In chapter 15 Nelly says "Far better that she should be dead than lingering a burden and a misery - maker to all about her"
Bronti??’s presentation of Catherine is a very engaging one on many levels. She causes, directly and indirectly, misery and pain primarily to Heathcliff and Edgar. She can be seen as a “burden and misery – maker”. However, you must also remember that during her childhood, Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is punctuated by nothing but joy and support. Only when faced with the dilemma of choosing marriage for status or for love, does Catherine’s relationships begin to alter and change.
Nelly’s assumed and obviously biased presentation of Catherine also influences the reader’s perception especially her use of semantic fields and negative attitude. In death, however, Catherine causes coincidently more pain than she does alive, and so personally, I disagree with Nelly’s assessment. Catherine develops from a mischievous little girl, to a materialistic young woman. Her self-centred attitude caused by her lack of attention and love as a child has a huge impact on the relationships she has and how she becomes a misery – maker. Catherine proves this when she says, “… ismiss that apathy… and look rather more anxious about me! ”
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Although bringing joy and happiness to Heathcliff and Edgar, by the end of the novel both men have endured incredible pain by the selfishness of one character and her choice for a husband. Although nowadays Catherine would have been seen as a gold digger, her choice in a Victorian era would have been a perfectly intelligent choice to make. It was acceptable to base marriage on money over love because women didn’t inherit anything from their relatives; everything would go to the oldest male person in the family.
Therefore to secure her future Catherine chose Edgar, and his status. The pain she causes to others she does maliciously and for attention, ” I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own. ” Catherine develops many positive relationships throughout her childhood, closer relationships though with Heathcliff and later with Edgar. When Heathcliff arrives at Wuthering Heights, Nelly portrays him as a ‘dirty gipsy boy’. This shows early in the novel that Nelly has a biased opinion and that we need to question whether we can trust her narration.
At first Catherine has the same impression, since she spits on him. However Catherine soon develops a close relationship with Heathcliff given that she becomes a protector and friend, “Miss Cathy and he were now very thick; but Hindley hated him” – pg. 46. Growing up, Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship develops. They become very close and share special times on the moors; where they vowed to be together forever as King and Queen of Penistone crag. As an adult Catherine is confronted with the decision of marrying for status or for love, to marry Edgar or Heathcliff.
When she considers this decision Cathy realises that she can’t live without Heathcliff because they are part of each other, “I am Heathcliff” (pg. 81). This shows that they have an exclusive relationship. Throughout the novel their friendship changes dramatically and erratically from love to hate. This dramatic alteration of emotions is partly due to Edgar’s status and love for Catherine. Cathy is in love with Heathcliff. However she is also in love with Edgar’s money and the security she would have with him. This is shown in her conversation with Nelly, “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him”.
However her actions towards Heathcliff show that she also hates him. She ignores him when he becomes a stable boy, leaving him with no one. She may also hate him because he is a threat to her e. g. if she falls in love with Heathcliff she will lose her security. Cathy destroys both relationships when she is made to choose between the two. Mr Earnshaw has a bad relationship with his daughter, portrayed as a ‘mischievous child’ (pg. 46). On the other hand Catherine seems to love her father very much: she is devastated over his death.
This is obvious when she says, “Oh, he’s dead, Heathcliff! He’s dead! Nelly goes on to explain, “And they both set up a heartbreaking cry” (pg. 50). One of her reasons for her love for her father is because her father brought her love in Heathcliff. Catherine brings a great deal of joy and happiness into the hearts of those she loves, including Edgar, Heathcliff and Isabella. At the beginning of the novel Catherine befriends Heathcliff. She makes him feel better about his ethnicity, and his family by telling him that his real parents are Royalty. Furthermore she tries to make him happy by saying that she will be his Queen; by doing this she is offering Heathcliff self – worth when he has none.
The only reason Catherine doesn’t marry Heathcliff is because she realises that she wont have the security with Heathcliff that she would have with Edgar. When Hindley bullies Heathcliff as a child, Cathy protects him by excluding Hindley from their games. Soon after her return from the Linton’s she rips off her fancy new clothes and jewellery (all that separates her from Heathcliff) to make him happy. As well as Heathcliff, Cathy tries to protect Isabella from Heathcliff’s revenge and conspiracy. She does this by discouraging her feelings for him.
Conclusively Catherine struggles to please Edgar by marrying him – even if some of her motives seem selfish. However Catherine also develops many negative relationships. She doesn’t make up her mind that she wants to marry. In her selfishness and process of elimination she hurts both men. She also hurts both men by her actions following these words, “I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own”, and also when she forces their hands together at Thrushcross Grange. Cathy deliberately hurts Heathcliff at the start of the novel by spitting on him, “spitting at the stupid little thing” (pg. 46)!
She shows that she can be malicious when she deliberately tries to hurt Heathcliff and Edgar when she says, “I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own”. This quote also shows that she has some control over her health. On the other hand she is not always malicious, sometimes she is unknowing of the pain she causes. Lastly she blames him for her death, “You have killed me” (pg. 141). She hinders Isabella’s fancy for Heathcliff by belittling and criticising him; “He will crush you like a sparrows egg”. During their conversation over Heathcliff Bronti?? emphasises Catherine’s bad qualities by using animal semantic fields.
But in Catherine’s defence sometimes she hurts people indirectly, without meaning to. She hurts Heathcliff when she is talking to Nelly about marring Edgar or Heathcliff, by belittling him, “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now” (pg. 80) – Catherine didn’t realise that Heathcliff had heard her. Without meaning to be unkind, when she returns from Thrushcross Grange, she hurts Heathcliff by saying, “why how black and cross you look”. Edgar is hurt indirectly when Heathcliff returns and she runs to his arms, allowing awkwardness and silence in the house. Indirectly she injures her father by being a ‘mischievous little girl’ (pg. 6), she also wounds Hindley by befriending Heathcliff. Moreover other characters in Wuthering Heights cause pain and misery including Heathcliff, Hindley, Mr Earnshaw and Isabella.
Heathcliff causes pain and indirectly wounds the family very deeply: when he was first brought to the Heights, Mr Earnshaw paid more attention to him than to Hindley or Catherine, “He took to Heathcliff strangely, believing all he said, and petting him up far above Cathy” (pg. 46) – this affected their relationships towards Heathcliff. Throughout Wuthering Heights Heathcliff is disliked and spited because of his existence, ” He bred bad feeling in the house” (pg. 6). Hindley develops feelings of bitterness over his father’s affection for Heathcliff, “he grew bitter and brooding over these injuries” – Heathcliff is not the source cause of these emotions. Heathcliff hurts Hindley directly, by cheating him out of house and home, moulding his only son to be like himself (the person Hindley hates most), and by mocking him/ disobeying his orders as a child by running recklessly across the moors alongside Catherine whom he was forbidden to greet, “Hindley in a passion told us to bolt the doors, and swore nobody should let them in that night” (pg. 2).
Even though Heathcliff and Cathy shared many childhood adventures together, they also hurt each other with such passion, as they loved each other. Heathcliff deliberately tries to injure Catherine when he overhears her conversation about marrying Edgar; he leaves her twice after overhearing parts of a conversation, marries Isabella for revenge on the entire Linton family and Catherine, and also degrades her brother to what he once had to be… a servant. Love and hatred are very vivid emotions in this novel shared by Catherine and Heathcliff predominantly.
Hindley also hurt other characters as a lad: Heathcliff, “He would stand Hindley’s blows without winking or shedding a tear” (pg. 46). When Hindley doesn’t attend Catherine’s funeral he is hurting himself! Hindley became the master of Wuthering Heights and stopped Heathcliff’s schooling and forced him to work as a servant in his house, “He drove him from their company to the servants, deprived him of the instructions of the curate, and insisted that he should labour out of doors instead” (pg. 52) – this treatment may also have been provoked by Frances (Hindley’s wife), who hated the boy as well.
Mr Earnshaw in this respect causes much pain indirectly himself, when he brings Heathcliff home with him, because he changes, “the young master had learned to regard his father as an oppressor rather than a friend, and Heathcliff as a usurper of his parent’s affections and his privileges. ” Mrs Earnshaw is not spoken of regularly but does not appear to like the idea of a ‘gipsy boy’ staying in her home either, “Mrs Earnshaw was ready to fling it out of doors: she did fly up, asking how he could fashion to bring that gipsy brat into the house” (pg. 5) – this quote shows that she is hurt by both men (Heathcliff and Mr Earnshaw) indirectly.
Mrs Earnshaw could be prosecuted nowadays for racist discrimination, however in Victorian Times coloured people were lower than children and had no rights. This would have added to the dilemma Catherine had to face – since she had been wealthy and respected all her life, it would have been very difficult to be known as the opposite for the rest of her life even if that did mean marrying for love and not status. Mr Earnshaw injures his daughter (Cathy), by trying to make her obedient, “Nay, Cathy.
I cannot love thee; thou’rt worse than thy brother. Go, say thy prayers, child, and ask God’s pardon. I doubt thy mother and I must rue that we ever reared thee! ” That made her cry, at first”. Mr Earnshaw may have reacted in this way because in Victorian Times children were meant to be seen, not heard; especially girls. Catherine’s misbehaviour would have been seen as disrespectful and insolent. Isabella causes Catherine misery when she shares her feelings for Heathcliff with her, “You are a dog in a manger, Cathy, and desire no one to be loved but yourself! (pg. 97)
Nelly (the main narrator) also causes pain and misery in the book. However Nelly disguises herself throughout the novel, concealing her faults through her narration. Nelly’s perception of the other characters alters her narration; therefore her biased view of Catherine has led the reader to assume that Catherine is the only misery – maker in the novel. Nelly doesn’t seem to understand the complex relationships between the characters; we are shown her lack of sensitivity when she entwines the two locks of hair (Heathcliff’s and Edgar’s).
This action will hurt both the men. However in entwining the hairs is Nelly doing what Catherine would want, the merging of Heathcliff and Edgar, love and security. In this case Nelly is a very astute narrator also doing what the reader would desire: for the unity and happiness of all three characters. Another way Nelly hurts the characters is through her lack of help, in their times of need e. g. when Hindley bullies Heathcliff, she just stands by and watches or encourages the behaviour, “and my pinches moved him only to draw in a breath and open his eyes” (pg. 6); when Catherine confides in her and Nelly doesn’t offer advice but criticises her decisions.
Nelly’s personality shines through her narration very clearly she is extremely judgemental, hard, brutal, she medals and interferes in the lives of her employers. Even though she seems close to the family, a closer examination shows that she is a nosy maid who doesn’t respect them; whenever anyone in the family confides a secret in her she does not respect their privacy but instead seems to gossip with the rest of the staff at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
The narrator in any novel, if written as a character will always have a biased account of events. Nelly; the narrator in this novel, seems perfect since she is a very close member of the family so should have a very detailed version of the plot. However in Nelly’s tiered narration the reader should notice that she has formed opinions and relationships with the characters. Therefore she will make some look like the devil’s spawn and others look like God’s greatest gift to man.
This is shown when Catherine pinches Nelly in the novel, complains during her brief period of illness as a child and befriends Heathcliff (whom Nelly dislikes), Nelly has a particular opinion of Catherine and shows her objective narration through semantic fields. When she passes judgment on Frances instantly to her arrival, when Catherine discusses Edgar’s proposal. In the book Nelly is a confident but is not a good one since she gossips and embellishes information that is extremely private e. g. Catherine, “I love Heathcliff but need to marry Edgar”, and Heathcliff, “Nelly, make me change, I’m going to be good”.
Nelly is the most inferior character in the novel because of her status in society but is privy to everyone and everything she comes into contact with. She makes valuable judgment based on her own morals! During her narration, Nelly emphasises everyone’s bad qualities by using semantic fields. Emily Bronti?? uses semantic fields to shape a character’s personality. Animal, misery, heaven or religious imagery, pain, wealth and comfort semantic fields were used throughout the novel. Used to describe and exercise contrasting imagery to create a better picture for the reader.
Nelly uses semantic fields of misery and pain to describe the characters aggressiveness so we can get a sub – conscious idea of what each character is really like. Her use of semantic fields shows that Nelly is insightful, intellectual, and perspicacious – she has a deeper understanding than the reader gives her credit for (our first impression, being that she is an uneducated maid). However she makes herself blameless in this story showing outward signs of deviousness. In the chapter where Catherine and Heathcliff look in upon Thrushcross Grange (Chapter 5), 3 semantic fields are used, heaven/ religious imagery, pain, wealth and comfort.
These contrasting fields are used to show the different ways people can be happy, firstly using wealth and then pain to bring about a moral – money cannot make you happy. These semantic fields are used together to create layers about a place and the deeper you look, a clearer picture you find of what this place is really like. At immediate description Bronti?? compares Thrushcross Grange with Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange being a beautiful place with horrible people – the author uses semantic fields to make a contrast between the houses and residents.
Because Bronti?? makes the comparison between Wuthering Heights and the Grange so obvious, we can see that the residents are also compared in their happiness and contentment. Heathcliff and Catherine seem a great deal happier than the Linton children – this is because they have been given better values and morals. Bronti?? uses these two settings in her novel to show the dichotomy between happiness and sadness and nature and culture. The language in the novel used by Bronti?? allows the it to be read as both a romance and violent horror story therefore appealing to men and women.
Bronti?? creates role models who have a contrast in character to keep the readers attention for example, Heathcliff has both elements of violent behaviour and romance – therefore both male and female readers love him. Other characters have also been crafted in this way to appeal to the reader e. g. men think of Heathcliff as a role model compared to Edgar because he is strong and appealing to the women. The history and social codes at the time have a big impact in this novel since Bronti?? has based her novel around these two features.
At that time in history status and money were very important and determined your position and worth in society. However even if a woman was born into a rich family, and the oldest male family member died the next male figure in the family would inherit the entire family fortune. When Mr Earnshaw dies Cathy inherits nothing and has to find a way to secure her future, she chooses her own fate – she finds that by marrying for status, security, money and class (Edgar), she can do this.
When Catherine’s father dies, his money goes directly to Hindley and then when Hindley’s son is born, Cathy is shoved further down the family chain – and has a smaller chance of inheriting anything. Subsequently her decision to marry Edgar is based upon social status/ codes. When Cathy refers to Heathcliff, “It would degrade me” – conversely it upgrades her to marry Edgar. The effects of marrying Edgar are physically improved when she begins to dress in expensive clothes and jewellery her lexical density also increases.
A Victorian reader would respond to this situation in a positive way, because at the time it would be easier to understand her decision to marry Edgar. Whereas a modern reader would probably perceive Cathy as a gold digger, and would encourage her feelings for Heathcliff since nowadays women have been given equal rights and racism has been abolished from society. The modern reader would subconsciously have a bad picture formed of Catherine when she says, “I love Heathcliff but need to marry Edgar”.
In conclusion I believe that Nelly’s assessment of Catherine being “a misery – maker to all about her” is not correct. Catherine has been a joy in parts of the book to all the characters. Only when she is forced to make a decision she finds difficult does she show signs of selfishness, and then in her own discomfort and anger does she infect her surroundings. I don’t believe that Catherine is nai??ve to the fact that she is the direct source of pain to those she loves, and therefore Nelly’s assessment “an unfeeling child”, is correct; for Catherine can control her health, emotions and other people.
I agree with Nelly to the extent that Catherine is a misery – maker to all about her in the last couple of years of her life. However in death I feel that Catherine causes more pain than when she was alive because both Edgar and Heathcliff are devastated, ” I feel that Nelly’s assessment of Catherine is unjust because the only person who is free from Catherine’s misery – making is Nelly; and Nelly who has caused a fair deal of pain should not be able to make such an unjust evaluation. A more suitable assessment of Catherine would be, “Far better that she should be dead than lingering a burden and a misery – maker to me”.