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Nelly in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights Essay

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Nelly in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights


In a novel where everything is turned upside down and every character plays a role they probably shouldn’t, Nelly Dean’s role is the most ambiguous. As both Lockwood’s and the reader’s narrator, Nelly plays the role of the storyteller. Yet at the same time, Nelly is also a character in the story that she tells, occupying a vast array of roles. As a character within her own tale, Nelly attempts to manipulate the actions of her fellow characters. The best way for the reader to understand both Nelly’s role in the novel and her manipulative actions is to see Nelly as being representative of the author. Authors occupy roles that are similarly as ambiguous as Nelly’s role, acting as both writers of and characters in their own stories, often unwittingly writing aspects of themselves into a large variety of roles within their own novels. Furthermore, Nelly’s manipulative actions and biases are analogous to an author’s exertions to move the narrative in accordance with her artistic vision. The multiplicity and ambiguity of Nelly’s roles as well as Nelly’s clearly manipulative maneuvers to alter the plot ultimately implicate Nelly in the meta-fictional role of representing the author.

Nelly’s role in Wuthering Heights is inherently ambiguous because she occupies a vast array of roles throughout the course of the narrative. Who she is and what niche she fills depends on the characters with whom she interacts and on the situations in which she is immersed, resulting in great ambiguity over Nelly’s exact role in the novel. This lack of clarity arises before Nelly’s narrative even begins. When we first encounter Nelly, we know that she is the housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange. ...


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...other, or a matchmaker; she is all four at the same time. This multiplicity in roles, as well as her exertions to manipulate her fellow characters, implicates Nelly in the role of the author, who both occupies the role of all of her characters and manipulates those characters to act as she wishes them to. As a reader, it is easy to dismiss Nelly as merely being a means to an end. It is because of Nelly that we are allowed the opportunity to hear the story of Wuthering Heights, but the narrative certainly does not revolve around her, and nor should it. The author herself should never occupy more space than her story. Yet by performing a meta-analysis on Nelly’s role, we can see the importance of not simply dismissing such a character, because her presence says just as much about the turbulences of passion for love as it does about the passion for a writer’s art.


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