Wuthering Heights Summary and Analysis
by Emily Bronte
Hindley returns home, unexpectedly bringing his wife, a flighty woman with a strange fear of death and symptoms of consumption (although Ellen did not at first recognize them as such). Hindley also brought home new manners and rules, and informed the servants that they would have to live in inferior quarters. Most importantly, he treated Heathcliff as a servant, stopping his education and making him work in the fields like any farm boy. Heathcliff did not mind too much at first because Cathy taught him what she learned, and worked and played with him in the fields. They stayed away from Hindley as much as possible and grew up uncivilized and free. "It was one of their chief amusements," Ellen recalls, "to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day, and after punishment grew a mere thing to laugh at" (46).
One day they ran off after being punished, and at night Heathcliff returned. He told Ellen what had happened. He and Cathy ran to the Grange to see how people lived there, and they saw the Linton children Edgar and Isabella in a beautiful room, crying after an argument over who could hold the pet dog. Amused and scornful, Heathcliff and Cathy laughed; the Lintons heard them and called for their parents. After making frightening noises, Cathy and Heathcliff tried to escape, but a bulldog bit Cathy's leg and refused to let go. She told Heathcliff to escape but he would not leave her, and tried to pry the animal's jaws open. Mr. and Mrs. Linton mistook them for thieves and brought them inside. When Edgar Linton recognized Cathy as Miss Earnshaw, the Lintons expressed their disgust at the children's wild manners and especially at Heathcliff's being allowed to keep Cathy company. They coddled Cathy and drove Heathcliff out; he went back to Wuthering Heights on foot after assuring himself that Cathy was all right.
When Hindley found out, he welcomed the chance to separate Cathy and Heathcliff, so Cathy was to stay for a prolonged visit with the Lintons while her leg healed and Heathcliff was forbidden to speak to her.
In this chapter we first hear young Heathcliff speak, and it is worth noting how his language differs from the narrators we have heard so far. He is more expressive and emotional than Lockwood or Ellen, and his speech is more literary than Ellen's and less artificial than Lockwood's. He tends to speak in extreme and vibrant terms: expressing his scorn for Edgar Linton's cowardice and whiny gentility, he says: "I'd not exchange, for a thousand lives, my condition here, for Edgar Linton's at Thrushcross Grange not if I might have the privilege of flinging Joseph off the highest gable, and painting the housefront with Hindley's blood!" (48) He admires the comparative luxury of the Grange and recognizes its beauty, but he remains entirely devoted to the freedom of his life with Cathy, and cannot understand the selfishness of the spoiled children: "When would you catch me wishing to have what Catherine wanted?" His devotion to Cathy is clear, and he sees it as completely natural and inescapable: "she is so immeasurably superior to them to everyone one earth; is she not, Nelly?" (51) He admires Cathy for her bravery, and he possesses that same kind of courage.
The image of the two civilized children inside the beautiful room forms a parallel to the two wild children outside. Through this use of parallelism, Brontë turns the window glass into a kind of mirror. However, the 'mirror' shows the complete opposite rather than the true images of those who look into it. Although the children are of similar ages, their breeding differs dramatically, as does their relationship––Edgar and Isabella fight, but Heathcliff and Cathy are inseparable.
Ellen resumes the narrative. Cathy stayed at Thrushcross Grange for five weeks, until Christmas. When she returned home she had been transformed into a young lady with that role's attending restrictions: she could no longer kiss Ellen without worrying about getting flour on her dress. She hurt Heathcliff's feelings by comparing his darkness and dirtiness to Edgar and Isabella's fair complexions and clean clothes. The boy had become more and more neglected in her absence, and was cruelly put in his place by Hindley and especially by Cathy's new polish. Cathy's affection for Heathcliff had not really changed, but he did not know this and ran out, refusing to come in for supper. Ellen felt sorry for him.
The Linton children were invited for a Christmas party the next day. That morning Heathcliff humbly approached Ellen and asked her to "make him decent" because he was "going to be good" (55). Ellen applauded his resolution and reassured him that Cathy still liked him and that she was grieved by his shyness. When Heathcliff said he wished he could be more like Edgar––fair, rich, and well-behaved––Ellen told him that he could be perfectly handsome if he smiled more and was more trustful.
However, when Heathcliff, now "clean and cheerful" (57), tried to join the party, Hindley told him to go away because he was not fit to be there. Edgar unwisely made fun of his long hair and Heathcliff threw hot applesauce at him, and was taken away and flogged by Hindley. Cathy was angry at Edgar for mocking Heathcliff and getting him into trouble, but she didn't want to ruin her party. She kept up a good front, but didn't enjoy herself, thinking of Heathcliff alone and beaten. At her first chance after her guests gone home, she crept into the garret where he was confined.
Later Ellen gave Heathcliff dinner, since he hadn't eaten all day, but he ate little and when she asked what was wrong, he said he was thinking of how to avenge himself on Hindley. At this point Ellen's narrative breaks off and she and Lockwood briefly discuss the merits of the active and contemplative life, with Lockwood defending his lazy habits and Ellen saying she should get things done rather than just telling Lockwood the story. He persuades her to go on.
This chapter marks the end of Cathy and Heathcliff's time of happiness and perfect understanding; Cathy has moved into a different sphere, that of the genteel Lintons, and Heathcliff cannot follow her. Although Cathy still cares for the things she did when the two of them ran wild together, she is under a lot of pressure to become a lady, and she is vain enough to enjoy the admiration and approval she gets from Edgar, Hindley and his wife. Cathy's desire to inhabit two worlds––the moors with Heathcliff and the parlor with Edgar––is a central driving force for the novel and eventually results in tragedy. Emily Brontë had experienced a personal inability to remain true to herself while interacting in conventional social terms, and she chose to abandon society as a result. Cathy takes a different route.
Just as the window separated the Wuthering Heights children from the Lintons in the last chapter, a material object separates Cathy from Heathcliff in this one. The fine dress she wears is a very real boundary between the old friends: it must be sacrificed (smudged, crumpled) if the two of them are to be as close as they were before. It is valuable for economic reasons (its cost), for social ones (the respect Cathy gets on account of it), and because of its artificial beauty. These issues will consistently come between Cathy and Heathcliff; he is right to recognize the dress and what it represents as a threat to his happiness.
Hindley's wife Frances gave birth to a child, Hareton, but did not survive long afterwards: she had consumption. Despite the doctor's warnings, Hindley persisted in believing that she would recover, and she seemed to think so too, always saying she felt better, but she died a few weeks after Hareton's birth. Ellen was happy to take care of the baby. Hindley "grew desperate; his sorrow was of a kind that will not lament, he neither wept nor prayed––he cursed and defied––execrated God and man, and gave himself up to reckless dissipation" (65). The household more or less collapsed into violent confusion––respectable neighbors ceased to visit, except for Edgar, entranced by Catherine. Heathcliff's ill treatment and the bad example posed by Hindley made him "daily more notable for savage sullenness and ferocity." Catherine disliked having Edgar visit Wuthering Heights because she had a hard time behaving consistently when Edgar and Heathcliff met, or when they talked about each other. Edgar's presence made her feel as though she had to behave like a Linton, which was not natural for her.
One day when Hindley was away, Heathcliff was offended to find Catherine dressing for Edgar's visit. He asked her to turn Edgar away and spend the time with him instead but she refused. Edgar was by this time a gentle, sweet young man. He came and Heathcliff left, but Ellen stayed as a chaperone, much to Catherine's annoyance. She revealed her bad character by pinching Ellen, who was glad to have a chance to show Edgar what Catherine was like, and cried out. Catherine denied having pinched her, blushing with rage, and slapped her, then slapped Edgar for reproving her. He said he would go; she, recovering her senses, asked him to stay, and he was too weak and enchanted by her stronger will to leave. Brought closer by the quarrel, the two "confess[ed] themselves lovers" (72). Ellen heard Hindley come home drunk, and out of precaution unloaded his gun.
Hindley's dissipation and moral degradation are further evidence that only a strong character can survive defeat or bereavement without becoming distorted. His desperation is a result of his lack of firm foundations: Ellen says that he "had room in his heart for only two idols––his wife and himself––he doted on both and adored one" (65) Evidently it is impossible to live well when only caring about one's self, as Hindley does following his wife's death. It would be interesting to compare Hindley's behavior and Heathcliff's in the opening chapters: both survive after the deaths of their beloveds, and both live in a chaotic and cheerless Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff, however, has not entirely lost contact with Cathy: their closer relationship rules out a complete separation, even after death. Emily Brontë's obvious model for Hindley is her brother Branwell, who was sinking into dissipation when she was writing the novel.
This is the first time we really see Cathy behaving badly, showing that her temper makes the gentle and repressed life led by Edgar Linton unsuitable for her. Here she blushes with rage and in a later chapter she refers to her blood being much hotter than Edgar's: heat and coolness of blood are markers of different personalities. The physical differences between Cathy and Edgar are linked to their moral differences, not only in their appearances but even in their blood and bones.
Hindley came in raging drunk and swearing, and caught Ellen in the act of trying to hide Hareton in a cupboard for his safety. Hindley threatened to make Nelly swallow a carving knife, and even tried to force it between her teeth, but she bravely said she'd rather be shot, and spat it out. Then he took up Hareton and said he would crop his ears like a dog, to make him look fiercer, and held the toddler over the banister. Hearing Heathcliff walking below, Hindley accidentally dropped the child, but fortunately Heathcliff caught him. Looking up to see what had happened, he showed "the intensest anguish at having made himself the instrument of thwarting his own revenge" (75). In other words, he hated Hindley so much that he would have liked to have him to kill his own son by mistake. If it had been dark, Ellen said, "he would have tried to remedy the mistake by smashing Hareton's skull on the steps." Hindley was somewhat shaken, and began to drink more. Heathcliff told Nelly he wished Hindley would drink himself to death, but that was unlikely to happen as he had a strong constitution.
In the kitchen Cathy came to talk to Nelly (neither of them knew Heathcliff was in the room, sitting behind the settle). Cathy said she was unhappy, that Edgar had asked her to marry him, and she had accepted. She asked Nelly what she should have answered. Nelly asked her if and why she loved Edgar; she said she did for a variety of material reasons: "he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman in the neighborhood, and I shall be proud of such a husband" (78). Nelly disapproved, and Cathy admitted that she was sure she was wrong: she had had a dream in which she went to heaven and was unhappy there because she missed Wuthering Heights. She said:
"I have no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn't have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff, now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightening, or frost from fire." (81)
Heathcliff left after hearing that it would degrade her to marry him and did not hear Cathy's confession of love. Nelly told Cathy that Heathcliff would be deserted if she married Linton, and Cathy indignantly replied that she had no intention of deserting Heathcliff, but would use her influence to raise him up. Nelly said Edgar wouldn't like that, to which Cathy replied: "Every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing, before I could consent to forsake Heathcliff!" (82)
Later that night it turned out that no one knew where Heathcliff was. Cathy went out in the storm looking for him, unsuccessfully––he had run away. The next morning she was sick. After some time she went to stay with the Lintons a healthier environment and she got better, although Edgar and Isabella's parents caught the fever from her and died. She returned to Wuthering Heights "saucier, and more passionate, and haughtier than ever" (88). When Nelly said that Heathcliff's disappearance was her fault, Cathy stopped speaking to her. She married Edgar three years after Mr. Earnshaw's death, and Ellen unwillingly went to live with her at the Grange, leaving Hareton to live with his wretched father and Joseph.
The atmosphere of careless violence, despair, and hatred in the first part of the chapter is almost suffocating. Heathcliff's willingness to kill an innocent child out of revenge is the first real indication of his lack of morality. It is unclear whether that immorality is a partly a result of his hard childhood and miserable circumstances, or whether he was always like that. Certainly he appears quite changed from the sensitive boy who wanted to look nice so Cathy wouldn't reject him for Edgar, and who relied trustfully on Ellen, but he had spoken of wanting to paint the house with Hindley's blood much earlier.
The definition of love for Cathy and Heathcliff is perhaps Emily Brontë's original creation. It is not based on appearances, material considerations, sexual attraction, or even virtue, but rather a shared being. Cathy says: "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" (82). In this sense, her decision to marry Edgar is a terrible mistake: she will be abandoning the essence of herself. Apparently the sexual aspect of love is so meaningless for her that she believes marriage to Edgar will not come between her and Heathcliff: she would not consciously abandon her soul. Heathcliff thinks otherwise, since he runs away.
Catherine got along surprisingly well with her husband and Isabella, mostly because they never opposed her. She had "seasons of gloom and silence" (92) though. Edgar took these for the results of her serious illness.
When they had been married almost a year, Heathcliff came back. Nelly was outside that evening and he asked her to tell Catherine someone wanted to see her. He was quite changed: a tall and athletic man who looked as though he might have been in the army, with gentlemanly manners and educated speech, though his eyes contained a "half-civilized ferocity" (96). Catherine was overjoyed and didn't understand why Edgar didn't share her happiness. Heathcliff stayed for tea, to Edgar's peevish irritation. It transpired that Heathcliff was staying at Wuthering Heights, paying Hindley generously, but winning his host's money at cards. Catherine wouldn't let Heathcliff actually hurt her brother.
In the following weeks, Heathcliff often visited the Grange. Edgar Linton's sister, Isabella, a "charming young lady of eighteen" (101) became infatuated with Heathcliff, to her brother's dismay. Isabella got angry at Catherine for keeping Heathcliff to herself, and Catherine warned her that Heathcliff was a very bad person to fall in love with and that Isabella was no match for him:
"I never say to him to let this or that enemy alone, because it would be ungenerous or cruel to harm them, I say "Let them alone, because I should hate them to be wronged"; and he'd crush you, like a sparrow's egg, Isabella, if he found you a troublesome charge." (103)
Catherine teased Isabella by telling Heathcliff in her presence that Isabella loved him. Humiliated, Isabella tried to run away, but Catherine held her. Isabella scratched Catherine's arm and managed to escape, and Heathcliff, alone with Catherine, expressed interest in marrying Isabella for her money and to enrage Edgar. He said he would beat Isabella if they were married because of her "mawkish, waxen face" (106).
Catherine's belief that Edgar should not be jealous of her relationship with Heathcliff emphasizes the difference in her mind between her passionate love for her adopted brother and ordinary love affairs. Catherine says that just as she does not envy Isabella's blonde hair, so Edgar shouldn't become jealous when Cathy praises Heathcliff––he should be glad for her sake. The comparison with Isabella suggests that Cathy and Heathcliff are sister and brother, which is evidently not the case––but it is a comparison that makes sense to her.
Catherine makes several analogies to the natural world: Heathcliff would crush Isabella "like a sparrow's egg" (103), and he is "an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone" (102). Isabella uses what seems to be a natural metaphor, but is in fact a literary one: she compares Catherine to "a dog in the manger" (102) for keeping Heathcliff to herself. The sisters-in-law speak and think quite differently despite superficial similarities.
There are also important differences between the ways that Edgar and Catherine view class. Edgar thinks that Heathcliff, "a runaway servant" (96), should be entertained in the kitchen, not the parlor. Catherine jokes that she will have two tables laid, one for the gentry (Edgar and Isabella) and one for the lower classes (herself and Heathcliff). Likewise, she and Heathcliff both call the narrator Nelly, while Edgar coldly calls her Ellen.
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