Essays and Criticism
Wuthering Heights: A Critical Analysis
The only novel written by Emily Brontë before her untimely death, Wuthering Heights occupies a distinctive position between Gothic and Romantic fiction, and it reflects the central thematic interests of both of these genres. Its melodramatic story spans more than three decades, but it is the supranatural passion between Catherine (Cathy) Earnshaw and Heathcliff that dominates the entire book, exerting a controlling influence over the lives of Brontë's characters long after Cathy's physical demise. Brontë appears to deliberately cloud the central question of whether her story is to be read as a supernatural horror story or an emotionally charged romance. The lightning rod of this issue is Heathcliff, an individual who necessarily evokes powerful but somewhat contradictory responses from the other characters in the novel and from the reader as well. Is Heathcliff a devil or just an extraordinarily driven man? Our response to Heathcliff, to the love he shares with Cathy, and, therefore, to the novel as a whole, is further complicated by the Brontë's use of multiple narrators—Nelly Dean and Mr. Lockwood—each of whom plays a role in the tale, who hold radically different perspectives on the novel's lovers.
The relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff is the epicenter of Wuthering Heights, and their love is so intense that it is difficult to characterize, reaching well into the realm of metaphysics. Raised together in the Earnshaw household, Cathy and Heathcliff roam the moors and share identical opinions about the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The depth of Cathy's identification with Heathcliff is evident from her crucial confession to Nelly Dean in which she says, "He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same," and then adds the now-famous declaration, "I am Heathcliff" (p.92). When Cathy dies in childbirth, fainting in his arms while her husband Edgar looks on, Heathcliff's despair knows no bounds. According to Nelly, "he dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast being goaded to death with knives and spears" (p.176). Heathcliff literally prays to Cathy, asking that her ghost haunt him. His plea is granted. A full generation later, after his scheme to join his son Linton and Cathy's daughter Catherine is foiled, Heathcliff, still haunted by his vision of his long-dead paramour,...
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Wuthering Heights and the Unforgivable Sin
The two dreams Lockwood experiences early in Wuthering Heights—the first of a visit to Gimmerton Kirk, and the second of a visit from the ghost-child Catherine—have recently received critical attention from Ruth M. Adams and Edgar Shannon. Of the two interpretations Shannon's ["Lockwood's Dreams and the Exegesis of Wuthering Heights, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, September, 1959] seems the most convincing in that it offers the only plausible source for the Biblical allusion in the first dream; but in discussing the relationship of the dream sermon and its title to the tragedy of Heathcliff and Catherine, Shannon ignores significant aspects of the dream itself, and consequently the value of his interpretation seems impaired somewhat, like Miss Adams's, by its own ingenuity.
The preacher that Lockwood hears in the first dream is Jabes Branderham, and the sermon is entitled "Seventy Times Seven and the First of the Seventy-first." Shannon identifies the sermon's text as Matt 18. 21-22. In this passage Peter asks Jesus "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?" and Jesus answers, "I say not unto thee Until seven times, but, Until seventy times seven." "The First of the Seventy-first," then, Shannon asserts, "advances the idea of an unpardonable sin beyond the ordinary scale of human wrongs." The subsequent nightmare, he continues, connects this idea with Catherine, who appears as an outcast,...
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The Waif at the Window: Emily Bronte's Feminine "Bildungsroman"
In their study of nineteenth-century women writers, The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar argue persuasively that because the story of Wuthering Heights is built around a central fall—generally understood to be Catherine and Heathcliff's anti-Miltonic fall from hell to heaven—"a description of the novel as in part a Bildungsroman about a girl's passage from 'innocence' to 'experience' (leaving aside the precise meaning of these terms) would probably be widely accepted."
This is an interesting interpretation, and brilliantly demonstrated. But like other views of Wuthering Heights as a feminine Bildungsroman, the focus of development is Catherine, and by association her male doppelganger Heathcliff. The emphasis upon the first generation of the Heights is, of course, important, and certainly Catherine and Heathcliff suffer their own peculiar rites of passage in their search for identity and wholeness. And yet it is curious that the tortured first generation of Wuthering Heights fail to develop a mature understanding of themselves and others—in fact, Catherine and Heathcliff actually shrink from full participation in adult life, regressing into the adolescent preoccupation with self and the desperate need to feel loved. Catherine, especially, is not so much struggling to grow up as she is...
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Repeating Cycles and Recurring Patterns in Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights was the only novel Emily Brontë ever published, and both it and the book of poetry she published with her sisters were printed under the pen name, Ellis Bell, a name which Emily chose because she was afraid works published under a woman's name would not be taken seriously. Emily Brontë died shortly after her book was published and just prior to her thirtieth birthday, but her single novel remains one of the classics of English literature. Wuthering Heights is a complex novel, and critics have approached it from many different standpoints. Feminist critics have examined the strong female characters and their oppression by and resistance to violent men. Marxist critics have pointed to the class differences that set in motion the primary conflicts of Wuthering Heights, and psychoanalytic critics have analyzed the dreams that fill the book. While all of these approaches are useful and valid, Wuthering Heights is, above all, a book of repeating cycles and recurring patterns, and perhaps the simplest way to begin an examination of this book is by tracing the course and resolution of some of these patterns.
When Lockwood spends the night at the Heights, he finds the window ledge covered with "a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small—Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton." Indeed, the repetition and...
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