According to the American linguist and critic Mary Louise Pratt and her definition of "contact zone," what are the kind of encounters that take place between the different people in Wuthering Heights? Are they portrayed as positive or problematic ones? What might these representations tell us about the realities of imperialism, trade, migration, settlement, and colonialism in England during the nineteenth century?

Mary Louise Pratt's contact zone is a space where individuals from different cultures meet and often clash. This is highly problematic in Wuthering Heights. In the instance of Lockwood, cultural difference leads to misunderstanding. Heathcliff, an interloper brought in from another culture, is treated and then acts with a brutality that suggests the ruthless ways imperialism, trade, migration, settlement, and colonialism were imposed in England.

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Mary Louise Pratt defines contact zones as spaces where people of different cultures come into contact, most often in ways that clash. In Wuthering Heights, two examples of people in contact zones are Lockwood and Heathcliff.

Lockwood, as people of a dominant culture often do—he is a well-to-do man from the south of England come to the rugged and remote Yorkshire moors—completely misinterprets the culture he is entering into as exactly like his own. He assumes, for example, that Heathcliff is a "capital" fellow, soft, sociable, and adept in the social niceties, just like himself. He overlooks early evidence that Heathcliff is very different from him, slotting Heathcliff into his own preexisting perceptions of what a gentleman is. As is often the case in contact zone situations, it takes quite a bit to convince Lockwood that Heathcliff operates out of a different worldview.

A more important example of a contact zone character is Heathcliff himself. He is a lower class waif picked up by Mr. Earnshaw on the streets of Liverpool and brought into the household as an adopted son. Heathcliff has, however, already brought with him some of the street hardness he has developed early in life. Worse, however, he is brought into the contact zone without adequate protection. This leaves him at the mercy of Hindley, who inherits all the wealth after Mr. Earnshaw dies. Hindley cruelly degrades Heathcliff and denies him the opportunities that he has talents to use. This suggests that imperialism, settlement, trade, migration, and colonialism in England were often brutally imposed, a matter of power, not morality—and that like Heathcliff, colonial subjects were capable of achieving more but were deliberately oppressed. This becomes clear after Heathcliff, the colonized subject, is able to gain the tools and power of the colonizer, which he, having learned the lesson that power is the only thing that counts, turns on his enemies. Heathcliff speaks to nineteenth century anxieties about the "other" in a contact zone gaining power—an anxiety resolved only when Heathcliff loses interest in revenge.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 13, 2020
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