“I am now quite cured of seeking pleasure in society, be it country or town. A sensible man ought to find sufficient company in himself.”
Although Lockwood is not a central character in the novel's main plot, his need to be alone reflects Emily Brontë's preoccupation with solitude. Appreciation for solitude is what separates the people who live at Wuthering Heights from the civilized, quiet world of the Lintons and Thrushcross Grange. In fact, the characters who most like to be alone––Heathcliff, Catherine Earnshaw, and Hindley––are also the characters who are most in touch with their own passionate emotions, for better or for worse. Brontë seems to suggest that 'finding sufficient company in [one]self' is the only way a person can truly know who they are and what they want.
“We don’t in general take to foreigners here, Mr. Lockwood, unless they take to us first.”
Ellen's early admonition evokes specific incidents in the novel––from Lockwood's disastrous first encounter with Heathcliff, to his eventual decision to move to London because he can no longer bear the unpleasant atmosphere of the moors. However, it also reflects the extreme insularity of this society more generally. The novel focuses on two families, the Earnshaws and the Lintons, and the people in these families only interact socially with their servants and with each other. The introduction of Heathcliff––a "foreigner," both in the sense that he is not from the moors, and in the sense that he is not ethnically English––proves to be a violent disruption to this isolated society.
“I wish I had light hair and a fair skin, and was dressed, and behaved as well, and had a chance of being as rich as he will be!”
Heathcliff's outlook on life as a young boy contrasts sharply with the hardened, stoic worldview he will adopt later in life. In a rare moment of emotional earnestness, Heathcliff admits that he envies Edgar Linton. Some of the reasons for this envy are not surprising––like many characters in Victorian novels, Heathcliff aspires to be improve his financial situation. However, his desire for 'light hair and a fair skin' suggests a veiled critique of English attitudes toward foreigners. Heathcliff's origins are uncertain, but people often call him a "gipsy," which suggests he has Eastern European features. This would have prevented him from moving up in society at this time, even if he did amass as much wealth as Edgar Linton (as indeed he does later in the novel). Although Heathcliff descends into amorality as he gets older, Brontë suggests that this is not entirely his fault––his rejection from society contributed to this outcome as much Heathcliff's own choices.
“I perceive that people in these regions acquire over people in towns the value that a spider in a dungeon does over a spider in a cottage, to their various occupants; and yet the deepened attraction is not entirely owing to the situation of the looker-on. They do live more in earnest, more in themselves, and less in surface, change, and frivolous external things.”
The rugged, inspiring beauty of the Yorkshire moors is one of Wuthering Heights's central motifs. Just as the countryside inspires wildness––but also intimacy––between Cathy and Heathcliff, Lockwood suggests that the rural lifestyle encourages people to be more reflective and in touch with their feelings. Many Victorian authors, including Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, wrote novels with rustic settings. However, Emily Brontë is unique in her tendency to associate the natural world with powerful, atavistic emotion. Although the countryside's ability to bring out people's deepest selves can be frightening, Brontë suggests that spending time in the country is necessary to have a full and passionate life.
“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”
Cathy's oft-quoted declaration of love for Heathcliff incorporates many of the novel's important themes and stylistic qualities. When she likens her relationships with Linton and Heathcliff to different aspects of the natural world, Cathy reinforces the connection between nature and deep emotion that Brontë introduced earlier in the novel. By having Cathy refer to herself and Heathcliff as the same being, Brontë further develops some questions about the self that she addresses elsewhere in Wuthering Heights. She raises the question of how far the bounds of the self extend––can two people really be one person, as Cathy suggests? She also refers to the question of how one gets to know oneself. When Cathy talks about herself, she is oddly dissociated––she describes herself using the same terms and syntax she would use to describe another person. This suggests that we can only understand our minds by spending time with ourselves––the same way we would get to know any other person.
“I surveyed the weapon inquisitively. A hideous notion struck me: how powerful I should be possessing such an instrument! I took it from his hand, and touched the blade. He looked astonished at the expression my face assumed during a brief second: it was not horror, it was covetousness.”
Isabella's fascination with the knife illustrates Brontë's interest in the relationship between gender and power. Up until now, Isabella has been a somewhat passive character; she rarely thought for herself and was always under the influence of Edgar or Heathcliff. Her realization of the power she would get from wielding a weapon foreshadows her violent argument with Heathcliff later in the novel. Although Heathcliff wields the knife in that fight, Isabella's choice to leave him is the first instance in which she truly thinks for herself. Isabella's shifting relationship with power reflects Brontë's subversion of traditional gender roles––the knife is a very violent, phallic object, and Isabella's choice to live alone and raise a son by herself would have been highly unusual in the nineteenth century.
“No, no! Even if he had doted on me, the devilish nature would have revealed its existence, somehow. Catherine had an awfully perverted taste to esteem him so dearly, knowing him so well – Monster! would that he could be blotted out of creation, and out of my memory!”
The characters in Wuthering Heights repeatedly refer to Heathcliff's evil "nature." Most of them seem to assume that people are born either good or bad, and that individuals have little control over their personalities or their actions. This worldview helps explain the characters' preoccupation with physical appearances. For example, Heathcliff isn't allowed to stay at Thrushcross Grange as a child because of his dark coloration, and as an adult, Heathcliff scorns his son Linton because of the boy's delicate, fair appearance. For Brontë, personality is just as immutable as physical appearance, and there is usually a correlation between the two.
“And the best of it is, Hareton is damnably fond of me! You’ll own that I’ve outmatched Hindley there. If the dead villain could rise from his grave to abuse me for his offspring’s wrongs, I should have the fun of seeing the said offspring fight him back again, indignant that he should dare to rail at the one friend he has in the world!”
Here, Heathcliff's utter lack of empathy becomes clear, demonstrating how much he has changed since Catherine Earnshaw's death. Not only does he take a contemptuous attitude toward Hareton and his admiration, but he can only think of his relationship with Hareton in terms of how it would affect the long-dead Hindley. This shows Heathcliff's morbid fixation with the past; he continues to dwell on the cruel treatment he received from Hindley even after the older man has died and Heathcliff exacted his revenge by becoming the owner of Wuthering Heights. This personality trait will crop up again when Heathcliff continues to nurse his hatred for the Lintons after Edgar has died.
“Let him dare to force you ... There’s law in the land, thank God! there is; though we be in an out-of-the-way place. I’d inform if he were my own son: and it’s felony without benefit of clergy!”
This is one of the only times that a character in Wuthering Heights refers to the people and customs of the world outside Wuthering Heights and the Grange. Besides passing references to Gimmerton, the nearest town, the characters seem to live in complete isolation, which helps to explain their passionate relationships and convoluted family trees. The fact that Ellen thinks of seeking help from the outside world indicates both the direness of the situation when Heathcliff imprisons her and Cathy at Wuthering Heights, as well as her common sense relative to the other characters. This contrasts sharply with Cathy's personality; despite her liveliness, the young girl cannot conceive of a life outside her own insular community, and her greatest ambition as a child was only to see the other side of the hill on the edge of the Grange.
“Linton is all I have to love in the world, and though you have done what you could to make him hateful to me, and me to him, you cannot make us hate each other. And I defy you to hurt him when I am by, and I defy you to frighten me!”
Cathy's defiant stand against Heathcliff's attempts to control her contrasts with the fear and subservience he inspires in virtually everyone else in the novel: Hareton, Joseph, Linton, and even Lockwood. Cathy Linton draws her strength and passion from love, unlike Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, who are driven by deep, animalistic urges and only seem to care about themselves and each other. Because of this, she represents humanity and civilization in this noticeably wild, cruel society. Her fierce determination to love someone––even if he may not deserve it––speaks to the absolute necessity of love in the human psyche.
Wuthering Heights Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Wuthering Heights is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
It is 1801, and the narrator, Mr. Lockwood, relates how he has just returned from a visit to his new landlord, Mr. Heathcliff. This is in the Yorkshire moors of England. We get a very visual sense of both the austerity and isolation of the...