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Wuthering Heights is essentially a romantic novel in which the author, Emily Bronte, brings two groups of people with different backgrounds into contact with each other. Close analysis of the novel reveals a key theme. When the reader examines the backgrounds and characteristics of the people in the two families, the Earnshaws and the Lintons, it is obvious that the two separate houses represent opposing worlds and values. The Earnshaws are wild, volatile, and strong while the Lintons are genteel, calm and delicate. It is clear that Bronte is playing nature against culture in this story, and this battle ends up being the driving force of the novel.
Although many of the differences between the families lie in the characteristics of the characters, it is important also to examine the places in which they live. The Earnshaws are from Wuthering Heights, a place isolated on the barren moors. Bronte describes the harsh weather and goes on to say that the house was built strong to withstand it. “Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong; the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.”(Bronte 4). The inside of the house is described as nothing more than dismal and barren. Upon his visit to the Earnshaws, Mr. Lockwood describes the house and says that “its entire anatomy lay bare to an inquiring mind”(Bronte 4) and that it was also inhabited by untamed dogs which later, he says, “flew at (his) throat, bearing (him) down”(Bronte 14). The turbulent weather and uncivilized way of living found at Wuthering Heights is indeed much different than the refined characteristics of the Lintons’ home, Thrushcross Grange. In contrast, it is presented as a peaceful place. Bronte describes this haven much differently than that of Wuthering Heights. As he arrives home, Mr. Lockwood describes the back of the hill as a “billowy, white ocean” (Bronte 25).
Obviously, the texture of these words is quite different than the harshness of those used to describe Wuthering Heights. The Grange also has ornate gardens and is surrounded by trees. The presence of the gardens suggests a delicate quality and the trees serve as protection from the winds that so ferociously bully Wuthering Heights. The two Earnshaw children looked in through a Grange window at a point in the story and said that the Linton’s home was “a splended place carpeted with crimson, and crimson-covered chairs and tables, and a pure white ceiling bordered by gold, a shower of glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the centre, and shimmering with little soft tapers”(Bronte 37). This haven is the home of warmth, peace and calmness. The window allows the children to see the civilized way of life. Heathcliff exclaims that he wouldn’t “exchange for a thousand lives, (his) condition here, for Edgar Linton’s at Thrushcross Grange.”(Bronte 38). Both children recognize the gentility and luxury of the Linton’s way of life, but remain enamorate of their wild freedom.
Not surprisingly, the people that inhabit these places hold characteristics similar to the places in which they live. Like Wuthering Heights, the Earnshaws are stormy and tempestuous. Our first encounter of the Earnshaws is with Mr. Heathcliff. Mr. Lockwood goes to Wuthering Heights to introduce himself and is repulsed by the Earnshaws’ “churlish inhospitality”(Bronte 7). He is also shocked by the overall demeanor of the household and says “they could not every day sit so grim and taciturn, and it was impossible, however ill-tempered they might be, that the universal scowl they wore was their every day countenance.”(Bronte 10). He cannot believe the severity of this group of people. It is like nothing he is used to. During his visit, the strict division between the social statuses of the two men is extremely evident. Heathcliff uses his strength to bully the other members of his household and is cold and almost resentful that Lockwood is there. After his visit, Lockwood says that it is “astonishing how sociable I feel myself compared with him (Heathcliff)”(Bronte 7). The reader later discovers Heathcliff’s history. He was born in Liverpool and adopted by Mr. Earnshaw. He looks different from other children and is treated poorly by his new brother Hindley. Thus, coupled with the attributes of the harsh household, he becomes evil and cruel and focuses on getting revenge on Hindley. He is described as a “gypsy”, “a wicked boy, and quite unfit for a decent house.”(Bronte 39). He forms a close friendship with Catherine and they spend much of their time playing in the wind-battered moors. Catherine is just as wild as Heathcliff. She is willful and mischievous and subject to throwing temper tantrums. She is even described at one point in the story as a “haughty, head-strong creature”(Bronte 51). Even after spending time at the Grange, she is never as civilized as she acts. Deep down, she is still an undisciplined girl playing in the moors with Heathcliff. However, the most important conflict of the novel is the fact that Catherine longs to be both the wild spirit of the Earnshaws and the genteel, cultured woman of the Lintons.
Like Thrushcross Grange, the Lintons possess characteristics that are civilized and cultured. Isabella Linton is essentially the foil character of Catherine. While trying to explain that she is not envious, Catherine describes Isabella and says “I never feel hurt at the brightness of Isabella’s yellow hair, and the whiteness of her skin; at her dainty elegance”(Bronte 76). The reader knows deep down that, indeed, Catherine does envy her. Isabella is the picture of a charming young lady, “infantile in manners”(Bronte 78). Similarly, her brother, Edgar is Heathcliff’s foil. He is a gentleman who was raised well mannered. He is tender and possesses the virtues of a genteel. However, he is also weak and effeminate. Nelly mocks him by saying that he “cried for mamma, at every turn, and trembled if a country lad heaved his fist against (him), and sat home all day for a shower of rain.”(Bronte 44). Also, in a later argument, he is called a “lamb” and a “sucking leveret”(Bronte 90). Clearly, the Lintons are very different from the Earnshaws. The Earnshaws appear stronger and untamed compared with the Lintons. The true conflict of nature and culture does not surface until the two groups attempt to converge.
Bronte establishes pairs of opposites in this novel to show the struggle between nature and culture. Catherine eventually marries Edgar, Heathcliff’s foil, because “he will be rich, and (she) shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood”(Bronte 60). Catherine’s inner debate about whether to remain true to her wild identity or make a better life for herself by crossing over to the cultured life has been decided. By marrying Edgar, Catherine is positioning herself to “escape from a disorderly, comfortless home into a wealthy, respectable one.”(Bronte 61). Catherine knows, in her conscience, that she has made a bad decision because she dreams that she is unhappy in Heaven because she missed her true home, Wuthering Heights. Clearly, by marrying Edgar, she is turning her back on who she really is, a wild-spirit. She is unhappy in her marriage and eventually dies in while giving birth to a daughter named Catherine. Her daughter is exactly like her, but lacks the wild characteristics. She is not placed in the graveyard with the rest of the Lintons, but instead, her casket is buried next to her husband, in “a corner of a kirkyard, where the wall is so low that the heath and bilberry plants have climbed over it from the moor.”(Bronte 130). Essentially, her death returns her to her beloved nature. In the tradition of doubles, Heathcliff marries Isabella, Catherine’s foil. They also have a child and name it Hareton. Hareton is almost exactly like Heathcliff, but is a bit milder than his father. The marriage between Heathcliff and Isabella is also unhappy but it is Heathcliff’s mourning that drives Isabella to hate him and eventually leave. When told of her death, he “howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast”(Bronte 129) as if reverting back to the wild tendencies he shared with Catherine. He stops eating because he longs to finally be with her in a heaven of their own, together. Later, he is found dead, wet with rain from the open window. He is buried, as requested, next to Catherine in the kirkyard.This view of the novel is extremely romantic. It allows nature to triumph over culture by ending the story with the eternal joining of true loves. True love is victorious against the materialism and selfishness of culture. Not only are Catherine and Heathcliff joined once again in the end, their offspring marry and represent the continuation of love everlasting.
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