Critics suggest that Wuthering Heights is a novel concerned with boundaries. Explore the effect of these boundaries in relation to the relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff.
Critics suggest that ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a novel concerned with boundaries. Explore the effect of these boundaries in relation to the relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff.
Throughout ‘Wuthering Heights’, physical and metaphorical boundaries are crucial in communicating Emily Brontë’s moral messages about the position of women in 19th Century society and the barriers separating individuals of different social status. Both of these themes are conveyed by the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff as Catherine is forced to forsake her true love and instead marry Edgar Linton because he is socially acceptable, “And he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband” and Heathcliff is of lower social standing, “It would degrade [Catherine] to marry Heathcliff”. The social barrier between Heathcliff and Catherine manifests itself in a myriad of ways during the novel and is eventually broken by Hareton and Cathy- the new generation of residents on the moors. This conclusion was clearly a statement of intent from Emily Brontë which suggested the oppressive boundaries of the 19th Century patriarchal society would ultimately be eradicated by a new generation of Britons- a view which was vindicated after Brontë’s tragic death, as the Suffragettes earned women the right to vote and various liberal reforms improved life for people of lower social standing.
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A Marxist interpretation of Wuthering Heights is that Heathcliff is representative of the proletariat class, and his ascension through the barriers imposed on him is symbolic of rebellion against the tyranny of the bourgeois class. Heathcliff is treated badly in his childhood because almost everyone he encounters harbours a prejudice against him for his mysterious, presumably disreputable origin as he was found on the streets of Liverpool “starving, houseless and as good as dumb” and is frequently described as a “gypsy”. Although ‘Wuthering Heights’ is primarily a romance novel, the plot is undoubtedly driven by Heathcliff’s bitter quest for revenge against those who prevent him from transcending the boundaries of the hierarchical, conventionalised society into which Mr Earnshaw delivers him- in particular Earnshaw’s son, Hindley. The barrier hardest for Heathcliff to penetrate is the one between himself and Catherine as their love is socially inappropriate and they both lack the social stature required to undertake an unconventional marriage- unlike Hindley, who is able to marry a woman of inferior class as he is considerably higher in the social hierarchy than both Heathcliff and Catherine. It is significant that when Catherine first sees Heathcliff she “showed her humour by grinning and spitting at the stupid little thing” as this suggests that their love is unconventional- there is no element of ‘love at first sight’ as such a clichéd idea would demean the love which Brontë crafts to be as ‘eternal as the rocks beneath’.
Brontë conveys how even the most powerful of love can be repressed by the restraints of society by separating Catherine and Heathcliff in both physical and metaphorical senses, Brontë utilises windows as as a barrier which neither Heathcliff nor Catherine can penetrate; Heathcliff can only look on lovingly as Catherine socialises with the bourgeois class in Thrushcross Grange, and Catherine is unable to escape from the same building when she longs to be out on the moors with Heathcliff. The idea that the boundaries of society are broken by the love of Hareton and Cathy is corroborated by the fact that when Lockwood revisits Wuthering Heights at the conclusion of the novel “both doors and lattices were open”; furthermore, when Cathy is imprisoned there by Heathcliff she is able to escape through her mother’s bedroom window, an act which her mother was unable to undertake- fittingly because the bourgeois (Edgar Linton) will not allow her to. There is a prevalent theme of protocol and obedience of social codes throughout the novel and it is significant that the only characters who contravene these protocols are Cathy and Hareton as they are only able to do so once Heathcliff, the last of the patriarchal tyrants, dies.
This concept of freedom as a result of a leading figures’ death is associated with vampirism- much like Heathcliff’s inability to enter a house unless he is invited inside; it could also be argued that Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship is evocative of Gothic literature which was popular at the time of Wuthering Heights’ publication. Catherine is frequently described in an angelic manner, dressed in white to symbolise her purity, this is in direct contrast to Heathcliff who is regularly described in a demonic way, “his black eyes withdrawn so suspiciously under their brows”. The fact that the personalities of Heathcliff and Catherine are so contrasting, yet so fitting, is another aspect of their relationship which is vastly unconventional and a barrier which is broken by Brontë having an attractive woman of high social background fall in love with a “dark-skinned gypsy” of unknown provenance- here Brontë is conveying her ideas that the barriers interposed between individuals of diverse geographical and hierarchical origin need to be destroyed. While it is true that Catherine and Heathcliff are unable to marry and live together, Brontë clearly indicates that they are effectively two parts of the same soul, as evidenced by Catherine’s famous declaration that “I am Heathcliff!”, and thus communicates her message that true love can only be hindered in a physical sense- even in death Catherine and Heathcliff are more unified than Catherine and Edgar ever were.
The boundaries surrounding Heathcliff and Catherine are vastly important as both a plot device and as a tool with which Brontë conveys her moral messages about prejudice and segregation in the patriarchal British society she lived in. Brontë uses windows as a metaphor for the way women and individuals of lower social hierarchy could only gaze upon the luxuries and rights afforded to those more privileged than themselves; these windows also symbolise the tragic nature of Catherine and Heathcliff’s love- the fact they are ultimately the same person but are physically unable to coexist as a result of the boundaries imposed on them by the conventionality and protocol which permeated their lives. However, the new generation at Wuthering Heights is able to destroy these conventions and convey Brontë’s idea that the barriers of prejudice and discrimination can be broken by bravery and determination- a concept which was soon to be validated after Brontë’s tragic death.
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
This is a fluently written essay which could have been excellent if it had focussed more on the text. It makes some valid points but does not always back these with relevant textual evidence and analysis. The argument could have been explored in more depth if a distinction had been made between WH and TG. A consideration of the moors might be useful too.