Wuthering Heights can be viewed as a conflict between the savage and the civilized. Do you agree?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Definitely. It is vital to recognise the way in which Emily Bronte uses setting to bring to the fore this theme. Note how, throughout the novel, Wuthering Heights is presented as the symbol of savagery, and Thrushcross Grange is presented as the symbol of civilisation. All the particularly hellish acts and evil crimes are committed in Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff himself is abused there by Hindley and himself abuses Harton in this house. It is highly significant that when he inherits Thrushcross Grange, he chooses to remain in Wuthering Heights, which is much more exposed to the turbulent and tumultuous elements, which of course parallel the turbulence of human emotion in the characters there.

Thrushcross Grange, by contrast, is described in a much more gentle manner. It is sheltered and protected and not so exposed. This extends to the characters that reside within this location as well. Note the repeated contrasts that are drawn between the Earnshaw household and the Linton household. Likewise it is highly significant that, at the end of the story, Catherine and Hareton choose to live in Thrushcross Grange, leaving Wuthering Heights to whatever ghosts might be haunting it. This ending symbolises a form of resolution of the passion and rage that has plagued these two households, and the move to Thrushcross Grange suggests a move towards a more civilised life for the descendants of the original Catherine and Heathcliff.

windbringer | Student

Yes, I do agree, but the terms "savage" and "civilized" should not be considered as reflective of the characters' relation to other human beings or of their position and conduct within human society. Rather, the terms "savage" and "civilized" stand for two antithetic (not necessarily conflicting) temperaments, two antithetic attitudes towards life, love, nature, the universe.

The plot of the novel unfolds in three locales: Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange and the moorland that on the one hand connects the two houses and on the other, separates them from the rest of the world.

The   inhabitants of Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff, Catherine and Hindley Earnshaw are of a savage temperament: passionate in their love and hatred, freedom loving, unable to compromise or to control their feelings. Their physical appearance is reflective of their 'savagery': they are black-eyed and black haired, Heathcliff is even described as having a dark complexion. The men are robust, but they have no advantage from this for their health and bodily strength only lengthens the spiritual agony they feel in face of their doomed passions or/and thwarted hopes.

The inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange, on the other hand, "civilized" Edgar and Isabella Linton, take a very different stance on life. While intense in their feelings, their behavior is not entirely controlled by passion. Deceptions in their expectations do not result, like in the case of their neighbors, in destructive or self-destructive behavior. Rather, they resign themselves to their fate(s), trying to build themselves a new life and a new kind of happiness (They are happy raising their children.) out of the ruins of the old one. They never lose control entirely and always maintain their dignity. Their physical appearance is the opposite of that of the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights; they are described as white-complexioned, blue-eyed and fair-haired. Their health is fragile.

The classification of the characters into "savage" and "civilized" ones can be applied successfully only to the first generation of Lintons, Earnshaws and Heathcliffs. Their children: Catherine Linton, Hareton Earnshaw and Linton Heathcliff are of mixed temperaments.

It should also be remembered that Emily Bronte's narrative does not favor one temperament or attitude over the other.




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Wuthering Heights

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