Emily Bronte, who never had the benefit of formal schooling, wrote Wuthering Heights. Bronte has been declared a “romantic rebel” because she ignored the repressive conventions of her day and made passion a part of the novelistic tradition. Unlike stereotypical novels, Wuthering Heights has no ‘true’ heroes or villains. It does have however, characters who give into their fleshly rage, and those who grow up and come to accept that there is a life to be led out side of revenge.
There are many major themes of the book, but revenge is the most imminent theme, the factor that leads the protagonists to their dismal fate. Bronte proves there is no peace in eternal vengeance, and in the end the self-injury involved in serving revenge’s purposes will be more damaging than the original wrong.
Nelly Dean serves as the chief narrator of Wuthering Heights. A sensible, intelligent, and compassionate woman, she grew up essentially alongside Hindley and Catherine Earnshaw and is deeply involved in the story she tells. She gives reference to Heathcliff’s appetite for revenge, which dominates the novel. She also hints at her own lack of good judgment, something from which she suffers throughout the tale.
Nelly gives insight to the depths of Heathcliff’s antipathy toward Hindley and foreshadows his impending doom. Hindley’s ruin does not, however, give Heathcliff happiness or satisfaction. In fact, his vengeful acts make him only more miserable and evil.
Evil always desirers to kill and destroy. This is exactly what the essence of revenge is. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Healthcliff lives his life out of a wound. The fruit of which his self pity and anger.
Heathcliff never finds peace through his revenge. In fact, the only time he truly finds happiness is when he gives up his plan for retaliation. Austin O’Malley, a United Irish leader, stated that “Revenge is like biting a dog that bit you”. O’Malley’s quote reflects Heathcliff’s immature need to propagate agony in those who have offended him. Heathcliff’s plan for revenge on Edgar and Catherine is to marry Isabella, who is ignorant of love and of men because she has never experienced either. He wants to hurt Edgar through his marriage to Catherine, and he wants to get revenge on Catherine by making her jealous. Catherine’s death proves that this flawed plan of repayment helps nothing. Heathcliff, haunted by the ghost of Catherine because he is her “murderer,” still is motivated by the need for revenge and tries to get young Cathy away from Edgar by having her marry his son, Linton. Heathcliff never finds peace until he gives up his plan for revenge just before he dies. When Heathcliff gives up his plan for revenge, he meets Catherine in death and truly becomes happy once more. The absence of revenge is life.
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Catherine’s revenge does not make things better for her. Her revenge on Heathcliff by blaming him for her upcoming death does not meliorate her mind. Just before she dies, she ascribes Heathcliff for her “murder”. “You have killed me, and thriven on it, I think” (Bronte 158). Catherine resembles what Oliver Goldsmith said, “When lovely woman stoops to folly, and finds too late that men betray, what charm can soothe her melancholy? What art can wash her guilt away? The only art her guilt to cover, To hide her shame from every eye, To give repentance to her lover, And wring his bosom, is-to die”. Catherine’s death is caused by her lack of emotional control and her dual personalities. She and Heathcliff “are” each other (Bronte 80), but her wants of social status and popularity draw her toward Edgar (Bronte 78). She does not love Edgar, but her selfish material wants control her. Catherine’s revenge on Heathcliff does not assist her in finding happiness. She looks forward to dying and is “wearying to escape into that glorious world” (Bronte 160). Her death is, however, miserable as she wanders around the earth as a waif for 20 years occasionally visiting Heathcliff and torturing him.
Just as Heathcliff and Catherine’s revenge make them miserable, Hindley’s revenge on Heathcliff causes him to go bankrupt and eventually die. Hindley’s attempt to kill Heathcliff only hurts Hindleyin the process; it proves the point Isabella makes, “Treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends; they wound those who resort to them worse than their enemies” (Bronte 177). The fact that Hindley is mistreated as a child reveals the source of the built up anger and resentment inside him and towards others. The hurt that Hindley feels is clearly understood, but sympathy for Hindley is only temporary because it is still his own fault for his predicaments. Hindley’s loss of Wuthering Heights to Heathcliff and his mysterious death reflect how revenge does not make anything better, only worse.
Bronte corroborates that revenge is not only a harsh and rash way to live life, but is counter-productive and hurtful. Out of all of her major themes, revenge is the most imminent. The self-hurt involved with vengeance shows there are better ways to solve conflicts. Bronte sends a great message across by showing how negative revenge can be. There is no resolution to obeying the spontaneous reaction of this negative reprisal.
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