnshaw, when Hindley became master of Wuthering Heights and vindictively reduced Heathcliff to the status of a servant. Turning to each other, Heathcliff and Catherine found acceptance and understanding and they became inseparable until the incident at Thrushcross Grange. It is here that they get their first taste of the beauty and luxury of cultured life. Catherine is immediately accepted but Heathcliff horrifies the Lintons by his appearance and his manners. They call him a thief and a gypsy, “a wicked boy at all events and quite unfit for a decent house,” and Isabella wants the “frightful thing” to be put in the cellar.
Heathcliff returns alone to Wuthering Heights and spends five lonely weeks there while he awaits Catherine’s return. However, on her arrival he perceives an alteration in her attitude toward him. When the young Lintons visit the following day, already feeling a sense of rejection for his untamed ways in favor of the civilized life at the Grange, Heathcliff takes offense at a condescending remark of Edgar’s and he sets off a crisis that concludes with Heathcliff’s banishment from the festivities. He feels frustration at his inability to compete with Edgar, and he is furious at Hindley’s humiliating treatment, so he begins to plot his revenge. His anger is further aroused when he overhears Catherine’s plans to marry Edgar and, overwhelmed by what he interprets as her abandonment of him, he impetuously flees the moors.
On his return, several years later, Heathcliff discovers that Catherine has in fact married Edgar Linton. He grows more vindictive and morose. The more pain he feels, the more sinister he becomes. He marries Isabella only to torment Edgar, his rival. He destroys what little there is left of Hindley and he takes on the `education’ of young Hareton. With Catherine’s death Heathcliff’s anger and frustration peak and his behavior verges on madness. He is unable to consider a life without his beloved. He is incapable of being consoled and he turns before Nelly into a savage beast. He is consumed with an unspeakable sadness and in desperation he retreats from reality. He is driven on by the desire to revenge his loss and alleviate his pain. In this state of mind Heathcliff forces the marriage of his son Linton and young Cathy and in doing so his efforts to destroy Edgar are finally achieved. Shortly after young Linton succumbs to the brutal treatment he found at his father’s hand. But Heathcliff’s obsession with Catherine never ceases. For the eighteen years that followed her death he saw her image everywhere, just out of his reach. He confides to Nelly that “the entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her.” Her physical appearance is reflected in the faces of young Cathy and Hareton, who eventually find consolation in each other. Their love is so painful a reminder to Heathcliff he can longer abide their presence and he withdraws into his own world. Close to death he makes a final desperate but unanswered plea for compassion and with this last rejection he dies a broken hearted and tormented soul. With Heathcliff’s death order returns to Wuthering Heights, and with the union of Cathy and Hareton comes a rebirth of the ideals of peace and harmony on which civilization is based.
There can be no doubt as to Heathcliff’s inhuman brutality and the deliberate pain and destruction he causes to those he despises. He is not alone, however, in his cruelty. As old Joseph says, there is something of the other in all of us, and with few exceptions the characters in this novel share to some extent a degree of self absorbing pride and a disdain for what they consider to be threats to their own security and happiness that proves to be destructive.
It is interesting to note one of the cruelest scenes in the novel is Lockwood’s dream, in which he savagely drags the arm of Catherine’s ghost over the broken window pane as she pleads for help. Lockwood has been treated rudely by his hosts earlier in the evening and his suppression of the fear and anger aroused by his humiliation is brutally awakened in his dream. Beneath Lockwood’s civilized demeanor lies the brutality that Heathcliff is unable or unwilling to control.
In Edgar Linton we find a sheltered, pampered and indulged youngster who grows into a rather self satisfied man, dependent on others for his own protection. His wealth, education and position bring him security, comfort and respect, but his seclusion gives him a limited understanding of the feelings and needs of those less fortunate than he. Edgar has mastered the superficial graces of civilized life but he is snobbish and often insensitive to those he feels threatened by, and his claims to superiority are offensive and cruel. Edgar’s hatred and jealousy of Heathcliff are at first subdued by Catherine. But the knowledge that the “low ruffian,” whose “presence is a moral poison that would contaminate the most virtuous,” has a hold on his wife, leads Edgar to strike Heathcliff with the violence and brutality that Nelly says would have leveled a slighter man. Hastily retreating from the scene he leaves his armed servants to eject the “offensive blackguard.” Neither his education nor his civilized upbringing could restrain his passion and in his effort to separate Heathcliff and Catherine he deals the blow that leads to her illness and finally to her death.
Edgar’s condemnation of Isabella is equally tyrannical. He regards his sister’s marriage to Heathcliff as the act of a traitor and he selfishly abandons her without a second thought. She is even excluded from Catherine’s funeral and is forced to live out her days separated from her family and he friends. Only on her death does Edgar show her any compassion.
In young Linton Heathcliff we also see signs of self indulgence and insensitivity to others. He whines and complains at the merest provocation. Frail and timid he is unable to withstand Heathcliff’s onslaught and the harshness of the Heights itself. He selfishly and cowardly entraps Cathy in his father’s scheme and unsympathetically sides with Heathcliff, who torments her. He looks forward to his uncle’s death when he would become master of Thrushcross Grange, a dream that would never be fulfilled.
Ironically it is young Cathy that remains at young Linton’s side until his death. She and Hareton are the sole survivors of Heathcliff’s rage. They alone are able to accept and transcend their differences. They grow to love and respect one another and thereby find the balance needed to reestablish the peace and harmony that eluded their elders.
Civilization exacts a price from its members. Some individuals, for reasons intrinsic to society itself, pay more dearly than others. They become unwilling or unable to abide by its rules! They allow themselves to be governed by their fears and their passions and commit acts that lead to a breakdown in the social system. Students of psychology recognize that those who are made miserable tend to make others miserable. Heathcliff represents the anger and cruelty that can be produced by a system that claims superiority over untamed nature but can often be just as brutal and inhumane.