Literary Criticism of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights

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Literary Criticism of Wuthering Heights  

Wuthering Heights is not just a love story, it is a window into the human soul, where one sees the loss, suffering, self discovery, and triumph of the characters in this novel. Both the Image of the Book by Robert McKibben, and Control of Sympathy in Wuthering Heights by John Hagan, strive to prove that neither Catherine nor Heathcliff are to blame for their wrong doings. Catherine and Heathcliff’s passionate nature, intolerable frustration, and overwhelming loss have ruined them, and thus stripped them of their humanities.

McKibben and Hagan take different approaches to Wuthering Heights, but both approaches work together to form one unified concept. McKibben speaks of Wuthering Heights as a whole, while Hagan concentrates on only sympathies role in the novel. McKibben and Hagan both touch on the topic of Catherine and Heathcliff’s passionate nature. To this, McKibben recalls the scene in the book when Catherine is "in the throes of her self-induced illness" (p38). When asking for her husband, she is told by Nelly Dean that Edgar is "among his books," and she cries, "What in the name of all that feels has he to do with books when I am dying." McKibben shows that while Catherine is making a scene and crying, Edgar is in the library handling Catherine’s death in the only way he knows how, in a mild mannered approach. He lacks the passionate ways in which Catherine and Heathcliff handle ordeals. During this scene Catherine’s mind strays back to childhood and she comes to realize that "the Linton’s are alien to her and exemplify a completely foreign mode of perception" (p38). Catherine discovers that she would never belong in Edgar’s society. On her journey of self-discovery, she realized that she attempted the impossible, which was to live in a world in which she did not belong. This, in the end, lead to her death. Unlike her mother, when Cathy enters The Heights, "those images of unreal security found in her books and Thrushhold Grange are confiscated, thus leading her to scream, "I feel like death!" With the help of Hareton, Cathy learns not to place her love within a self created environment, but in a real life where she will be truly happy. The character’s then reappear as reconciled, and stability and peace once more return to The Heights.

Hagan, when commenting on Catherine’s passionate nature, recalls the same scene when Catherine is near death.

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Hagan shows, like McKibben, that Catherine has an ability to love with fierce passion, something that only herself and Heathcliff share. "I’ll not be there by myself; they may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over me, but I won’t rest til you are with me. I never will" (p108). Hagan shows that by Emily Bronte’s use of sympathy, the reader cannot pass moral judgment on the characters. Even though Catherine is committing adultery, and Heathcliff is planning a brutal career of revenge, the reader still carries sympathy for them. Because Catherine chose to marry Edgar, she created a disorder in their souls. Bronte, Hagan says, modifies our hostile response to Catherine and Heathcliff by always finding a way to express their misery.

McKibben’s and Hagan’s ideas interlock when commenting on the apparent frustration that both Catherine and Heathcliff face throughout the novel. McKibben concentrates on Catherine’s frustration and hopelessness when she realizes that she never belonged on Thrushhold Grange. Hagan recalls the emptiness and frustration Heathcliff encountered when he came back to The Heights to find Catherine married to Edgar. The atmosphere of Thrushhold Grange is that of normalcy and convention. McKibben goes farther to explain that convention is "merely an accepted method of simplifying reality." By simplifying her life, Catherine assumes that she will avoid all of the unpleasant aspects of life. Sadly, she ended up doing just the opposite. Catherine pretended to be something that she’s not, and by doing so lead her to a life of hidden frustration. When Heathcliff found out that Catherine was married to Edgar, he decided that the only way to get even with Edgar was to marry Isabella. Because of his marriage, Catherine became so sick with jealousy and plain frustration that she ended up killing herself. The years after Catherine’s death were so empty and full of regret and frustration that Heathcliff ultimately also ends up killing himself.

Hagan and McKibben both end their analysis with the idea of Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s overwhelming loss. Catherine’s self discovery of a wasted life leads her to her death. She faces at the end what she refused to see during her life. She and Heathcliff had always belonged together. Although Edgar was a good man, he could never share the blind passion that Catherine and Heathcliff had. Shortly after Catherine’s death, Heathcliff is driven to madness by the thought that only "two yards of loose earth are the sole barrier between us" (p229). He opens her casket in the hopes of holding her in his arms once again, only to find that she is gone, and the only way to reunite with her is through death. By showing Heathcliff’s misery, Bronte, Hagan comments, " uses symapthy to modify our hostile response to his cruel treatment of Isabella and his unjust scorn of Edgar" (p73).

Hagan and McKibben, though they use different approaches, concentrate on the same basic points. They proved that the reader stripes both Heathcliff and Catherine of all their evils because they were not in a state of mind to think rationally. Bronte’s use of sympathy is so well done that the reader continues to view Heathcliff and Catherine as victims, rather than immoral and corrupt villains. Hagan states that in the end, "we do not condone their outrages, but neither do we merely condemn them. We do something larger and more important: we recognize in them the tragedy of passionate natures whom intolerable frustration and loss have stripped them of their humanity" (p75).

 

 


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