Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1212
When Hindley returns to Wuthering Heights after his father’s death, he surprises everyone by showing up with Frances, his new wife. Though Frances is pretty, Nelly feels that she is rather silly and suspects that she has no money or family connections. Hindley is utterly devoted to Frances, and when her dislike of Heathcliff stirs up Hindley’s old resentments, he reduces Heathcliff to the position of a servant. Though Heathcliff’s new role is difficult and humiliating, he is bolstered by Catherine’s friendship. The more Hindley neglects the upbringing of the children, the more Nelly worries they will grow up to be savages.
One day, Heathcliff and Catherine cannot be found anywhere. Heathcliff shows up alone later that night and reports that the children had gone to nearby Thrushcross Grange to spy on the Linton children—Edgar and Isabella. Heathcliff and Catherine were discovered as they peered through the window, and though they tried to run away, one of the Lintons’ dogs trapped Catherine by biting her ankle. The Lintons recognized Catherine and began to fuss over her foot, but disgusted by Heathcliff, they sent him back to Wuthering Heights. Hindley is furious when he finds out, especially after Mr. Linton visits and lectures Hindley about taking more care with Catherine’s upbringing. As a result, Heathcliff is forbidden to speak to Catherine, and Frances takes great care to restrain Catherine’s wild nature upon her return home.
Catherine stays with the Lintons for five weeks as her foot heals. Frances visits her there and takes great pains to attempt to reform Catherine’s behavior. When Catherine finally returns at Christmas, she looks and acts like a little lady. Delighted with Catherine’s transformation, Hindley forces a filthy Heathcliff to greet her “like the other servants.” Catherine remarks that Heathcliff looks dirty and cross in comparison to the Linton children. Offended, Heathcliff defiantly says that he likes to be dirty and runs away.
To repay their kindness in taking care of Catherine, Hindley invites the Linton children to visit Wuthering Heights the next day. Their mother agrees on the condition that they are kept away from Heathcliff. Nelly finds Heathcliff in the stable and, feeling sorry for him, offers to help clean him up. Though he initially ignores her and sulks alone, he comes back the next day and requests her aid. Nelly helps to make him presentable and attempts to bolster his confidence by reminding him that he is stronger and tougher than Edgar Linton. When Heathcliff bemoans his dark skin, Nelly suggests that he “frame high notions” of his birth by imagining that he is a kidnapped prince in disguise. Eventually, Nelly is able to cheer Heathcliff up, but before Catherine can see him, Hindley orders that Heathcliff stay upstairs until after dark. Edgar Linton sees this scene from the doorway and remarks that Heathcliff’s hair looks like a “colt's mane over his eyes.” Enraged, Heathcliff throws hot applesauce at Edgar, for which he is then beaten by Hindley. Edgar and Isabella sob while Catherine angrily tells Edgar that he shouldn’t have spoken to Heathcliff. After the chaos dies down, Nelly gives Heathcliff some food. Though she urges him to learn to forgive, Heathcliff vows to someday get revenge on Hindley.
Nelly now interrupts her story and apologizes to Mr. Lockwood for “chattering on at such a rate.” Noting the late hour, she begins to put away her sewing, but Lockwood urges her to stay and continue her story, saying he plans to sleep in late anyway. She says that she will skip over several years in the interest of time, but Lockwood insists that he wants to hear every part of the story in full. She agrees and picks up her story in the summer following that Christmas (twenty-three years ago).
These chapters highlight the dichotomy between Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. While Thrushcross Grange represents the civilized and conventional, Wuthering Heights represents the wild, elemental, and passionate. Both of these settings exert a strong influence over the characters in the novel, most notably over Catherine, who flits between the two houses. Almost as soon as she enters Thrushcross Grange, Catherine begins to behave docilely, and after five weeks there, her manners and appearance have become more refined. In contrast, the coddled Linton children do not fare well in the hostile environment of Wuthering Heights, as shown by Heathcliff’s attack on Edgar and by Edgar’s babyish reaction.
Catherine is distraught that the meeting between her two worlds has gone so poorly, though she scolds the Lintons rather than Heathcliff. During Heathcliff’s punishment, Catherine goes in search of him, and Nelly eventually discovers that Catherine snuck along the roof to break into Heathcliff’s room and console him. This unladylike behavior coupled with her genuine concern for Heathcliff suggests that despite her ladylike appearance, Catherine has not wholly changed during her stay at the Lintons’. The contrast between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange and the conflict between Heathcliff and Linton suggest that Catherine will not be able to straddle both worlds for long.
Though Catherine is able to fit in at both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, Heathcliff is not welcome in either. As Hindley becomes the new master of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is reduced to a lowly servant in the house where he was once a treasured favorite. The only solace in his new degrading position is the continued friendship of Catherine. This closeness helps illuminate why Heathcliff feels so threatened by the Lintons’ influence over Catherine. The racially charged way the Linton family disparages Heathcliff—“would it not be a kindness to the country to hang him at once, before he shows his nature in acts as well as features?”—only highlights what Heathcliff already realizes: conventional society does not consider him and Catherine to be equals.
Catherine’s offhand remark that Heathcliff is dirty compared to the Linton children hits Heathcliff hard, and through his conversation with Nelly, we see that he is deeply insecure about his appearance and manners. While Heathcliff’s vulgar language and hostile behavior toward the Lintons may seem extreme, it is important to contextualize it within Heathcliff’s unusual social position. Though he spent a few years as the favorite of Mr. Earnshaw, Heathcliff’s ambiguous race and lack of connections mean that he has spent most of his life being ostracized. Thus, behaving in an uncivilized manner may be Heathcliff’s way of scorning the polite society that he feels has already rejected him. This pattern is exemplified in his reaction to Catherine’s remarks on his appearance. Though Heathcliff feels hurt and rejected, he impulsively and defiantly clings to the quality that makes polite society deride him: “I shall be as dirty as I please: and I like to be dirty, and I will be dirty.” These chapters make it easy to sympathize with Heathcliff, yet they also show his tendency toward violent and vindictive behavior. It will eventually become clear that Heathcliff’s vow of revenge on Hindley and his attack on Edgar are not stand-alone incidents, but rather early demonstrations of Heathcliff’s willingness to hold a grudge and punish innocent people for the transgressions of others.
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