From the outset, Bronte contemplates the view that the characters within “Wuthering Heights” are beyond classification. In Bronte’s intricate prologue to the novel, Lockwood tries to decipher the relationships and personalities to no avail,’Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living.
‘As a symbol of civilisation and normality in the novel, Lockwood immediately attempts to judge the characters, to put them into an order, to organise them. His failings to do so set out one of the most significant messages that “Wuthering Heights” purports. The phrase used by Nelly in her introduction to the story directs this significance simply:’You’ll judge as well as I can, all these things; at least you’ll think you will, and that’s the same.’Lockwood’s own admission, ‘I bestow my own attributes over-liberally on him’ is used in the same regard.
Bronte is asking the reader not to judge. Similarly, through Isabella’s false perception and ’bookish expectation’ of Heathcliff as a ‘a hero of romance …
expecting unlimited indulgence’, the reader is warned by Bronte not to judge. As Melvin Watson pointedly remarks, ’few have tried to make an unprejudiced attempt to understand what Emily Bronte strove for.’David Sonstroem observes in “Wuthering Heights and the Limits of Vision” the blindness and predjudices of the characters themselves. He conveys the concept that Bronte, “addresses herself less to vision than to blindness: to man’s refusal to overlook his prejudices, and his inability to discern what lies beyond his limitations.
” Heathcliff chooses to disregard the things he dislikes around him, such as Edgar, Edgar’s love for Catherine and hers for him, Linton, Cathy, and Cathy’s relationship with Hareton. Catherine shows a similar blindness, which becomes apparent in her decision between Edgar and Heathcliff.”I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if [Hindley] had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it”The technique utilised by Bronte in these opening paragraphs and throughout the novel are used to fulfil this objective more effectively. The way in which Lockwood is introduced to “Wuthering Heights” as a newcomer, in order to invoke an affinity with the reader, shows that the characters are beyond simple judgement.
The narrative structure used by Bronte proficiently draws the reader into the novel. The reader is unable then to judge from a position outside of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, both the place and the novel itself.By creating this situation, the reader is only able to judge the characters and events from within. This further clouds the reader’s ability to form a solid opinion, or to classify the characters.
The chronology and narrative of “Wuthering Heights” shifts between the present and the past several times. The use of both Lockwood and Nelly as narrators leads to further confusion in the reader. Quite different from conventional narrators, they neither tell the story from a first-person perspective nor act as an ubiquitous overseer of events, as in many novels did at the time.Throughout the novel, Bronte challenges conventions such as these to a similar effect.
Descriptions by Lockwood in the opening chapters personify this element of the book:’…said the amiable hostess more repellingly than Heathcliff himself could have replied”A perfect Misanthropist’s heaven’The use of contrast of adjectives such as ‘amiable’ to ‘repellingly’ and ‘perfect’ and ‘heaven’ to ‘misanthropist’ reflect the oxymoronic nature of the charcters themselves.
Many attributes of the characters in the novel are contradictory. This device is implemented by Bronte to make it more difficult to categorise the people within the novel. Edgar, possessing many of the conventional attributes of a Victorian hero creates a complete anomaly in “Wuthering Heights” Many, such as Melvin Watson have commented on such distortions in the novel. The exaggerated elements of love, hatred, contempt and death contribute to the difficulty created in grouping the characters.
During the novel, the reader is frequently led to categorise characters in many ways. Yet, throughout the novel there are numerous shifts. The characters, their opinions and situations often change. ’Far from stagnating, time (within Wuthering Heights) is fluid.
‘ Constant alterations in the plot, the characters and their outlook on life make judgement impossible. However, there are many implications of character divides in the novel. The stated differences between knowledge and the possession of books in contrast to ignorance, the emphasis on class divides, the obvious difference between characters who are passionate, and those who are more calm and reserved and the implications of background and upbringing all come into consideration.The symbolism of books representing knowledge is used frequently throughout the novel.
The possession of books is associated with privilege but also with power. This becomes more apparent with the younger Catherine’s use of books, in the second part of the novel. Heathcliff and the elder Catherine seem to despise reading in childhood,”I took my dingy volume by the scroop, and hurled it into the dog- kennel, vowing I hated a good book. Heathcliff kicked his to the same place.
“Bronte utilises this to depict the implications of society on knowledge and learning. In a similar way to the poems of Blake, Bronte expresses an indignation about corruption of the young and also of her own suppression. The characters could be split into those who represent Bronte and her own repression and entrapment and those who represent what has enslaved her. Her representation of feminism in the novel is demonstrated in particular in Cattle’s descendance into ‘delirium’.
Bronte manipulates the classifications used by the characters and their declamation describing Cathy, to demonstrate her own psychological conflict. In labelling Cathy’s unhappiness and suppression as ‘mad,’ and ‘maniac’s fury’, and treating it as a physical illness, they are depicted as oblivious and unaware.UntitledThe night is darkening round me,The wild winds coldly blow;But a tyrant spell has bound meAnd I cannot, cannot go.The giant trees are bendingTheir bare boughs weighed with snow,And the storm is fast descendingAnd yet I cannot go.
Clouds beyond clouds above me,Wastes beyond wastes below;But nothing drear can move me;I will not, cannot go.Many of the characters could be said to represent this element, such as Hareton, young Catherine and Isabella but certainly Heathcliff, Hindley and many of the other characters could also be argued represent some aspect of Bronte’s feeling of repression and outcry about society. This group, therefore, would not be feasible.Lord David Cecil surveys the representation in “Wuthering Heights” between passionate and placid characters in relation to the difference between to two households, each a ‘universe built from two opposing forces – storm and calm.
‘ Cathy’s decision between Edgar and Linton personifies these differences. Heathcliff, as the ‘lightning’, ‘fire’ and ‘eternal rocks beneath’ represents the elemental passion of the characters, whereas Linton as the ‘frost’, ‘moonbeam’ and ‘foliage in the woods’ symbolises a composure and calm. Similarly, the second generation depicts the divide between wildness and serenity. The difference between the young Catherine’s and Linton’s ‘perfect idea of heaven’s happiness’ are contrasting:’He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors.
.. mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above.’There is a distinction in the novel between the demeanour of those who are drawn to Wuthering Heights, driven by elemental or natural forces, and the conduct of those who bestow more of the attributes of Thrushcross Grange, which are socialised, proper and mannered.
However, not all the characters fit in with this generalisation. There are many anomalies. Linton, although displaying the physical and many behavioural characteristics of the Lintons, also displays a peevishness and selfishness in his constant need for attention and manipulation of Catherine, which resembles many of the characteristics of the Earnshaw family. Catherine, although exhibiting an obvious connection with nature and an elemental passion, also demonstrates calm and sympathetic qualities in her relationship with Linton.
These differences suggest the significance put upon the influence of upbringing in the novel. The most obvious example of this is seen in Heathcliff. The elemental environment of Wuthering Heights and his treatment as an outsider connotes his attributes of elemental passion and his ’hardened’, ‘toughened’ ’embittered’ and ‘disillusioned’ characteristics. As Melvin Watson states, Heathcliff is ’neither an Iago for whom evil is a divinity nor a Macbeth who consciously chooses evil.
.. rather a Hamlet without Hamlet’s fatal resolution ..
.evil thrust upon him if he is to survive among harsh surroundings’The phrase used by Heathcliff to describe the differences between Linton and Hareton epitomises the unrealisable task of grouping the people in “Wuthering Heights”. If the reader is to accept the novel’s underlying theme of characters being shaped in response to their environment, it becomes an impossible task to clearly define each person.”But there’s this difference: one is gold put to the use of paving-stones, and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver.
“The characters, therefore, defy convention. Their defining characteristics are shaped not only by their enduring affections but by the way they have been treated.