Wuthering Heights - What do we learn about the character of Heathcliff in this extract? (Chapter 15, vol.2, page 284-288) Essay
1 - Wuthering Heights - What do we learn about the character of Heathcliff in this extract? (Chapter 15, vol.2, page 284-288) Essay introduction. What do we learn about the character of Heathcliff in this extract? (Chapter 15, vol.2, page 284-288)
This extract whilst confirming and extending many of the character traits that we have previously seen in Heathcliff, also presents us with other sections of his persona that have not been revealed before in the novel. We see more examples, perhaps the most grotesque yet as it is dealt upon an innocent child, of his sadistic nature, yet we also learn of his pain and suffering inflicted on him by the dead Catherine.
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The younger Catherine hurts Heathcliff acutely in her naï¿½ve (but correct) criticism of him. She says that she would rather be the weak-willed Linton than Heathcliff, and says
“No-one loves you-nobody will ever cry for you, when you die! I wouldn’t be you!”
This condemnation is too close to the truth for Heathcliff, her innocence penetrating his dour, misanthropic exterior, and in return Heathcliff says, “You shall be sorry to be yourself presently.” Here we get an indication of the suffering that Heathcliff will inflict on the younger Catherine later in the novel. His sadistic nature is coming to the fore, the only way that he can relieve his pain later is the torture and imprisonment of Cathy, indeed he says to Nelly “…that lass (Cathy) owes me her services for her bread; I’m not going to nurture her in luxury and idleness…”
The suffering that he feels, we see from this section, is due to his separation from Catherine, this we already have learnt, yet we learn that the only relief from the anguish is his belief that at death he will merge with Catherine by being buried next to her. The grotesque, almost necrophilia act of Heathcliff climbing into Cathy’s grave to hold her once again, in his own words “gave some ease to myself”. This repulsive, sickening act in a strange contradiction brings out the softer side to Heathcliff, a relief of his suffering and purging of his anguish, he says,
“A sudden sense of relief flowed, from my heart, through every limb. I relinquished my labour of agony, and turned consoled once, unspeakable consoled”
We realise that Heathcliff’s anguish, as his love was, is outside the bounds of rational human behaviour. It transgresses the boundary between life and death, the only relief for him is in a world beyond human, a life with Cathy. His wish to merge with Cathy upon his death shows us the reason for his total melancholy and suggests he is simply waiting for his earthly death. Yet he acknowledges that must not perish by his own hand, rather he must suffer the pro-longed agony of existence on earth, without his life,
“It was a strange way of killing, not by inches, but by fractions of hair-breadths, to beguile me with the spectre of a hope, through eighteen years”
2. Examine the ways in which Bronte makes his behaviour seem both shocking and understandable?
Heathcliff is oft described as a Byronic hero, Bronte manages to, despite his atrocious actions, implore sympathy for him and the reader is often empathic with his situation despite his suffering being quite inhuman (and uncivilised/out of control). His anti-hero behaviour both shocks us but also demands our respect. Therefore Bronte manages to make the reader feel a contradict of emotions, on one hand appalled by his actions, yet on the other condoning them due to ‘heroic’ status and the over-riding love he feels for Catherine.
If we discuss firstly the shocking treatment of Cathy, Linton and Isabella by Heathcliff in this section we get a view of these contradictory feelings that are felt by readers towards Heathcliff. He as I said in question one, suggests that he is going to treat Cathy badly, almost as a slave, when he takes her back to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff also tells Nelly that upon finding Linton and Isabella opposing his entrance to Wuthering Heights he remembered,
“stopping to kick the breath out of him (Linton)
One cannot condone his actions in keeping Cathy, Earnshaw, and his wife prisoner, however Bronte presents them in juxtaposition with Heathcliffs predicament (his pain at losing Cathy, and attempts to quench his pain) next to which they seem insignificant. As the above quote shows, in this chapter at least, Bronte presents the treatment of ‘prisoners’ as a kind of footnote, inserted into the ‘more important’ text about Heathcliffs problems. He “remembers” stopping to beat Linton, suggesting that this was a regular occurrence, something little out of the ordinary and nothing compared to the major struggle that Heathcliff is continuing.
The Major example of this shocking characterisation in this chapter, which in a rational, civilised world we could not condone, but Bronte allows us to is the digging up of Cathy’s grave so Heathcliff can hold her . Disturbing the dead is in it shocking, however Bronte increases the shock value, giving it sexual connotations by suggesting that he would “dissolve with her” and that they would “merge” into one. This possible necrophilia is act which is one of the most shocking sections of the gothic novel, and yet once again Bronte allows us to rationalise Heathcliffs actions, and to some extent condone them. Heathcliff is haunted by Catherine’s ghost and his pain seems as large as the love that preceded it. Indeed he tells Cathy,
“she has disturbed me, night and day, through eighteen years-incessantly-remorselessly”
Without Catherine he does not eat, he has no conceptions of time, and lives in total misanthropic melancholy awaiting his death. Therefore we feel that if he can find any relief that can bring him anywhere towards humanity it would be acceptable, even if he finds it in holding the lifeless body of Catherine. Heathcliff says,
“I’ll have her in my arms again! If she be cold I’ll think it is the north wind that chills me, and if she be motionless, it is sleep”
This is the first time in this section he uses soft language, he thinks of Catherine over himself, the language, the description deceive the reader into believing it is a scene of beauty, which it certainly is not.
3. In the novel, Bronte makes the reader question conventional values and morality. How far do you think this is true?
Bronte’s novel certainly caused outrage amongst its Victorian critics due to its lack of moral value and direction. Its violence, extremities and gothic nature still have qualities that shock modern day readers of the novel, and this is due to the fact that every section of the novel ensures the reader asks questions of ones own morality.
Is love all conquering? Is there life beyond death? Should we quantify/repress our feelings for social reasons? These are some of the questions it poses to us as contemporary readers, yet to the original readership, who were subject to the very strict Victorian views of morality and Christian values; it must have made them question the structure of their beliefs and values.
The reason that it creates such debate, and is considered a classic, is due to the fact that every section of the novel asks us questions; the characters, the language and the context, all push the boundaries of convention. Its lack of realism and its extremity in all departments certainly questions human’s conventional values and morality to the fullest.
Characters are the main attraction of the book and it is them that produce the most controversy. None of the main protagonists could one describe as being rationale, not all the characters are of made up of such extremities as Heathcliff, some of them, such as Edgar could be described as Human like. It is ironic then that we view Edgar very much as a weak character, does this suggest that humans are week? In the great scheme of things are we like Edgar, week-willed, unable to control his own destiny?
Heathcliff is far from human; one could go as far to describe him as a pure animal. His love for Cathy is so extreme that it is above human conception, his sadistic nature is devilish and yet we are as readers attracted to him far more than we are towards Edgar. He is a typical Byronic hero; powerful, attractive, melancholic and brutal, this anti-hero demands our respect and our sympathy.
A prime example of this shocking characterisation which in a rational, civilised world we could not condone, is the section already studied where Heathcliff digs up the grave of Catherine to get closer to her. Disturbing the dead is something conventionally frowned upon; however Bronte increases the shock value, giving it sexual connotations by suggesting that he would “dissolve with her” and that they would “merge” into one.
Necrophilia is act which would shock and disgust twenty-first century audiences let alone Victorian ones, however it is in context with the rest of the novel, and Heathcliffs character seems reasonable. This act purges him, for a while at least, of the pain he suffers. His love for Cathy is such and is pain so visibly great that we find ourselves condoning his actions as not only plausible, but understandable which rationally we would find grotesque. This therefore questions not only our own conventions what is and is not acceptable in sexuality, but also questions religion.
Not finished after 13/4 hours of Exam style work
Go onto say;
* Language- shocking, blasphemous, language used to describe love of H+C
* Love- defying convention, uses (uselessness?) of marriage
* Religion- its pagan values