Critical Evaluation of Wuthering Heights
A critical analysis of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.
Wuthering Heights is a novel full of contradictions. The environment at Grange is set in contrast to the Heights and so do the people living inside those houses and their ways of life. Heathcliff is a contradiction set against the meek and lean Edgar Linton, while Catherine is also a complex character, a lot different from any other female character in the novel. The peculiarity of the characters and the settings had both baffled and amazed critics at the time of the novel’s publication. However, this also makes the novel and its characters unique.
From highly complicated characters to intense and complex emotions, the novel is filled with all the elements of a tragic and macabre love story. The novel is macabre because tragic deaths happen and Catherine’s ghost haunts Lockwood. Despite it all, it is an unforgettable piece of literature; deeply engaging and equally interesting. Wuthering Heights goes far beyond ordinary tragic romance.
The author has used the element of supernatural to deepen the sinister effect. Not just romance, Wuthering Heights is about hatred, revenge, class conflict, complicated relationships and several more complex things. Starting from the point of innocence, the romance in the novel portentously gloomy, blooming into obsessive revenge.
The love between Catherine and Heathcliff blooms at a young age. As they grow up, Catherine grows attracted towards things like social status and expects to have a better life with Edgar Linton. Leaving Heathcliff behind, she marries Edgar who can afford all luxuries of life. Heathcliff is forced to leave the scene unable to bear the impact of Catherine leaving him for Edgar.
While the novel was criticised for its peculiar approach on love, still Bronte’s art of story-telling did not go unappreciated. Heathcliff is a dangerous but engaging character. Somewhat unpredictable and insane, he generally defies being understood. Apart from the characters, it is the settings which are an important strength of the novel.
The entire plot of the novel is set in a space far from the society and social conundrum. The reason behind the heavy criticism of the novel at the time of its publication was that its settings and tragic character make it look entirely unreal. However, the novel's attraction lies in the way it explores human emotions and various facets of the human personality and the effect of circumstances on it. The profound change that Heathcliff's personality has undergone throughout the course of the story has its root in the insecurity, which is a result of his poor upbringing. He has nobody to rely upon and no ally except the one who left him for Edgar Linton. The unpredictability associated with his character right from the beginning is an important attraction of the novel.
The weather, the hills and the moors, all reflect the barren life inside Heights. The storm in the hills reflects the emotional turmoil in the lives of the characters. The weather is just as unstable as life inside Heights and Grange. At the Grange, life seems better from the outside, but inside things are again ghostly and pale like Linton Kids.
The Earnshaw and Linton families represent two distant ends of life. Lintons lead a civilized and more organized life, the Earnshaws are unruly and lack discipline. The use of the spiritual and the supernatural while on the one hand makes events appear severe, it intensifies the pain and the appeal of the novel.
The central appeal of the novel is strengthened by the pain and tragedy in it. None of the characters remains divorced from pain. As if Catherine’s father had brought a storm with him from Liverpool, Heathcliff’s entry changes everyone's life at the ‘Heights’.
The central characters Heathcliff and Catherine are similar in various regards. Both are stubborn and possessive. The love between the two is at the core of the novel and if anything is more dramatic than their love then it is Heathcliff’s obsession for revenge. One by one, most characters fall prey to an unknown evil. Catherine's ghost haunts the Heights after her death (Only Lockwood sees her in his dream). Earnshaw family and Linton family are vastly different in terms of lifestyle and thinking. Their family values differ and the Linton family looks a lot more sociable than the Earnshaws. No soul finds solace in the novel till Heathcliff's death.
Poor Heathcliff keeps punishing others and nearly destroys everyone seeking vengeance. Seeking revenge from Hindley and Edgar, he obtains their properties by unfair means. Hindley’s son Hareton gets to lead the life of a poor labor. Heathcliff tortures him and keeps him uneducated. However, nothing can bring Catherine back to life. The union of the two lovers does not happen on earth, but the poor souls are cremated next to each other.
Catherine lies after her death between Edgar and Heathcliff, just as she was in her life – divided between the two. Many times she lamented having married Edgar who could never afford the same intense love that Heathcliff could. Edgar always lacked Heathcliff's intensity and manliness and Catherine could not find what she expected of her husband. She dies and after her death she haunts Heathcliff’s memories, who is still mad and seeks revenge from others for not having found her.
The level of hatred and grief in the novel can be mind boggling and it is why several readers find the novel horrific. Heathcliff’s character looks repulsive at various instances. Against him Edgar looks like a poor and comic character. Between the two, the fate of Catherine is even tragic who dies while giving birth to Cathy. Several critics found Heathcliff a deformed monster and an insane psychopath. He is equally offensive in his love and hatred. Whether in terms of love or revenge, he is always willing to cross the limit. He gives everyone more than they can endure. Overall, it seems like Emily Bronte has let no chance go to make the life of the two families appear like a horror story. Just everyone is living in hell in the novel.
At last, the two people that remain are Cathy and Hareton. Cathy treats Hareton with care and love and teaches him to read. She is aware of the wrongs the poor creature has suffered at the hands of Heathcliff. By the end, they are soon to be married. It looks like the tragic sequence at the Heights has gotten over with Heathcliff’s death. Catherine and Heathcliff could not unite in their lives but the union of Cathy and Hareton is an indication that the two will be united after death. The novel is intensely engaging and while the agony of Heathcliff and Catherine is deeply unsettling, it is the intensity of their longing which makes the appeal of the novel grow. Rest all in the novel is painful and twisted.
At the end, the pain and gloom subsides and it appears like a new beginning in the novel but the haunting presence of Catherine remains till the end of the story because it is for her sake that everyone has born so much punishment which ends only after Heathcliff's death. The author proves that people create a hell of their life because they cannot overcome their expectations from others. There is hardly a character in the novel who finds what he expected from life.
From Mr Earnshaw to Heathcliff, Catherine and even the Linton kids, nobody gets the expected in his life. While the black gypsy kid is at the centre of this mess, he has not caused it all alone. Apart from him, Catherine and Hindley are also responsible for the mess. Seen in the light of the circumstances Heathcliff has faced in his life, his behavior seems understandable and to a limited extent pardonable.
The novel contains very high level of emotional and psychological drama where penetrating into the psychology and emotions of some characters becomes difficult. It is however, due to the presence of contradictory traits in them. The picture becomes more clear by the end. Emily Bronte's style is attractive but even attractive is her choice of settings and characters. The turn of events as set by the author is also appreciable and things have come a full circle by the end. A storm that had set in with the arrival of the gypsy kid is gone with his death. It seemed like time had stopped at Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff's arrival. Lockwood believes that Heathcliff is stingy and lives a stinky life.
The only problem is that the author has explored a deeply sadistic side of love that critics of her time found that difficult to digest. The kind of love and hatred in the novel are unexpected for most readers.