Monday, January 23, 2012

ReView of WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte


For such a short novel, 'Wuthering Heights' carries a lot of themes to think about: love, the human spirit, betrayal, jealousy, revenge, racism, and maybe even romance, if you can call it that- tragic obsessions of passion is probably more appropriate.

The novel begins in mystery, continues in speculation, moves towards some clarity, but finalizes in a state of inquiry about what has just transpired in the novel alongside a sense of tragic sadness.  This happens to be as a result of all decisions made by all of the characters in reaction to their own reality, circumstances, environment, treatment from others, and most certainly their own characteristic styles of being.  On the other hand, the two main characters Heathcliff and Catherine monopolize the tone of this classic and the story unfolds as it does in response to their presence and actions.  Just as well, maybe the cause isn't as important as the effect, leading us to question. Who is Heathcliff?  Is he a monster or a man misunderstood and a victim of his circumstances?  What is the relationship between Catherine and Heathclif? How was it 'these kids could never make it work,' maybe the story would have turned out for the better if they did?  And what of all the meddling that occurred to keep these two apart?  What makes the story of these two characters such a timeless classic? And why would Emily Bronte choose to write it?

This novel is written from a bird's eye view perspective.  The narrator, a mere visitor at Wuthering Heights, convinces Ms. Dean the housekeeper at Thrushmore Grange and a former housekeeper for the major the characters -Hindley Earnshaw, Catherine Linton, Cathy (Catherine's Daughter)-to tell the story of their lives as she has witnessed them through time and several generations.  At some point during the novel, the story is even told to Ms. Dean by Heathcliff's housekeeper at Wuthering Heights.  In effect the story of Heathcliff and Catherine goes through several paths of thinking and there certainly is a distance the reader carries with characters through the distance carried by the narrator with them.  As the reader, it feels the novel takes you inevitably where the narrator goes - in her perspective, not where the characters may be in 'reality.'  Meaning that maybe the empathy or sympathy carried by the reader is only as strong as the narrator, not necessarily representative to how the reader should feel for Heathcliff or Catherine if the story was told from a more personal and intimate perspective so to understand their lives, philosophy, and human spirit better.  

Speculation is a large part in determining Heathcliff's character, decisions, and motives behind everything that happens in the book. It is certain he's treated poorly being called a 'gypsy,' an 'it,' a 'vagabond,' he's ostracized and isolated from those his age, he's threatened to be put out in the street, he's abused physically and verbally. Against all the hardships, the ill-treatment, the 'blows' from Hindley, he maintains an endurance of spirit by being patient, standing without winking or shedding a tear, pretending to overcome his challenges as if he had only hurt himself by accident and nobody was to blame.  He would 'coolly gather himself up and go about with his intentions.'  He complained very infrequently, and soon found his escape with Catherine.

 Catherine as well found hers with him.  Just as Heathcliff took hardships from his foster family, so did Catherine from her father.  While Heathcliff expressed these trials silently, Catherine did not, and maybe this is one way in which they are different, but alike in so many other ways.  'Being repulsed continually hardened her, and she laughed if I told her to say she was sorry for her faults, and beg to be forgiven.'  There seems to be a similarity in spiritual abuse, as with Heathcliff, and it's up for grabs if Catherine really clung to Heathcliff's company as a way to belong somewhere she felt understood, or to escape from those that misunderstood her, or maybe both?  Maybe his reasons were more clear, maybe it was for both reasons that he was attracted towards Catherine.  Also just as Heathcliff seemed to have a warm heart of nonviolence, and graceful spirit, so did Catherine, in the beginning (things change later for both).  'But as soon as she saw him vexed again, she kissed his hand, and said she would sing him to sleep. She began singing very low, til his finger dropped from hers, and his head sank to his (her fathers) breast.'  So there is definitely a similitude in character that bonds these two together.... and it gets better... much better.... and then much worse.... and very tragic, actually.

So what of Heathcliff and Catherine?  Well, if it wasn't for the meddling of the Lintons, maybe Catherine and Heathcliff would live a life long together, or possibly a life of 'savages,' as they had planned for themselves.  They would amuse themselves with plans to grow up and be vengeful and it was a way of escape for them, a way to forget everything and laugh at any punishments thereafter.  The world was on their shoulders, until they were severely torn from each other by the presence of the Lintons.  And maybe the Lintons weren't entirely at play here.  Catherine, herself, took matters into her own hands, committed to some hurtful decisions towards Heathcliff and herein begins the tragic 'love' connection between the two.

The book is too intricately detailed to tell of what happens further, and it is possible it will be spoiled for those who want to read it. So I think I will skip right to the CORE of the book - all events leading up to this moment make the novel worthwhile, and all events thereafter transform the novel into its conclusion.  It is Heathcliff's last words of passion to Catherine:

"You teach me how cruel you've been - cruel and false. Why did you despise me?  Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy?  I have not one word of comfort - you deserve this.  you have killed yourself.  Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears.  They'll blight you - they'll damn you.  You loved me - then what right had you to leave me?  What right - answer me - for the poor fancy  you felt for Linton?  Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your will, did it.  I have not broken your heart - you have broken it - and in breaking it, you have broken mine.  So much the worse for me, that I am strong.  Do I want to live?  What kind of living will it be when you  - Oh God!, would you like to live with your soul in the grave?"

From this point onward, Heathcliff sees to be frozen in time, and in himself.  Everything he does, or fails to do, seems to stem from grief and vengeance.  This is a man who no longer has anything to live for, anyone to share life or joy with.  The one person in his life whom he could escape to from his own life and the nature of his circumstances was long taken away, and he could never have her back at any point in time.  He cannot move forward without her.  Or is it possible he has been pushed so far that nothing matters in life for him anymore?  If there is empathy or sympathy from the reader for this character it is in the loneliness and disjointed spirit he maintains without his 'other half,' in the face of prejudice, hatred, and abuse from the people around him.  Both Catherine and Heathcliff were constantly at the mercy and abuse of the people around him.  Both Catherine and Heathcliff were constantly at the mercy of other people's authority and meddling, not of their own wills (maybe Catherine, but not Heathcliff and that is probably why you may be inclined to have less empathy for her....)

'Wuthering Heights' is exciting, thought-provoking, stimulating and worth reading.....

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