Is there the conflict between the savage and the civilized in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights? Explain.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Emily Bronte's novel, Wuthering Heights, I believe there is a conflict between the savage and the civilized.

Heathcliff is brought to Wuthering Heights by its master, Mr. Earnshaw; his two children are Catherine and Hindley. When Heathcliff, an orphan on the streets of Liverpool, comes to live with them, he undoubtedly appears "savage," while Hindley probably sees himself as a decent, civilized young man. Hindley becomes jealous, growing to resent Heathcliff.  When Hindley and Catherine's father dies, Hindley comes back to the Heights with his wife, and treats Heathcliff like a servant, savagely turning on him; in some ways, Heathcliff is more civilized.

Catherine, who was bitten by a dog at the neighboring estate, has to remain there for five weeks. When she returns, she is different: in dress—and in her manner toward Heathcliff. She agrees to marry Edgar Linton, their neighbor. This subtle rejection (which she blames on her brother's poor treatment of Heathcliff, making him something he was not before) probably seems savage to the insecure Heathcliff. When he overhears Catherine speaking of it...hearing only a portion of the discussion...he feels rejected.

Heathcliff runs away, returning some time later—educated, with money. At this point of the story, Heathcliff becomes savage. He never gets over the loss of Catherine. And he becomes obsessed with gaining ownership of Wuthering Heights. Hindley loses the Heights to Heathcliff while gambling. This is only one part of Heathcliff's savagery. He marries Isabella Linton, Edgar's sister, only to get her inheritance. She becomes so afraid of her husband that she leaves the area to get away from him, even while carrying his child.

Years later, Heathcliff's final act of savagery occurs with Catherine's grown daughter. Catherine has died, and young Catherine one day visits Wuthering Heights where she meets Heathcliff and Hareton (Hindley's son), and again sees Linton, Heathcliff's son. Eventually, Heathcliff forces Linton and Catherine to marry, and then forces Linton to sign all of the properties he and Catherine own over to Heathcliff.

Had Heathcliff had the opportunity to grow up under the watchful care of Mr. Earnshaw, he would have been able to handle himself in a much more civilized fashion. He is, however, a product of his environment when Hindley turns on him after his father's death, and Heathcliff is changed forever. Even had he been able to hold onto Catherine, he might have been saved, but he loses her as well.

Hindley represents that part of society, the well-to-do heir, who should have been a gentleman, but his petty jealousies and drinking push him to drive Heathcliff out; he gambles away the Heights, losing everything. But in light of these events, Heathcliff also behaves savagely to get what he wants, after losing Catherine. In would seem that savagery begets savagery in this story.

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