Is Catherine Earnshaw a Nineteenth Century Heroine?
Cathy is a nineteenth century heroine.
- With reference to appropriately selected parts of the novel, and relevant external contextual information, give your response to the view above.
By definition, a heroine is a woman who would typically encompasses the qualities of nobility, courage, independence and strength. Nineteenth century English women would have struggled to accomplish any of these particular acts of heroism within their social environment as ultimately, their roles within civilisation saw them becoming a good wives and mothers and before that, obliging and caring daughters. Catherine Earnshaw appears to begin her life free-spirited, rebellious and with a wild nature. However, her inner desire craves social ambition which, in turn, shows her slowly representing culture and civilisation.
Cathy certainly displays some of those characteristics which are present in a nineteenth century heroine in the early stages of the novel, such of that as rebellion and the desire to reject the conformities expected of her. The first time we are introduced to Catherine is through Lockwood who observes that, ‘The ledge… was covered in writing, scratched on the paint’. It is obvious that Cathy was the one to deface the window ledge as it is her name that is etched across it, ‘in all kinds of characters, large and small- Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton.’ It is not only her defacing of property that allows us to assume that she is of a rebellious nature, but also that she is a wildly mysterious character who has not devoted her life to just one man, which would have been expected of her, but that she has perhaps been promiscuous in her love affairs, which again points to the rebellious and non-conforming characteristics present in a nineteenth century heroine.
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It is highly evident within the text that Cathy was not the obliging and caring daughter that was expected of her as Nelly Dean recounts that, ‘she put all of us past our patience fifty times and oftener in a day’ and in attempt to hurt him, accuses her father of not always being, ‘a good man’. Cathy’s father then states how she is a hateful child, ‘I cannot love thee… Go say your prayers, child, and ask God’s pardon.’ Although these too are examples of how Cathy possesses attributes of a nineteenth century heroine in the aspect that she is rebellious, they also exploit her arrogance and ignorance, qualities that were perhaps less common in these heroines. However, to counter this, the text also states that she became ‘hardened’ by her father’s statements against her which may attribute to why she is arrogant and obscene. This may cause the readers to pity her and continue to hold her as a hero despite this.
Cathy’s independence as a woman and strength would have been highly appealing to nineteenth century readers as in this era, women were seen as possessions rather that and individuals. As a six year old, she asks her father for a whip as despite her young age, ‘she could ride any horse in the stable’. This whip is representative of her strength and assertiveness present in her even as a young child. It is this strength that both encourages and enables her ability to rebel against her parents, brother and her maid, Nelly Dean. Despite this however, she does possess a kind temperament as although Hindley, her brother forbade it, Cathy grew, ‘fond of Heathcliff’ and, ‘Cathy taught him what she learned, and worked or played with him in the fields.’ This shows Cathy’s lack of concern and regard for social class and how she will be perceived by others. This changes however, as soon as her path crosses with the Linton family one night while spying on Thrushcross Grange.
This is where Cathy’s heroic steak begins to diminish. On her return from Thrushcross Grange Catherine’s behaviour has changed considerably from a fierce young girl to an elegant young woman. Her education at the Grange has secured that the manners of a lady have been forced upon her as well as the conformities of a woman. Once married to Edgar, Catherine strives to maintain her independent status but the social rules indoctrinated in society leave her trapped, as once a woman married she became a possession. All her personal property became her husbands, including her body. Given the patriarchal nature of culture, it is not surprising that her marriage is what has diminished her capacity for freedom and individuality, which is why Catherine may not be viewed as a nineteenth century heroine as she has fallen to society and conformed to the patterns of it.
Considering this, I believe that predominantly, Catherine Earnshaw is not a nineteenth century heroine as she ultimately allows herself to fall victim to the norms and regulations of society and all those characteristics that are mutual of her and of a heroine in the nineteenth century can also be attributed to her arrogance, cruelty and lack of regard for the feelings and well-being of others; in particular, Heathcliff.