Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights, published in 1847, is a novel that centres around two characters, Catherine and Heathcliff, and the obstacles that they must overcome in order to be together. Bronte explores many themes throughout Wuthering Heights, including that of revenge, family and betrayal. Further, the novel is based upon concepts of violence, authority and desire, which are believed to be key within the novel and therefore I shall further discuss these themes.
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In looking at the concept of violence within Wuthering Heights, it is considered to be a rather destructive novel not only for the time it was written but also for contemporary readers. It seems as though the majority of the characters within the novel take part in acts of violence. The relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff is full of violent passions and rather aggressive rows. Their meetings appear to be somewhat animal-like. Likewise, Heathcliff’s relationships with Isabella and Catherine are equally presented with harshness and cruelty, but lack the element of romantic passion that he has with Cathy, There are many examples of violent situations within the novel, one in particular being in Chapter 7 (see fig 1, attached) whereby Heathcliff is jealous of Edgar Linton and throws applesauce in his face. The violence is answered with more violence as Hindley takes him upstairs and beats him, and upon returning he tells Linton that next time he should beat him himself. The effect of the violence on the readers is its ability to shock; one may argue that this level of violence is required in order to maintain the shock factor. Further, it has an impact on the characters too in that they become mentally able to tolerate the frequent acts of violence that they experience and participate in. The violence within the Linton and Earnshaw households create a permanent sense of threat for the characters within the novel and also for readers of Wuthering Heights.
The theme of desire explored in Wuthering Heights is most evident through the portrayal of love and passion. Arguably the greatest love within the novel is between Catherine and Heathcliff; despite it being all-consuming it is also rather destructive. In contrast to this, the love portrayed between Catherine and Edgar is seemingly more civilised than passionate. Their love shows peace and comfort, and is more socially acceptable, but nonetheless it doesn’t stand in the way of Heathcliff and Catherine’s more profound connection. We are introduced to this dilemma within Chapter 9 (see fig 2, attached). We are shown Catherine’s love for Edgar is rather superficial in that readers are made aware prior to this of her true feelings towards Heathcliff. This chapter strongly questions the idea of marriage, not only the reasoning behind it but also the necessity of it. Catherine marries Edgar although she loves Heathcliff considerably more. Yet, as long as he is still in her life she can exist. It is suggested that Catherine’s love for Edgar is superficial, whereas her passionate love for Heathcliff is so strong that it does not require the bond of marriage to secure it.
Wuthering Heights contains elements of a patriarchal society in that there is a social system in place whereby the father of the household has ultimate authority over women, children, and property. From a feminist perspective this could arguably be seen as an unjust social system as it is oppressive towards women. It seems as though all the male characters portray this element of patriarchy; Mr. Earnshaw is an example of a patriarchal figure as he brings back a young child and expects Mrs. Earnshaw to treat the child as her own, however “â€¦ Mrs. Earnshaw was ready to fling it out of doors. She did fly up asking how he could fashion to bring that gypsy brat into the houseâ€¦ ” (p.45). This immediately suggests Mrs. Earnshaw’s unhappiness in taking the child in, but as Mr. Earnshaw is head of the household she cannot object to this. Further, Heathcliff is also a patriarchal figure in that not only does he imprison Cathy and Nelly but he also treats Isabella in a cruel manner and isolates Cathy after her marriage to Linton. Linton himself is not any different from the other male characters within the novel as he confines his daughter to the boundaries of Thrushcross Grange and also makes Catherine choose between himself and Heathcliff thus restricting her identity. Furthermore, Hindley too oppresses and degrades the new Heathcliff. Bronte creates all the male characters in this way as arguably she could be trying to make a statement of the time by presenting us with such a dominant patriarchal figures within her novel.
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