Chapters 10–12 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1729
Mr. Lockwood reveals that he has been sick for a month since his excursion to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff comes to visit, and Lockwood is so glad to have company that he decides not to bring up the fact that his illness was partly Heathcliff’s doing. Afterward, Lockwood feels up to hearing the rest of Heathcliff’s story and summons Nelly Dean. He asks her how Heathcliff became a gentleman, but Nelly replies that she does not know, as Heathcliff acquired his fortune and education during the three years he was away. Nelly picks the story back up, revealing that Catherine and Edgar get along well as a married couple. Edgar and Isabella are very accommodating of Catherine, which makes her pleasant in turn. One day, Heathcliff suddenly shows up at Thrushcross Grange and requests to see Catherine. Though Catherine is overjoyed to see him after three years, she scolds him for leaving her. In contrast, Edgar is not at all pleased to see Heathcliff, but Catherine insists that he be cordial. After Heathcliff leaves, Catherine and Edgar have an argument about her friendship with Heathcliff. Nelly advises her not to try to force a friendship between the two men, and Catherine replies that Edgar and Isabella are spoiled. Nelly tells Catherine that it is she who is coddled by Edgar and Isabella and warns her that there are some things they may not be willing to accommodate (implying Heathcliff).
After hearing that Heathcliff is staying at Wuthering Heights, Nelly believes that he is trying to do the Christian thing by forgiving Hindley. However, Catherine informs her that the nearly destitute Hindley has invited Heathcliff to stay in the hopes that he can win some of Heathcliff’s fortune by gambling with him. Heathcliff claims that he wants to lodge at Wuthering Heights to be close to Thrushcross Grange, where he soon becomes a frequent visitor. Edgar’s younger sister, Isabella, begins to develop feelings for Heathcliff. Jealous of Heathcliff and Catherine’s close relationship, Isabella accuses Catherine of getting in the way. Catherine retaliates by telling Heathcliff about Isabella’s feelings to embarrass her. Heathcliff does not appear interested in anyone but Catherine, though he muses aloud that Isabella is Edgar’s heir. Suspicious of his motives, Nelly vows to keep an eye on him.
Nelly ventures to Wuthering Heights to have a talk with Hindley and runs into little Hareton. Though he has been out of her care for less than a year, he does not recognize her and shocks her by cursing. Nelly learns that it is Heathcliff who has put a stop to Hareton’s education and taught him to swear. When Heathcliff, rather than Hindley, appears in the doorway, Nelly runs away. The next day, Heathcliff comes to visit, and Nelly, suspicious, hides to watch him. Thinking no one is around, Heathcliff embraces Isabella, though Catherine walks in and catches them. Catherine tells Heathcliff that she would persuade Edgar to let him marry Isabella if she thought he really loved her. Heathcliff angrily rejects her “charity,” declaring that Catherine has treated him “infernally” by choosing Edgar over him. He announces that his revenge will be to marry Edgar’s sister.
Nelly fetches Edgar, telling him about Catherine and Heathcliff’s fight. Enraged, Edgar orders Heathcliff to leave, intending to have the servants force him out of the house. Catherine, however, locks the door and throws the key in the fire, saying that Edgar should be brave enough to confront Heathcliff one-on-one. Intimidated, Edgar covers his face while Catherine and Heathcliff mock him for his cowardice. Unexpectedly, Edgar punches Heathcliff in the throat and leaves to get reinforcements while Heathcliff is incapacitated. While Edgar is gone, Catherine urges Heathcliff to leave and he escapes.
Distraught, Catherine tells Nelly that she will hurt herself to punish Edgar should he try to make her give Heathcliff up. Not wanting to give in to Catherine’s dramatics, Nelly does not relay this information to Edgar, and he soon confronts Catherine, demanding that she choose between Heathcliff and himself. Enraged, Catherine has a fit, locking herself in her room and refusing to eat. Meanwhile, Edgar speaks to Isabella and warns her that he will disown her if she encourages Heathcliff’s romantic advances.
After three days, Catherine, convinced she is about to die, finally begins to eat again. Nelly pays no mind to Catherine’s claims and assures her that she will recover as soon as she eats and rests. When Catherine learns that Edgar has been going about his normal routine while she has been starving herself, she is initially bewildered. However, this bewilderment soon turns into a type of madness. Catherine tears a pillow apart with her teeth and demands that the window be opened even though it is the middle of winter. After being startled by her own reflection in a mirror, Catherine begins to talk about her childhood at Wuthering Heights. Throwing open the window, she imagines she can see Wuthering Heights from her room and wildly declares that even if she dies, she will never be at rest without Heathcliff.
At this point, Nelly no longer feels that Catherine is putting on an act and fears that she has actually gone mad. As Nelly tries to pull her away from the window, Edgar walks in and is shocked by the state of his wife. Edgar threatens to dismiss Nelly for having kept Catherine’s condition secret, and Nelly runs out to fetch a doctor. The doctor gives the family some hope that Catherine will recover but warns Nelly that he has heard a rumor that Isabella Linton and Heathcliff are planning to elope. Nelly dashes to Isabella’s room only to find that she is too late—the couple has gone. Knowing that she left of her own accord, Edgar refuses to try to bring Isabella back. Resigned, he tells Nelly that it is Isabella who has disowned him by eloping and that she is now his sister in name only.
Heathcliff appears drastically changed upon his return to Wuthering Heights, but this is quickly revealed to be a superficial transformation only. Heathcliff now looks and behaves like a gentleman, but it's clear that his purpose in returning is to achieve revenge rather than make amends. Heathcliff’s growing control over Wuthering Heights echoes the way Hindley took over after Mr. Earnshaw died. Just as Hindley halted Heathcliff’s education, Heathcliff has now denied Hareton an education, encouraging his wild behavior.
As he gets revenge on Hindley by turning Hareton against him, Heathcliff also lays the groundwork for his revenge against Edgar Linton. Though it is obvious why Heathcliff wants revenge on Hindley, his grudge against Edgar is perhaps a little less clear. For Heathcliff, Edgar represents not only the upper-class society that has constantly rejected him but also the loss of the only person Heathcliff values: Catherine. Heathcliff is enraged that Catherine has chosen the cowardly Edgar over him, and though his revenge should arguably be directed at her, Heathcliff declares,
The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don't turn against him; they crush those beneath them. You are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement, only allow me to amuse myself a little in the same style.
By this, Heathcliff means that people torture their inferiors, and though it is Catherine who has tortured him, he will exact his revenge upon Edgar. This remark not only shows that Heathcliff considers Edgar his inferior but also indicates that Heathcliff still sees Catherine as above both him and Edgar; even in his anger, he cannot help but revere her.
These chapters reveal just how much Catherine’s refusal to choose between Edgar and Heathcliff hurts all three of them. Edgar cannot handle seeing Catherine’s obvious love for Heathcliff, and instead of reassuring him, Catherine makes the situation worse by goading Edgar into a physical confrontation with Heathcliff. Indeed, Catherine’s decision to throw the key into “the hottest part of the fire” represents the heated confrontation between these three characters. Like the fire, this encounter is destructive and will forever alter Edgar’s, Catherine’s, and Heathcliff’s lives.
Though the showdown between Heathcliff and Edgar is undoubtedly driven by Catherine’s selfishness, it also stems from each of the characters’ fundamentally different views of love. Catherine sees her love for Heathcliff as a natural and unalterable part of herself, so deeply ingrained in her being that a mere marriage to someone else cannot threaten it. That Catherine feels her and Heathcliff’s love is beyond jealousy is clear when she offers to set him up with Isabella. Heathcliff, however, does not share Catherine’s view of their love and sees her decision to marry Edgar as a true betrayal. Edgar married Catherine, but Heathcliff’s reappearance makes it all too clear that he does not fully possess her heart. Catherine imagines that Edgar is too weak and passionless to be bothered by her deep devotion to Heathcliff, just as she believes that Heathcliff is too passionate and wild to be hurt by something so conventional as her marriage to another man. In the end, Catherine’s misjudgment of both men brings about a violent confrontation from which she never mentally recovers.
These chapters also provide further evidence for Nelly’s unreliability as a narrator. Though Catherine is undoubtedly prone to being dramatic and selfish, Nelly shows little concern for Catherine’s health and refuses to consider the possibility that Catherine may truly be ill. Convinced that Edgar is too besotted with Catherine to see reason, Nelly decides that “the Grange had but one sensible soul in its walls, and that lodged in my body.” Nelly's feelings of superiority are evident in her flippant response to Catherine’s sickness. Though Nelly later tries to rationalize her choices to Mr. Lockwood—“I began to defend myself, thinking it too bad to be blamed for another's wicked waywardness”—Edgar rightly chastises her spiteful behavior with regard to Catherine. For the first time, it is quite clear that Nelly not only witnessed these tragic events but may have played a part in them herself. Ultimately, Nelly’s downplaying of the role her own prejudice played in worsening Catherine’s condition calls into question the reliability of her entire account.