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  • Emily Bronte

Wuthering heights - critical review

I read Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel 'Wuthering Heights' after reading the article 'Interrogating the Other - Stoker, Bronte and Shelley' which addressed Bronte's exploration of the double in comparison to Frankenstein and Dracula. After being interested in the double for a while, through reading and comparing different novels' exploration of it, I was interested to see how Bronte portrayed it. Bronte explores the double in a different way to other novels I have read: through exploring it in many different means: one being the identity of the 'dual nature' being made up of two characters, rather than two sides of one. This unique exploration interested me as it necessarily then looked into ideas of love, societal boundaries and identity. Bronte's exploration of duality extends from just this to the identity of Heathcliff. It questions whether he was a villain or victim, and what that means for the message of the novel and the idea of outsiders as well as the conflicting duality of societal boundaries juxtaposing with the laws of our own nature, commented on through the juxtaposition of Catherine's attitude and relationship to Heathcliff and Edgar. Furthermore, the use of the double in terms of generations questions the possibilities that humanity can reach.

Firstly, through looking at the duality of Heathcliff's nature, one could argue that one interpretation is that Heathcliff portrays the evil 'other' and the haunting identity of the tale. This can be seen through the fact he is described to be 'not a human being' but to behave like an 'incarnate goblin.' The noun 'goblin' accompanied with the premodifier 'incarnate' links this idea of the supernatural directly to Heathcliff. This can be seen further through the description of Heathcliff's eyes: as they are described as 'basilisk eyes' and 'clouded windows of hell'. I think the description of the eyes is particularly interesting since Heathcliff is never a pure narrator in the novel, therefore the description of eyes as a 'window of hell' seems to be the closest the readers can get to his interior consciousness, and therefore true identity. This is carried throughout the novel as it is observed that his corpse resembles a 'goblin', suggesting that even when he has lost human consciousness he remains a threatening character. Charlotte Bronte, the author of 'Jane Eyre', seems to agree with the viewpoint that Heathcliff portrays the demon, as she describes him as a 'man's shape animated by a demonlife - a ghoul.'

However, it is important for the reader to remember that all these descriptions are subjective, as they come from two narrators: both Nelly primarily, and then Lockwood. This unreliability of narration comments on the subjectiveness of perception of other people, as the debate about the true identity of Heathcliff is present throughout the novel. Heathcliff is automatically seen as an outsider, as he is labelled as a 'gypsy brat' who seems to be talking 'gibberish.' This is further supported by his actual name, as he never gains a family name, but instead, Heathcliff is used for 'both for Christain and surname.' This sense of lacking a human name automatically labels him as a victim and outsider, and almost gives him an inevitable fate of fulfilling the prophecy of his name: to act without accordance to natural and traditional humaneness. Therefore, although descriptors in the novel, and how we see Heathcliff act, seem to be representative of something evil and demonic, there seems to be an underneath sense that he is vulnerable due to the fact he is an outsider in society, therefore treated differently, therefore subject to a fate of responsiveness to this.

This debate is never concluded in the novel and his identity is constantly juxtaposed. We see this through Isabella's inquiry: "Is Mr Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?'. The contrast of 'man' 'mad' and 'devil' summarizes the question of Heathcliff. However, the order of the triadic structure, moving from 'man' to 'devil', could be interpreted as a sense of Heathcliff progressing into a devil: He was a man, but then condemned by society as inhumane, leaving him to become mad, and therefore ultimately a devil. However, this interpretation could be completely unintentional through the repetition of 'if so' meaning madness and demonic is an either-or option. However, the reader could conclude that Heathcliff does incorporate all these three identities. This idea could be interpreted further through the description of Heathcliff as he 'howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast getting goaded to death with knives and spears.' The verb 'howled' as well as the simile 'like a savage beast' suggests that Heathcliff is inhumane, supernatural, evil and threatening: exaggerated through the adjective 'savage.' However, this is juxtaposed in the same quotation through the passiveness of 'getting goaded to death with knives and spears.' The passive verb phrase 'getting goaded' suggests vulnerability, as he is being damaged by 'knives and spears' to his death. Furthermore, the verb 'howled', linking Heathcliff to an animal, could be another hint at his victimisation, since its connotations to animals could suggest a lack of freedom of speech or action. Therefore, the description and language used describing Heathcliff raises debates about not only his true identity but the reasons as to why he is considered evil or demonic. James Twitchell, a literary critic, concludes this duality of Heathcliff's nature and interpretation, as he states that Heathcliff is 'both parasite and host, oppressor and victim, vampire and vampirised.' However, it could be suggested that these two interpretations don't offer two contrasting ideas of his identity: but instead one is the reasoning for the other.

Bronte further explores ideas of duality through the juxtaposition between Heathcliff and Edgar, and Catherine's relation to each of them. Through Catherine's inability to choose to love Heathcliff, and choice of Edgar: who is someone ingrained in society and the demands within it, we see this duality of both their identity and what comes with it. Through choosing Edgar, it shows the nature of society: as she chooses someone who has a high status in society, instead of considered an outsider of it. In an article I read, it suggested that Edgar and Heathcliff were two opposing parts of Catherine's self. However, I think it instead could be argued that Edgar instead represents not the true part of herself, but an idealistic vision of a part of herself. Catherine shows the want, and sometimes necessary demand, to fit into society, and therefore Edgar represents this vision and aspiration of fitting into Christian morality, adult sexuality, maternal duty and societal demands. This choice of Catherine gives a sense of failure to her love with Heathcliff, an idea that their love is only a childhood ideal and that level of passion is not possible to bring into maturity.

However, the idea of Edgar as her aspirational self and successor and victor of society through Catherine's choice to marry him, is juxtaposed with the inevitable and passionate love that Catherine and Heathcliff are portrayed to have. This juxtaposition is blatantly laid out by Catherine as she claims that "my love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees" compared to "my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath." The comparison of her love with Edgar to the seasons: "as winter changes the trees" creates not only this sense of temporality and mortality to their love but also a sense that it is a subject to the laws of nature. This is juxtaposed with the eternal sense of her love for Heathcliff: as she portrays it won't alter with time, comparing it to the foundation of the universe, unaltered by objective time. This imperishability creates a supernatural sense to their love, not subject to the laws of the natural world, and therefore superior to her decisions regarding marriage with Edgar.

This sense of their love is further escalated through the duality of their nature, as Catherine states "Nelly, I am Heathcliff" and "whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." This statement reminded me of the idea of homooscious in the trinity: the idea of the same substance making up the two identities. This again, suggests their love as something superior to nature's norms and laws that human corpses are natural to, making a comparison between the material and emotional, with the latter as superior.

This superiority of their love is further confirmed through their passion's victory at the end of the novel. When Catherine is dead, the barrier between herself and Heathcliff still remains due to life and death. Catherine is described to be seen at the window by Lockwood, describing that 'my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand.' Therefore, the window that Catherine's ghost is haunting could be interpreted as an extended metaphor of the barrier between the natural and supernatural world. Heathcliff, when alive, asks Catherine to haunt him, as well as breaks into her coffin, so they can try and break the boundaries of the natural and supernatural and be together but is never successful in his endeavour. However, When Heathcliff dies, there is a sense that they are united through the observation of 'the master's window swinging open' in the room in which he has died. This suggests that Heathcliff has finally overcome the barrier between himself and Catherine, as the window that barred Catherine for so long is now open. This is further supported through Josephs claim that they see them looking out of the window 'on every night since his death.' This Romantic idea suggests the strength of love and passion, in which despite their love not being possible in the natural world: due to societal constraints, it transcends this world and lives on eternally.

This idea of eternal love could be further interpreted through the second part of the novel: in which it could be suggested that the next generation become shadows of the last, as Cathy, an echo of Catherine, turns to love Hareton, the social outcast echo of Heathcliff. This mirroring can be seen in Cathy's declaration of her love for Edgar arguing that "I love him better than myself". Cathy's actions, almost represent an ideal for what Catherine could have done with Heathcliff: as Cathy does what Catherine didn't, and rebukes societal demands and prejudices to achieve an understanding and love of Hareton. This duality to the novel in which two stories of two generations are shown, in which one gives into and the next overcomes societies expectation further suggests the victory of love and passion.

Therefore, the sense of duality is commented on throughout and through many different means in the novel. The duality of Heathcliff's nature explores the subjectivity of people's identity as well as the duality within one's nature, due to natural and societal demands, which therefore also explores the unreliability of the narration. This sense of duality is explored through the two identities of Edgar and Heathcliff, and what they represent: in which Heathcliff represents the passionate love and emotion that the human condition is subject to, which comes into conflict of societal expectations that Edgar represents. With this, Heathcliff and Catherine represent the idea of doubles: as they are "reflections of a unified self" (Rosemary Jackson). Lastly, the second part of the novel, which narrates the love of Hareton and Cathy, creates further this sense of duality in different generations, while portraying the eternal nature of love and passion as the love of Heathcliff and Catherine seem to intertwine into it. The unreliability of narration itself is a synecdoche for the debates and questionings that the novel provides, as Bronte urges the reader to engage and decide for themselves the answers to these questions on morality, identity, justice and love that have a constant presence throughout the novel.

After I read the novel:

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