What are the roots of ambition in Wuthering Heights?

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lusie0520 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The roots of ambition in Wuthering Heights are present in both Heathcliff and Catherine. Heathcliff, who is taken off the street by Mr. Earnshaw, is mistreated by everyone in the family except his father and Catherine. His brother, in particular, hates him for usurping his rightful place as his father’s son. “He took to Heathcliff strangely, believing all he said, and petting him up far above Cathy”…(Chapter 4). When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley relegates Heathcliff to the fields, exiling him from the family. “Poor Heathcliff! Hindley calls him a vagabond, and won’t let him sit with us, nor eat with us anymore (Chapter 3). This is the first spur to Heathcliff’s ambition. The second is his treatment by the Lintons. When he and Cathy are discovered looking in the Lintons’ window, Cathy is welcomed into the family, but Heathcliff is not. “Mrs. Linton begged that her darlings be kept away from ‘that naughty, swearing boy.’” (Chapter 7). Heathcliff makes an instant enemy of Edgar, a fact which complicates his relationship with Catherine, who ends up marrying Edgar. Between his ostracism from his family, and Edgar Linton taking away the one person he loved most in the world, Heathcliff begins to plan his revenge. His ambition to make himself into something, then take everything from Hinton and Edgar, begins the moment Mr. Earnshaw brings him home.

Catherine is also ambitious. Although Wuthering Heights is her home, she is smart enough, even as a young girl, to understand that Thrushcross Grange is better, and that the Lintons are higher on the social ladder than her family. Thus, when Catherine is bitten by the dog and must stay at Thrushcross Grange, she takes advantage of her opportunity to get close to the family. When she returns, she has been transformed from the wild girl who ran around with Heathcliff on the moors to a young lady. “….there alighted from a handsome black pony a very different person with brown ringlets falling from the cover of a feathered beaver (Chapter 7). She also makes friends with Edgar, and this turns into love on his part. Seeing the opportunities presented by the match, she decides to love him and improve her social status. Her ambition helps her decide that she will marry Edgar, though she may not love him as she loves Heathcliff.

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