Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1599
Nelly resumes her tale in the summer of 1778. Frances gives birth to a healthy baby boy, but the doctor warns the family that Frances suffers from a chronic illness and will not live much longer. Unable to handle the truth, Hindley and Frances refuse to believe the doctor right up until the moment Frances dies in Hindley’s arms. Utterly devastated by the death of his beloved wife, Hindley becomes a drunken tyrant, and soon all the servants but Nelly and Joseph abandon Wuthering Heights. Hindley’s son, Hareton, is placed in Nelly’s care, and she takes great pains to keep him out of the way of his raging father. Hindley treats Heathcliff worse than ever, but Heathcliff is delighted to witness Hindley’s self-destruction. Catherine develops into a great beauty and continues her friendship with Edgar Linton, though she remains strongly attached to Heathcliff. She begins to take on a “double character,” behaving politely with the Lintons and poorly at home, where she knows nice manners will gain her nothing. Edgar and Heathcliff grow to despise one another, and Catherine is frequently caught in the middle.
One day when Hindley is away, Heathcliff decides to secretly take the day off, intending to spend it with Catherine. Unbeknownst to Heathcliff, Catherine is preparing for Edgar to make a rare visit to Wuthering Heights. Catherine urges Heathcliff to return to work and finally admits that Edgar might be stopping by. Frustrated, Heathcliff complains that she rarely spends time with him anymore. Catherine responds that Heathcliff is not educated or interesting enough to be a good companion, and Heathcliff angrily leaves the room just before Edgar enters.
Nelly, acting on orders from Hindley, refuses to leave Catherine and Edgar alone together, even when Catherine orders her out. Thinking Edgar cannot see, Catherine pinches Nelly hard, but Nelly, knowing it will embarrass Catherine, cries out in pain. Enraged that her cruelty has been exposed, Catherine slaps Nelly hard across the face, shocking Edgar and causing little Hareton to cry. Hareton’s crying leads Catherine to lash out and begin hitting him over the head. When Edgar instinctively grabs her arms to stop her, she hits him as well. Hurt and stunned, Edgar says he will leave and not return. However, he only makes it as far as the courtyard before he returns to comfort Catherine. Later, Nelly comes to warn them that Hindley will return soon and observes that Catherine’s ill-mannered outburst only brought them closer together. Edgar leaves and Nelly, knowing that the master is in one of his drunken rages, takes the shot out of Hindley’s gun and goes to hide Hareton.
Nelly is about to hide Hareton in the cupboard when Hindley arrives and grabs the little boy. Hindley makes many drunken threats, even telling Nelly that he will make her swallow his knife. Nelly, who is clearly used to this behavior, responds calmly, though Hareton becomes increasingly distressed. As Hareton begins to scream and kick, Hindley carries him up the stairs and dangles him over the bannister before accidentally dropping him. Before Hareton can hit the floor, he is caught by Heathcliff, who just happened to be passing under the bannister. Nelly observes that Heathcliff is very disappointed when he realizes that his instinctual catch accidentally saved Hindley’s son.
Once the household has settled down, Catherine seeks Nelly in the kitchen. Unbeknownst to them, Heathcliff is listening to their conversation just outside the door. Catherine confides that Edgar proposed to her during his visit, and Nelly responds that he is a fool to have proposed after witnessing Catherine’s bad behavior. Undeterred, Catherine admits that she accepted, though she wonders whether she was right to do so. Nelly asks her a series of questions about her love for Edgar. Dissatisfied with Catherine’s shallow answers, Nelly nevertheless points out that in marrying Edgar, Catherine would undoubtedly please her brother and escape the chaotic Wuthering Heights for the respectability and comfort of Thrushcross Grange. Catherine persists in her uncertainty, eventually confessing that in her heart and soul, she is convinced her decision was wrong. She admits that she truly loves Heathcliff but says that they cannot be together, because Hindley has reduced Heathcliff to a servant, meaning it would now “degrade” Catherine to marry him. Catherine declares that she loves Heathcliff not for his looks or manners but because their souls are the same.
As Catherine is speaking, Nelly realizes that Heathcliff has been listening to their conversation. Heathcliff leaves immediately after overhearing Catherine say it would degrade her to marry him, meaning he does not hear the rest of her confession. When Nelly points out that Catherine will be separated from Heathcliff if she marries Edgar, Catherine vows that nothing could make her forsake Heathcliff. She tells Nelly that Edgar will have to learn to tolerate Heathcliff, and she admits that she plans to use Edgar’s money to help Heathcliff escape Hindley’s control. Nelly scoffs at this plan, saying that this is an even worse reason to marry Edgar than the superficial ones Catherine gave earlier.
Their conversation is interrupted by Joseph, and it soon becomes apparent that Heathcliff has gone missing. Distraught, Catherine goes out into a storm to look for him. Though she returns home completely drenched, she insists on staying up all night waiting for Heathcliff to come back. By morning, Catherine is ill and there is no sign of Heathcliff. The Lintons insist on caring for Catherine at Thrushcross Grange, and she is transported there. Not long after, both Mr. and Mrs. Linton succumb to Catherine’s illness and die. Eventually, Catherine makes a strong recovery, and three years after the deaths of his parents, Edgar Linton marries her. Much to Nelly’s displeasure, Catherine insists that Nelly leave Hareton behind at Wuthering Heights and accompany her to Thrushcross Grange. Nelly halts her story when she realizes it is half past one and insists that she and Mr. Lockwood go to bed.
These chapters focus on the love triangle developing between Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar. Frances’s death and Hindley's subsequent degeneration throw the contrast between life at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange into even sharper relief. Indeed, Edgar, fearful of Hindley and disgusted by Heathcliff, rarely consents to visit the “infernal” Wuthering Heights. Catherine becomes even more divided between the two households, behaving like a respectable lady with the Lintons while becoming ever more arrogant and haughty at home. On one of Edgar’s rare visits to Wuthering Heights, we see the extent to which this wilder environment influences her behavior. Unable to stop herself, she shows her temper to Edgar, who is horrified by Catherine’s unladylike conduct. Though Edgar is repulsed by Catherine’s wild, passionate behavior, he is also helplessly intrigued and attracted to a personality that is so different from his own. As Nelly observes, Edgar is “doomed” to love Catherine. At this point, Nelly confesses to Lockwood that she no longer liked Catherine. This admission should serve as a reminder that Nelly, having lived and interacted closely with the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights, is by no means an unbiased narrator.
Catherine’s conversation with Nelly demonstrates how different her feelings for Edgar are from her feelings for Heathcliff. In Edgar, Catherine sees respectability, handsomeness, and wealth. In much the same way that Edgar is both fascinated and repulsed by Catherine’s passionate personality, Catherine sees Edgar’s mellow, gentle attitude as both an advantage and a sign of weakness. Her motives for marrying Edgar are undoubtedly superficial, and while it is easy to condemn her decision to take his social status and wealth into account, it should be noted that members of the gentry were expected to consider such things when marrying. Though Catherine often rejects the rules of polite society, her lamentation that she would have gladly married Heathcliff had Hindley not brought him so low demonstrates that she is still deeply sensitive to certain social conventions. Demonstrating rare self-awareness, Catherine admits to Nelly that marrying Edgar would be like going to heaven, a place she knows she does not belong and would not enjoy.
The love Catherine expresses for Heathcliff goes much deeper than her tepid feelings for Edgar. Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship reflects the environment of Wuthering Heights, and their love is presented as a visceral, passionate, and unstoppable force of nature. Though she knows Edgar is the socially respectable choice, Catherine boldly declares “I am Heathcliff.”
There are multiple ways to view Catherine’s decision to marry Edgar. On one hand, it is easy to sympathize with Catherine because the conventions of her time pressure her to marry for money and respectability rather than love. On the other hand, Catherine’s conversation with Nelly reveals that she has no intention of letting go of Heathcliff after she marries Edgar. Even though she has agreed to marry Edgar, this admission shows that Catherine is really refusing to choose between the two men. Catherine’s desire to have both men in her life will undoubtedly hurt both Heathcliff and Edgar and is therefore quite selfish. Indeed, Heathcliff’s decision to run away and the deaths of Edgar’s parents seem to confirm Nelly’s earlier claims that in loving Catherine, Heathcliff will be “the most unfortunate creature ever born,” while Edgar will be “doomed.” Catherine eventually marries Edgar, and though the years pass with no sign of Heathcliff, the unbreakable bond she has described between Heathcliff and herself suggests that their story is far from over.
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