Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1835
Zillah leads Lockwood to an upstairs room, urging him to be quiet, as Heathcliff does not allow people to stay in this particular room. After she leaves, Lockwood observes that someone has scrawled the name “Catherine Earnshaw,” with the occasional “Catherine Heathcliff” and “Catherine Linton” mixed in, all over the window ledge. Lockwood then finds a twenty-five-year-old diary belonging to Catherine Earnshaw, who was clearly a child when she wrote it. Examining the diary, he reads an entry recounting the day after her father, the master of Wuthering Heights, died. Catherine complains that her older brother Hindley has been cruel to both her and Heathcliff, forcing them to listen to Joseph’s sermons. Catherine—who appears to be good friends with Heathcliff—is particularly bothered by her brother’s unfair treatment of “poor Heathcliff.” Hindley apparently threatened to turn Heathcliff out of the house and ordered his wife to yank on Heathcliff’s hair as a form of punishment. Before Lockwood can read more of the diary, however, he falls asleep and begins to dream.
Lockwood is awakened from a nightmare by the sound of a tree branch tapping the window. Realizing what caused the noise, he quickly goes back to sleep and begins dreaming again. Once more, Lockwood hears the tapping sound and, annoyed, attempts to reach through the window to grab the tree branch. He is horrified when his hand grasps a small, cold hand instead. He tries to draw back, but the tiny hand will not let go, and he hears a melancholy voice begging to be let in. The ghostly figure identifies herself as Catherine Linton before Lockwood finally manages to free his hand and hastily pile books in front of the window. He can still hear the ghost moaning to be let in, and when the pile of books is suddenly thrust forward, Lockwood lets out an involuntary yell, bringing Heathcliff into the room.
Heathcliff is angry that Lockwood was let into the room, and Lockwood is similarly cross that he was put up in a haunted room. Spooked, Lockwood leaves the room, vowing to stay awake until dawn. Once he leaves, however, Lockwood sees Heathcliff wildly tear open the window, sobbing for Catherine and begging her to return: “Cathy, do come. Oh, do—once more! Oh! my heart's darling! hear me this time, Catherine, at last!” Despite Heathcliff’s pleas, the spectre does not return.
In the morning, Heathcliff yells at Zillah and cruelly provokes his daughter-in-law. Eager to leave the hostile environment at Wuthering Heights, Lockwood sets out for Thrushcross Grange as soon as he is able. The servants at Thrushcross Grange are delighted to see him return, having feared that he might have perished in the storm. Exhausted and weak, Lockwood retires to his study to relax.
Tired, curious, and lonely after his excursion to Wuthering Heights, Lockwood enters into conversation with his housekeeper, Nelly Dean. Knowing that she has lived in the area for a long time, he hopes she can shed some light on the mysterious inhabitants of Wuthering Heights. Nelly reveals that Heathcliff is actually very wealthy and lives at the run-down Wuthering Heights by choice. She explains that Heathcliff’s daughter-in-law is named Catherine Linton and that she grew up in the very house in which they sit. Thrushcross Grange was formerly owned by the Linton family, of which Cathy is the last descendant. Likewise, Hareton Earnshaw—the young man living with Heathcliff—is the last of the Earnshaw family who once owned Wuthering Heights. Hareton is the nephew of Cathy’s mother and therefore Cathy’s first cousin. Nelly further explains that Heathcliff’s deceased wife was Cathy’s aunt, which means that Cathy’s late husband (Heathcliff’s son) was also her first cousin. After ambiguously claiming that Hareton has been “cheated” by Heathcliff, Nelly explains that she is intimately acquainted with the history of Wuthering Heights, for she lived there as a servant and grew up alongside Heathcliff and the Earnshaw children. Lockwood asks her to tell him more, and Nelly takes over the narration.
Nelly begins her story many years ago when Catherine and Hindley Earnshaw were children at Wuthering Heights. One day, their father returns from a trip to Liverpool with a dirty orphan child instead of the gifts he had promised Catherine and Hindley. His wife and children are outraged by the arrival of this new intruder, and the children refuse to let him sleep with them. Nelly admits that she did nothing to stop the children, for she instantly disliked the orphan as well.
After several days, the situation calms down and the boy is given the name Heathcliff (which he still uses as both a first and last name). Catherine and Heathcliff become fast friends, and Heathcliff is soon the clear favorite of Mr. Earnshaw. Jealous of his father’s favorite, Hindley despises Heathcliff and is supported by his mother, Mrs. Earnshaw, who never warms to the orphan. Hindley often physically lashes out at Heathcliff, who stoically tolerates the abuse only to turn around and blackmail Hindley by threatening to tell Mr. Earnshaw. Nelly explains that she warmed up to Heathcliff after nursing him through a serious illness and finding him a very undemanding patient. Though Nelly used to think that young Heathcliff’s reluctance to complain meant that he was not a very vindictive person, she now knows that she was “deceived completely.”
Some time after the death of Mrs. Earnshaw, Mr. Earnshaw’s health begins to decline as well. His weakness exacerbates his irritability, making him even more protective of Heathcliff and more dismissive toward his son, Hindley. The staff, not wanting to upset Mr. Earnshaw, also indulges Heathcliff, which Nelly believes encouraged the young boy’s “pride and black tempers.” Eventually, the tension between Hindley and Heathcliff (and, by extension, Mr. Earnshaw) leads Mr. Earnshaw to send Hindley away to college.
While Hindley is away, the disagreeable servant Joseph uses his strict religious beliefs to win over the trust of his increasingly weak master. Joseph uses his newfound influence to try to turn Mr. Earnshaw against all three of the children, especially Hindley and Catherine. He is quite successful, and Mr. Earnshaw hurts the mischievous Catherine by telling her that her bad behavior makes her impossible to love. When Mr. Earnshaw finally dies, his last words to Catherine are “Why canst thou not always be a good lass, Cathy?” Catherine and Heathcliff are distraught when they first realize Mr. Earnshaw is dead, but Nelly later overhears them comforting one another by talking about heaven.
Throughout these chapters, we see a different side to Heathcliff, beginning with Lockwood’s eerie night at Wuthering Heights. Up to this point, Heathcliff has not shown affection toward any other characters, yet his desperate pleas to Catherine’s ghost suggest that he has formed a deep bond with at least one other person. Although it is not explicitly stated whether the ghost is real or merely a part of Lockwood’s dream, Heathcliff’s instant acceptance of Lockwood’s claim that the room is haunted suggests that the ghost may in fact be real. Heathcliff’s obvious devastation as he calls out to the ghost invites the question of whether his hostile attitude is the result of losing Catherine. Real or not, the ghost represents the ways in which the occupants of Wuthering Heights are haunted, perhaps literally, by the past.
The twisted history of Wuthering Heights is finally unraveled by Nelly Dean, whose account now takes over the story. It is important to remember that the story is now being filtered through two narrators; Lockwood is writing down what he remembers Nelly Dean telling him about events that she herself did not always witness firsthand. Readers must remember that nearly everything Nelly or Lockwood says about the internal feelings of another character is merely their own interpretation and may or may not be wholly accurate.
Nelly’s history of Wuthering Heights paints Heathcliff in a somewhat more sympathetic light. We learn that he has had a difficult early life, and it is possible that adult Heathcliff’s misanthropic tendencies may have originated from his life on the streets as well as the physical abuse he suffered at Wuthering Heights. Socially, Heathcliff occupies an unusual position, not only because he goes from being a street urchin to living with the gentry but also because of his race. Though Heathcliff’s racial background is never explicitly stated, those who describe Heathcliff frequently call him a “gipsy” and reference the darkness of his skin (“it's as dark almost as if it came from the devil”), suggesting that he is at least of mixed race. Heathcliff’s race is important because it is one more way in which he is rendered an outsider. As a non-white individual forced to live among the white gentry class, Heathcliff would have faced a great deal of both overt and subtle racism.
The sympathy we feel for Heathcliff is complicated, however, by how young Heathcliff deals with the affection of Mr. Earnshaw. Though Mr. Earnshaw dotes on him, young Heathcliff seems to manipulate this devotion for his own gain rather than return it sincerely:
He was not insolent to his benefactor, he was simply insensible; though knowing perfectly the hold he had on his heart, and conscious he had only to speak and all the house would be obliged to bend to his wishes.
Heathcliff appears to respond more to Catherine’s disrespectful and spirited behavior than Mr. Earnshaw’s kindness, and Mr. Earnshaw is constantly frustrated by the knowledge that “the boy would do her bidding in anything, and his only when it suited his own inclination.”
Heathcliff’s arrival at Wuthering Heights also greatly impacts the lives of Catherine and Hindley, and the favoritism their father shows Heathcliff affects each of them in different but destructive ways. As a child, Catherine is wild and disobedient, though Nelly believes that she was not actually bad at heart: “For once she made you cry in good earnest, it seldom happened that she would not keep you company.” Catherine’s father does not understand her spirited nature, and though she and Heathcliff often misbehave in the same way, Mr. Earnshaw does not forgive Catherine’s behavior like he does Heathcliff’s. Indeed, Mr. Earnshaw tells Catherine that her wild behavior makes her impossible to love, an event that Nelly believes permanently affected Catherine’s nature:
That made her cry, at first; and then being repulsed continually hardened her, and she laughed if I told her to say she was sorry for her faults, and beg to be forgiven.
Meanwhile, Mr. Earnshaw’s devotion to Heathcliff engenders extreme jealousy within Hindley. Hindley’s dislike of Heathcliff is somewhat understandable given his father’s dismissive attitude toward him after Heathcliff’s arrival. Though it is undoubtedly not his intention, Mr. Earnshaw’s kindness toward Heathcliff fuels an intense and lasting hatred within Hindley.
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