Last Updated 24 Mar 2020

Wuthering Heights: Overview

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‘Fiction of this period is dominated by the characters’ need to escape from walls, boundaries and ideological restrictions. ’ How far do you agree with this interpretation of Wuthering Heights and your partner text? In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte emphasises the ways in which characters are literally trapped, emotionally repressed, socially oppressed and intellectually guarded. Bronte portrays her character as determined to break free from their shackles and explores the theme in three key ways. Bronte satirises the church’s vain attempts to control the characters’ lives and curb their instincts.

Written in the 1840’s but set between 1770 and 1802, the novel also reveals the ways in which the industrial revolution was allowing people to undermine and overcome hitherto rigid class boundaries. Finally, Bronte depicts the ways in which women are challenging their traditional roles. Throughout the novels Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte countless comparisons can be made. Both novels are stories of love and how this powerful emotion was able to overcome countless obstacles.

These obstacles were lengthy struggles that characters within each novel were faced with and went through immense pain all for love. In the novel Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte portrays Christian morality and causes characters to feel claustrophobic with her frequent reiteration of religious ideas. The character of Joseph is a devout Christian and so symbolises all that is good about a characters morality, this is evident when Lockwood describes Joseph as having ‘ransacked’ the Bible for his entire life.

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Whereas the character of Hindley for example conveys the opposite viewpoint and all that is bad about Christian morality when he orders Joseph to work ‘out of doors’ with the peasants. These religious ideas are highlighted in only the second chapter when Lockwood compares his first impressions of Wuthering Heights to a religious home and how he possibly feels claustrophobic when he claims it has a ’dismal spiritual atmosphere’, this immediately implies to the reader that perhaps the character of Lockwood is religious because he is almost comparing Wuthering Heights to a place of worship.

This is further emphasised in the sixth chapter when Heathcliff and Catherine run away to the moors and describe it as being ’in heaven’. This elicts to the reader that Wuthering Heights is like hell, and so they feel trapped, which insinuates at the idea of claustrophobia. Also, by describing it as this would show that perhaps Heathcliff and Catherine have had some sort of religious teaching in their upbringings due to their understanding of the ideas of heaven and hell.

Furthermore, in chapter seven Bronte’s use of the simile ‘like devils spies’ further questions the reader’s attitude towards Christian morality and the imagery of ‘purgatory’ is perhaps a metaphor for Wuthering Heights. This constant bombardment of religious diction reiterates and enables Bronte to present the idea of Christian morality in the reader’s mind. Moreover, in chapter twelve the thought of church being a burden on their lives and the fact that they are almost forced to believe in it is stressed when Lockwood says ‘not go to church’ and ‘bury me then throw the church over me’.

This sarcastic approach towards the church and Christianity in general shows the characters are perhaps growing tiresome of going to church and are conceivably just fed up with their humdrum lives. It also displays to the reader the typical life of an eighteenth century family in that they must go to church as regularly as possible and if they don’t then they are perceived as the black sheep of the family. This idea of people growing tired of the same old routine is repeated when Nelly Dean’s daily routine is expressed as ‘the chapel’ and ‘the only building she had entered’.

This underlines the idea of claustrophobia being withstood by the characters because other than Wuthering Heights the only other place to seemingly visit is the chapel. Therefore the characters lives more or less revolve around going to chapel and then coming back to Wuthering Heights again, which imaginably would be quite tedious. Both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre explore the ideas of Christian morality with the use of ghosts. The ghost of Catherine appears to Lockwood whilst and Jane see’s visions of her uncle after being locked in her room.

However it could be argued that they explore different aspects of Christian morality because in Wuthering Heights the character the highly religious character of Joseph is perceived to be a kind and pleasant man, whereas the religious character of Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre is portrayed as an unlikeable and obnoxious character. Another way in which Bronte gives the characters a sense of claustrophobia is the way in which she emphasises female entrapment throughout the novel. This is evident in only the fifth chapter when Lockwood expresses the idea of keeping Catherine separated from Heathcliff ‘keep her separate’.

This illustrates that Lockwood has no qualms about taking Catherine away from Heathcliff at a very early stage in the novel and so shows the immediate entrapment being suffered by Catherine under Lockwood’s authority. What’s more, in the very next chapter Catherine escapes Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff and together they ‘run away to the moors’. This idea that Catherine has escaped and is now enjoying the freedom of the moors could suggest that she has been trapped inside Wuthering Heights for some time and that running away is her rebelling against Lockwood.

Additionally, in chapters eleven and twelve respectively Bronte uses description such as ‘slammed the door’ and ‘laid alone’ when portraying the treatment Catherine is receiving whilst she is unwell. The fact that she is laid ‘alone’ seems to suggest that she is being summoned to her own bed and ordered not to get out. Also, due to the fact that Catherine is ill would mean she would be unable to perform simple tasks yet as she is depicted as being alone would imply there is no one there to help her.

Moreover, in chapter thirteen, Isabella finds comfort from hiding in Hareton’s room and describes it as ‘shelter’ from the rest of the house. This stresses the idea of claustrophobia within the novel as Isabella only really feels safe in just one room out of an entire mansion. Another example of where claustrophobia is portrayed through the theme of female entrapment is apparent in chapter fifteen when Catherine deliberates running away from Wuthering Heights forever ‘I’m tired of being enclosed here’ and she later describes Wuthering Heights as a ‘shattered prison’.

These choices of diction clearly illustrate a strong resent for living at Wuthering Heights as she is dead beat towards remaining there under the command of Hindley. Wuthering Heights is similar to that of Jane Eyre because in Wuthering Heights, confinement defines the course of Catherine's life. In childhood, she alternates between the constraint of Wuthering Heights and the freedom of the moors and in Jane Eyre the character of Jane is treated as a slave and is often limited to just one room in her adopted parent’s house.

However they are different due to the fact that in the end Jane manages to overcome this female entrapment whereas Catherine never truly does. Throughout the novel of Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte is continuously depicting class restriction as one of the reasons behind many characters claustrophobic behaviour. This is most visible in the sixth chapter when Hindley orders Heathcliff to ‘labour’ and work ‘out of doors’. Hindley does not believe it is right that Heathcliff has come from a working class background yet has somehow managed to slip his way into living with the upper class residents of Wuthering Heights.

So now that Mr Earnshaw has died and Hindley has taken over the reins, he immediately uses his new found clout to deposit Heathcliff back with the working class. Furthermore, later on in chapter six, Heathcliff and Catherine are out exploring the moors and amongst their excitement and delirium decide to have a race. But Catherine loses because she is ‘barefoot’. The race could possibly symbolise freedom and that they can do whatever they want now there are little restrictions, in stark contrast to the claustrophobic atmosphere of Wuthering Heights.

Also, with Catherine being ‘barefoot’ gives the impression that although she is of an upper class background, when she is accompanied by Heathcliff she is seemingly converted to stereotypical working class behaviour. What’s more, in chapter seven, Hindley abruptly orders Joseph to leave dinner ‘send him to the garret’. This is palpable evidence that Hindley again is using his new found status to take advantage and single out the alleged lower class residents of Wuthering Heights.

Also, the way in which Hindley orders Joseph to be absent makes it seem as though it is the job of the servants to throw him into the garret, further emphasising the class restriction within Wuthering Heights. Moreover, roughly half way through chapter thirteen, Hindley persuades Isabella to go up to Heathcliff’s room and voluntarily lock herself in ‘be so good as to draw your lock’. This conveys Hindley as being forceful yet sarcastic in the way he patronises Isabella and shows that Hindley thinks himself a lot more highly than Isabella.

Also, the fact that Hindley is asking Isabella to lock herself in shows she has no preference and so perhaps Bronte is suggesting that Isabella feels claustrophobic whilst in Wuthering Heights. In addition, Hindley arranges a tutor to come and teach Hareton in chapter twenty to come from ‘miles away’. This perfectly demonstrates the idea of class restriction having a direct influence on claustrophobia. Firstly, the idea of being able to hire a tutor generally depicts an upper class family but by noting that he is travelling a fair distance highlights the isolation of Wuthering Heights from the rest of civilisation.

Wuthering Heights is about the grim love story between the sweet and sincere Cathy and the violent and primitive Heathcliff. Their love is predestined to a tragic end due to the difference in social class. This is similar to the relationship between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester but whereas in Jane Eyre the main character of Jane is an orphan who is tormented by her aunt and cousins. She spends her childhood in an orphanage, where her individuality is suppressed, but finds a job in a rich house as a governess. Jane falls in love with the owner of the house, Edward Rochester, and ultimately lives happily ever after.

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