Chapters 29–31 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1534
Soon after the funeral, Heathcliff comes to Thrushcross Grange to retrieve Cathy. He explains that he intends to rent the house out and orders Nelly to remain there as the housekeeper. Defiantly, Cathy tells Heathcliff that whatever else he may do, he cannot make her and Linton hate one another. In response, Heathcliff says that Linton’s own awful personality is enough to make Cathy hate him. As she leaves to pack, Cathy reminds Heathcliff that no matter how miserable he makes her, she will be satisfied in the knowledge that his cruelty stems from an even greater misery. When he is alone with Nelly, Heathcliff orders Catherine’s portrait to be taken to Wuthering Heights. He then admits that when Edgar’s grave was being dug, he bribed the sexton to uncover Catherine’s coffin. Heathcliff opened the coffin and gazed upon Catherine’s corpse, which he claims was well preserved. Before covering the coffin back up, he ordered the sexton to remove the side of Catherine’s coffin that faced away from Edgar. He explains to Nelly that he intends to have the corresponding side of his own coffin removed so that he and Catherine will be together in the earth when he is eventually buried next to her. Horrified, Nelly reprimands him for disturbing the dead. Heathcliff admits that this is not the first time he has attempted to violate Catherine’s grave and explains that ever since her death, he has been haunted and tormented by her ghostly presence. Ready to leave, Cathy reappears and asks Nelly to come and visit her at Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff interrupts and says that Nelly is not allowed to come to the house unless he expressly asks her to.
Nelly tells Lockwood that she hasn’t seen Cathy since the day Heathcliff took her from Thrushcross Grange, though Nelly has tried to visit her at Wuthering Heights. Nelly only knows what went on at Wuthering Heights during this time because of her friendship with Heathcliff’s housekeeper, Zillah. Soon after her arrival at Wuthering Heights, Cathy is put in charge of Linton. Not knowing how to care for him, she begs Heathcliff to send for a doctor. Heathcliff refuses and forbids anyone in the house from helping her. Zillah says that she occasionally saw Cathy crying alone but didn’t dare disobey Heathcliff by comforting her. Soon, Linton dies, and when Heathcliff asks how she feels, Cathy replies, “You have left me so long to struggle against death alone, that I feel and see only death! I feel like death!” After Linton’s death, Cathy stays alone upstairs for over two weeks. Zillah makes some attempts at kindness, which are instantly rejected by Cathy. Heathcliff shows Linton’s will to Cathy, revealing that he compelled Linton to sign all of the couple’s assets over to him. Friendless and poor, Cathy does not have the resources to contest even Heathcliff’s more dubious legal claim to her land. Eventually, the cold drives Cathy downstairs to where Zillah and Hareton are sitting by the fire. At first they try to be friendly to Cathy, especially Hareton, who fetches her some books to read. Cathy, however, coldly rebuffs their companionship, recalling their unwillingness to help during her earlier desperation. Hareton explains that he tried to help her but was thwarted by Heathcliff. When Cathy refuses to listen to his excuses, Hareton gives up on being nice to her. Cathy continues to make enemies of the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights and often deliberately goads Heathcliff into hurting her. After hearing Zillah’s account, Nelly considers quitting her job, buying a small cottage, and taking Cathy in, but she realizes that Heathcliff would never allow Cathy to leave. Nelly speculates that Cathy’s only hope is perhaps to marry again. This marks the end of Nelly’s narration, and Lockwood explains that he intends to ride out to Wuthering Heights soon and inform Heathcliff that he will be leaving Thrushcross Grange early, having no desire to stay in the area.
Lockwood does indeed travel to Wuthering Heights and carries a secret note that Nelly has asked him to give to Cathy. Lockwood must wait for Heathcliff to return home and, in the meantime, attempts to give Nelly’s note to a sulky Cathy. Hareton intercepts the note, intending to give it to Heathcliff, but he gives it back when he sees that Cathy is crying. Cathy eagerly reads the letter and begins to open up to Lockwood, telling him that Heathcliff has destroyed all her books. Cathy reveals that Hareton has been trying to learn to read, though she derides his attempt to educate himself because he has apparently stolen her few remaining books. Remembering what Nelly has told him about Hareton, Lockwood tries to encourage Cathy to be more supportive of Hareton’s attempts at improvement. Cathy, however, continues to make fun of Hareton, even mimicking the stilted way in which he sounds out words. Humiliated and angry, Hareton slaps Cathy and tosses her books into the fire, though it clearly pains him to do so. Just as Hareton runs away in anger, Heathcliff enters the house, remarking on Hareton’s resemblance to Catherine. Lockwood explains that he wishes to leave Thrushcross Grange early and is irritated when Heathcliff suggests that he is trying to get out of paying the full year’s rent. After sitting through an uncomfortable dinner with Hareton and Heathcliff, Lockwood is eager to leave. On his way out, he is disappointed to miss catching a last glimpse of the beautiful Cathy. Riding home, he reflects that it is a shame for Cathy that he did not strike up a romantic relationship with her, as Nelly obviously wished him to do.
In the aftermath of Edgar’s death, it becomes clear that Heathcliff has finally achieved his revenge. As soon as Linton has served his purpose, Heathcliff cruelly leaves him to die, intentionally hurting Cathy by forcing her to helplessly witness Linton’s deterioration and death alone. Up until this point, Cathy has shown spirit and defiance in her interactions with Heathcliff. When Heathcliff takes her away from Thrushcross Grange, she resolves not to become infected with misery and hatred like he is: “Linton is all I have to love in the world, and though you have done what you could to make him hateful to me, and me to him, you cannot make us hate each other.” After watching Linton die, however, Cathy seems to have lost her hope and optimism, bitterly admitting “I feel and see only death!” This moment marks a turning point for Cathy in her transformation from the kind, innocent girl at Thrushcross Grange into the angry, bitter woman Lockwood encounters at Wuthering Heights.
Once again, we see how the two houses in the novel impact their inhabitants. Removed from the gentle, refined influences at Thrushcross Grange, Cathy becomes harsh and sullen, rejecting any attempts at kindness by either Zillah or Hareton. Cathy’s scorn for Hareton’s illiteracy is especially reminiscent of the way Catherine once derided Heathcliff for his lack of education. Indeed, removed from the kind influence of her father, Cathy’s personality now begins to resemble that of her mother. The child who most reminds Heathcliff of Catherine, however, is Hareton: “When I look for his father in his face, I find her every day more! How the devil is he so like? I can hardly bear to see him.” That Hareton reminds Heathcliff of his beloved Catherine suggests that Heathcliff may feel genuine affection for Hareton. Indeed, nearly all of the characters in the novel easily sympathize with Hareton, whose innate gentleness is demonstrated when he gives Nelly’s letter back to Cathy. Despite Heathcliff’s attempts to render them cruel and uncaring toward one another, small acts like this suggest that Cathy’s and Hareton’s natural tendencies toward kindness are never fully destroyed.
While we finally see Heathcliff gain control over both the houses and children of his enemies, there are indicators that he is still not satisfied. As Cathy astutely points out, regardless of the retributive torments he inflicts upon others, Heathcliff will always be tormented by a “greater misery” than the other characters. Heathcliff admits as much to Nelly when he reveals that he has been haunted by Catherine for the past eighteen years. The shocking revelation that Heathcliff has disturbed Catherine’s grave only serves to further illustrate the near inhuman depth of their bond. Indeed, Heathcliff’s disturbing interest in Catherine’s decaying body and ghostly spirit suggests a love that literally transcends death. Though it is easy to romanticize the incredible strength of Heathcliff and Catherine’s bond, Heathcliff’s nonchalant attitude toward defiling a grave suggests that such a love may be corrupting or undesirable. One of the great strengths of the novel is the way in which Brontë challenges simplistic notions of love. In Wuthering Heights, love is first and foremost a powerful force rather than an inherently positive or negative one. Through Catherine and Heathcliff’s doomed romance, Brontë explores love’s ability to be savage, dark, and destructive.