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In the literary work Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, there is clear conflict within the issues of social class, race and love among the characters. In a society where money and power are necessary for success, Heathcliff, a poor, dark-skinned orphan, felt that it was his responsibility to rise in the social hierarchy to become suitable for Catherine Earnshaw. When Catherine preferred to marry Edgar solely because of his status, Heathcliff retaliated by striking revenge against the Earnshaws and Lintons. Heathcliff’s actions were motivated by a need for status and embarrassment from Catherine’s rejection.
In this fictional society, social class was a major theme that developed over the course of the story. Class was not exclusively based upon the salary a person made, but rather the source the income was coming from and their family’s connections. There is a clear distinction in the characters who are a part of the elite class, middle class, and working class. The characters in Wuthering Heights clearly show the differences in class based on where they live. Thrusscross Grange, a comfortable and light home was filled with the Linton’s, an elite family who was at the top of the social hierarchy. There are stark contrasts with this house compared to the Earnshaw house where Heathcliff lived. The Earnshaw’s faced cruel weather, such as the cold and snow, showing their place in the working class. In fact, the word ‘wuthering’ means “severe weather conditions.” Heathcliff is very affected by his position on the social spectrum and this is foreshadowed in the beginning of the novel to show Heathcliff’s thought process in running away to create a name for himself.
Heathcliff’s revenge stemmed from his childhood as well. The first paragraph of the novel illustrates Heathcliff’s appearance. After being called devilish, referred to as “it” and abused in the Earnshaw home because of his skin color, he was an outsider. He was constantly picked on by the rest of the people in the house, living a life full of constant abuse. Heathcliff’s love for Catherine Earnshaw enabled him to take the abuse by Hindley, knowing that he would have a life with Catherine. There are numerous flashbacks from the narration of Nelly in the novel that take us back to Heathcliff’s childhood that show the severe maltreatment. However, when Catherine chooses to marry Edgar Linton, Heathcliff runs away for three years to make money and comes back on the top of the social hierarchy. Heathcliff’s obsession with revenge against Edgar far outweighs his love for Catherine and he ruined the lives of the people at Thrusscross Grange and the Earnshaws who did not accept him. Ultimately, everyone ends up unhappy based on Catherine’s selfish decision to marry Edgar. Heathcliff out of spite marries Miss Isabella Linton and Edgar is heartbroken because his love is not as eternal as Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s love. The rest of the book describes the characters in a depressing tone and shows their internal suffering.
In conclusion, there are several standards from the fictional society in Wuthering Heights that influence the characters to make decisions that are careless and regretful. A classic theme in Wuthering Heights is social class. Heathcliff started at the bottom of the social hierarchy and tried to prove to Catherine he was good enough by coming back rich and important, a suitable man for a lady to marry. Heathcliff is greatly affected by his prior abuse and maltreatment growing up, as well as Catherine’s selfish decision to marry another man. He responds by taking advantage on the people who did not accept him and marrying Isabella Linton out of spite to Catherine. Heathcliff not only affects Catherine, but also the rest of the characters for the rest of the novel. Despite Heathcliff’s wrongdoings, Emily Bronte makes it almost impossible to not sympathize with Heathcliff even after his revenge against the Lintons. The two narrations represent two different views. With Marlow Lockwood’s narration, the reader gets an outside view of the situation, while Nelly’s (the servant) narration shows the facts of what really happened. In fact, people today still talk about the epic love story of Heathcliff and Catherine and their tragic downfall.
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