Wuthering Heights includes the struggle of a character to achieve dominance over others.  For what purposes does the author use this struggle?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The passionate love that forms the basis of the narrative in Bronte's Wuthering Heights is an all- encompassing expression.  Given how it is shown in different contexts with the same intensity, it might have been Bronte's purpose to show how passion can be a destructive quality.  Normally thought to be the basis of relationships, Bronte shows passion to be quite intense.  In her analysis novel, Joyce Carol Oates suggests that this is the essence of Bronte's exploration: "Far from being a rhapsodical ode to primitive dark energies, populated by savages (whether noble or otherwise), the novel is, in fact, as its elaborate structure makes clear, an assured demonstration of the finite and tragically self-consuming nature of "passion."  It is in this tragic and self- consuming nature that Bronte shows passion as extending to the desire to dominate over another. It makes sense that this construction of passion is one that seeks to control another, but controls the individual who possesses it, as well.

The intensity of the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine is where this passion is unmistakably displayed.  Catherine herself notes this in the difference between the emotions she shares with him and those she shares with Heathcliff:  "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire." Linton's inability to work himself into "a fever" is another example of how Linton is cast as one without passion, and thus lesser in terms of the emotion of love than Heathcliff.  In expressing the gulf between them, Catherine remarks, "What in the name of all that feels, has he to do with books, when I am dying?"  This illuminates another aspect of the passionate condition that seeks to destroy and control another.  

Passion is seen as something that is all consuming, seen in how Catherine makes herself sick as a result of unchecked passion.  This fire that consumes all extends into the realm of controlling others. Catherine's passion is what she uses to essentially control Heathcliff and his feelings in her choice of Linton over what she knows is true in her heart:

That will do to explain my secret, as well as the other. I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there, had not brought Heathcliff so low I shouldn't have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. 

Passion is shown to be destructive in scope.  It consumes everything because Bronte shows it so difficult to control.  Even when one tries to control it, as Catherine clearly seeks to do, it is evident that it controls her.  The attempt to control other people as a result of passion is its logical extension.  When Heathcliff returns, Catherine's reaction is reflective of how little she is in control of her passion:  

 "Don't stand there, love! Bring the person in, if it be anyone particular.' Ere long, I heard the click of the latch, and Catherine flew up-stairs, breathless and wild; too excited to show gladness: indeed, by her face, you would rather have surmised an awful calamity."

Passion is shown to be an "awful calamity" in which individuals are consumed in their attempt to consume others. 

Catherine is not the only character to display passion that seeks to control others.  Being the "other" to Catherine, Heathcliff himself shows the effects of passion controlling himself and others.  His passion for revenge leads him to wish to do harm to the Lintons at all costs.  It is unrelenting in terms of the desire for revenge that he displays.  As seen in his swindling of Hindley and his marriage to Isabella, Heathcliff's passion for revenge and exacting what he sees as emotional justice extends to others as collateral damage. It also extends into the emotional manipulation of his Heathcliff's son. All of these actions to control another are rooted in the passion that Heathcliff experiences. It is one that counters Catherine's:  "Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"  There is no limitation in this vision.   Its consequence is the desire to control others without the slightest of hesitation. Catherine and Heathcliff fall victim to a passion that hurts others and themselves.

It is in this realization where Bronte's purpose is realized.  Bronte's purpose is to display the challenging condition of passion.  It recognizes the controlling people is its consequence.  Realities of vengeance, cruelty, and violence are all rooted in the passion that Heathcliff and Catherine display and fail to modulate. Oates suggests that this is a part of Bronte's purpose, to reflect an aspect of the human condition that must be acknowledged in order to be fixed:

Romantic and gothic elements cannot survive in the sunlit world of sanity (as Lockwood jealously observes, the second Catherine and her fiancee Hareton look as if, together, "they would brave Satan and all his legions"); the new generation will settle in the more commodious Thrushcross Grange, opening, as it does, in symbolic and literal terms, onto the rest of the world. 

The need to establish "a stable, rather than a self-consuming, love" is not evident in the intense fiery passion of Heathcliff and Catherine.  Rather, it is more evident in the association of Cathy and Hareton, the forces that Bronte uses to represent "the sunlit world of sanity."  In this depiction, Bronte's purpose in utilizing the struggle of controlling another due to passion is clear. It serves as a call for us, as the reader, to recognize this condition and offer a check against its nature that controls others and ourselves.

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Wuthering Heights

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