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Thoughts: Wuthering Heights

29 Mar

Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

But you’ll not want to hear my moralizing, Mr. Lockwood; you’ll judge as well as I can, all these things – at least, you’ll think you will, and that’s the same.

Although I found Wuthering Heights more tedious than anything else, I applaud Emily Bronte for her impeccable use of narrative device in the novel. I find the prospect of analyzing such a choice exhilarating. Because Bronte dictates present occurrences through the eyes of Mr. Lockwood, the reader immediately senses subjectivity in the interpretation of anything happening at Wuthering Heights or the neighboring Thrushcross Grange. The same subjectivity permeates the history of the Lintons and Earnshaws as told by Ellen Dean. If Bronte had chosen to tell her history through the eyes of an omniscient and omnipotent narrator, the reader would invariably refrain from calling any characterization or event into question and condemn Heathcliff, his son, Hareton Earnshaw, Joseph or any character without remorse. Even though Nelly and Mr. Lockwood weave a damnable account of these people, the reader must own responsibility for conceding the plausibility of error in their telling. After all, I found Nelly’s forthright tone, her tendency to speak her mind without restraint, and to verbally combat the “masters” of the various households without reprimand as a housekeeper, a bit unbelievable. Of course, we will accept the simple circumstances and factual events at her word but how can we accept the motivations and reasoning of anyone from the mouths of these narrators? Only a biased and irresponsible reading would inspire the reader to admonish anyone without encouraging their right to speak for themselves.

Furthermore, the device beckons the reader to imagine how the tone of the narration would change from the dictation of an omniscient narrator. Arguably, Heathcliff focuses his life on “one universal idea” – to reunite with Catherine. Upon finishing the book, the reader questions whether he actually achieves his prize. We would never forgive an omniscient narrator for allowing such a vague ending. If he does reunite with her, Wuthering Heights appears as an entertaining novel with paranormal tendencies, while the lingering question of the reunification’s reality forces the reader to consider the significance of a reunification, to question why he or she warms to the idea or despises it and why. The reader must face his judgement of all these characters and question the integrity of such judgements because no omniscient voice dictates what we ought to accept. Frankly, I find the device mind-blowing. In what better way can a writer force the reader to question their own conclusions, judgements and condemnations?

As to the story, I did find it tedious. Throughout much of the novel I imagined most of these young adult characters as stunted toddler children throwing temper-tantrums. Granted, many of these characters behaved abominably and I felt that a few suffered horribly imbalanced consequences when compared to their dispositions or choices. Perhaps Nelly and Lockwood exaggerated some of the behavior and embellished the innocence of others. Yet I admit to searching for a redeeming quality in Heathcliff which would grant me the justification for pitying him or even liking him. I warn you: if any justification exists, he buries it deeply and I doubt it measures well against the havoc he plagues on his family. So I abandoned any endeavor to justify him and simply attempted to understand him.

Heathcliff struck me first as a victim. A young, destitute boy rescued by the head of the Earnshaw family. We know the kind of schoolyard distaste children can express for new-comers and to those who do not belong. Imagine Jane Eyre living with the Reeds. Yet Heathcliff coped and found a companion in Catherine. One cannot measure his sorrow and rage when she married Edgar Linton but, in my opinion, this does not excuse his campaign of filial destruction against his “oppressors”. Yet Heathcliff simply mimicked the behavior of those who raised him so perhaps we can excuse him for that reason. But I think he would laugh at such a conjecture. Again, rather than excusing Heathclif, let us understand him. I concluded that in his obsessively deranged quest for Catherine, even after her death, no room remained in his soul for kindness, generosity, love, or affection of any kind for anyone else – even his dependents. Every good bit of his being, every ounce of his love and consideration for the well-being of others gazed eternally into the mystical darkness of death and focused on Catherine leaving his evil tendencies unattended to, running rampant, unchecked, bringing disaster to all whom he related. One could argue that revenge governed his behavior, which it likely did. Yet while every humane and loving part of himself, then distracted by Catherine, his propensity for revenge ruled his life while his decency dwelled on death. When Catherine died, the couple split, as did Heathcliff himself – star-crossed lovers separated by life.

From a more universal interpretation, I wondered if Heathcliff somehow represented the intrusion of the outside world into the isolated culture of upper-class English households which stood unprepared for the scorn which that world would incite within them. That world might uncover nasty characteristics once hidden away and undisturbed by those who knew not to disturb them. It forced the aristocracy to react to something other than what they controlled. If any credibility lies in this interpretation, the reader may find a small respite of joy in knowing that such a reaction to the outside world will pass as it becomes part of the inside world. Even the aristocracy can adapt. Even though three generations pass, a relationship forms between young Cathy and Hareton – symbolizing the resurrection of human companionship after a harsh winter of spite and hate beating against the beams of Wuthering Heights. The flowers of spring return.

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2 Comments

Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Emily Bronte

 

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2 responses to “Thoughts: Wuthering Heights

  1. Jillian ♣

    March 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Fascinating review, Ben. I love to hear your take on books because you are so analytical — while I am not. So you always affer me a different perspective. 🙂

    *Frankly, I find the device mind-blowing. In what better way can a writer force the reader to question their own conclusions, judgements and condemnations?*

    Quite true!

     
  2. Elisa

    April 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I love Wuthering Heights but I know the tone of the novel and Heathcliff himself can be a turnoff I guess to some people.

     

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