Love, Class and Consequence in Wuthering Heights
At the heart of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, are the characters, Heathcliff and Catherine (Cathy) Earnshaw Linton. Bronte created a love between Cathy and Heathcliff that dared to step outside the normal constraints of the ideal romantic love and social classes of the seemingly proper Victorian England. This class distinction is made early in the novel when Heathcliff is described as “being dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire…a degree of under-bred pride” (Bronte 7). This description differs to that of Cathy who at the age of eight is referred to as the "lady" of the house after her mother dies only two years after Heathcliff, an orphan, who is brought home to her almost as a gift from her father (Bronte 24-25). While Bronte hints to the readers that the love of these two young people would grow to a love beyond all reasoning for one another, she also shows the reader that as a result of these class differences that Cathy would reject the gypsy to become the wife of a respectable gentleman of a neighboring estate. Unfortunately, it is because of this rejection of love for one another that creates the tragedies and circumstances that affects both Earnshaws, Lintons and Heathcliff throughout Wuthering Heights. Early on in the novel the reader gets a brief glimpse of Heathcliff’s apparent social status by Lockwood, as referenced above, this description is supported by Nelly Dean, the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights. She relays her initial impression on his surprising entrance into the Earnshaw household as "a gypsy brat" speaking in "gibberish" who was literally "picked up" off the streets by Mr. Earnshaw and brought home to be raised with his own children. Heathcliff, the name he was given by Cathy’s father, is also the name of the Earnshaw’s deceased son (Bronte 24). While Heathcliff was expected to become a member of the household, he was never fully accepted by Nelly Dean and Cathy’s brother, Hindley. Hindley felt threatened by Heathcliff and Nelly stated that “Hindley hated him: and to say the truth I did the same; and we plagued and went on with him shamefully" (Bronte 24). Neither Nelly nor Hindley ever lost their dislike for Heathcliff. In Hindley’s case it was not only the threat of losing his inheritance to somebody that didn’t deserve to be a part of his family, but also that his father grew to love Heathcliff more than him. As for Nelly, it was the idea that she should not have to serve somebody that was so close to her in class status. Nevertheless, as time passed, Heathcliff and Cathy grew inseparable even after Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley puts Heathcliff back in the class he belongs, as a servant at Wuthering Heights. Still, Cathy "taught him what she learnt" and "they both promised fair to grow up as rude as savages" and their love and passion for one another grew with their maturity (Bronte 28). However, Cathy's love for Heathcliff is not sufficient enough to prevent her from marrying Linton. She puts her love for Heathcliff in these words when speaking to Nelly “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him…but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same” (Bronte 47). Not only is Cathy talking to Nelly about her love for Heathcliff while Nelly is trying to figure out why she loves Edgar, but she also references how marring Heathcliff is beneath her at this point since she has been opened up tot the possibilities of a higher social class such as that of the Lintons. When trying to describe why she loved about Edgar, Cathy is only able to describe the things around and about him but not Edgar himself in this following statement “I love the ground under his feet, and the air over his head, and everything he touches, and every word he says. I love his looks, and all his actions and him...
Cited: Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, 1990. Internet resource.
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