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An Analysis of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte


‘A wild, wicked slip … I believe she implied no damage’ Does your viewpoint of Catherine match Nelly’s assessment in Chapters 1-14? Catherine Earnshaw, later on Linton, is first introduced to the reader by Emily Bronte in Chapter III. Throughout the novel Catherine proves to be a character whose actions and personality can either draw in the audience’s compassions or rapidly alienate them. Nelly’s narration controls the story in chapters 1-14 and it is therefore natural that the reader’s views may be polluted to a degree by Nelly’s evaluation of Catherine’s character.

Catherine is very first referred to in Lockwood’s narrative in Chapter III where he experiences her name when he invests a turbulent night at Wuthering Heights. Catherine’s name haunts Lockwood’s sleep as he sees the words ‘Catherine Earnshaw … Catherine Heathcliff … Catherine Linton’ carved various times. The haunting quality of Catherine’s name is revealed by Bronte’s gothic use of the simile ‘as vivid as spectres’ as these words fill his vision. Lockwood is later on confronted by a ghost who sobs the words Catherine Linton as it requires to be let into your house.

Indeed this decision to get what she desires is an attribute of Catherine, which emerges through the rest of Nelly’s narrative as she describes Catherine’s life. This characteristic in particular is a trait that can change the reader’s opinion of Catherine for the even worse. However conversely this particular element of Catherine’s character can stimulate compassion for her from the reader as it is in part Mr Kenneth’s fault for advising that ‘she would not bear crossing much; she ought to have her own way’ after her health problem in Chapter IX.

Nelly’s opinion that Catherine ‘meant no damage’ is proved especially precise in Chapter IX where Catherine approaches Nelly for the first time as a confidant. Catherine’s innocence in the matter she postures to Nelly is demonstrated appropriately though her question ‘Where’s Heathcliff?’ Sympathy is stimulated for Catherine as she discovers herself torn between the two guys she enjoys; Heathcliff and Edgar. Nevertheless Catherine’s real character is revealed in the occurring dialogue in which Catherine describes her worries about Heathcliff and her reasons for marrying Edgar (which do not appear genuine).

Displeasure can not be avoided as Catherine’s actions seem driven by her social aspirations, which were at first awoken by her very first see to the Lintons, and which ultimately obliges her to marry Edgar. Nevertheless while Cathy’s claim that ‘it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now’ might stimulate condemnation from both Nelly and the reader, it can be seen that Catherine is simply the victim of her era. While Wuthering Heights itself is far from the bustle of society in its position on the moors, Catherine’s desire to be ‘the greatest woman of the neighbourhood’ exemplifies the impact of social factors to consider on the character’s actions.

Catherine’s image is somewhat weakened due to the manner in which she is compared, maybe accidentally, to Edgar’s sister Isabella Linton. Indeed the truth that they hold parallel positions within their intimate society and ultimately end up sharing the exact same home allows us to see their distinctions with greater clarity. While Catherine represents wild nature, both in her high and vibrant spirits and her periodic ruthlessness, Isabella represents culture and civilization both in refinement and in her weak point.

The reader might Catherine in her wild nature however Isabella soon proves in Chapter XII that strength may be an exceptional quality for a women at that time as her weak point leads her to elope with ‘Yon’ Heathcliff’. From Chapter XIII onwards the reader, in addition to Nelly, becomes suspicious of Catherine’s intentions as she ends up being rapidly ill after Edgar gives her an ultimatum. Catherine worked herself into a craze with ‘blood on her lips’ and ‘her hair flying over her shoulders, her eyes flashing, the muscles of her neck and arms standing apart preternaturally’.

While Edgar appears horrified of her rage, Nelly seems to see through Catherine’s behaviour. Certainly as Catherine’s state weakens and Edgar turns on Nelly, Nelly recalls ‘believing it regrettable to be blamed for another’s wicked waywardness’ showing how she does not believe the credibility of Catherine’s health problem. However increasingly throughout Chapter XII Catherine does appear to end up being ill but in spite of her state the reader’s compassion seems concentrated on Edgar as he tended her ‘day and night’. His commitment makes Catherine’s intimacy with Heathcliff and her love for the previously mentioned seem even orse. Catherine’s basic treatment of Edgar, with all his loyalty and love for her, is certainly an element of her character which can cause abhorrence in the reader, at points demonstrating the wickedness to which Nelly makes reference. Shockingly in Chapter 11 Catherine describes to Nelly how she ‘desire(s) to frighten’ her hubby and shows her ruthlessness as she declares that ‘if Edgar will be mean and envious, I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own’. This declaration from Catherine is proof that her disease was self-inflicted and in a fit of ruthlessness.

In this respect it is therefore tough not to concur with Nelly’s evaluation of Catherine’s character as ‘wicked’. However there are points within the unique where the reader can not help however feel respect for Catherine. The incident in Chapter VI where Heathcliff is buffooned by Edgar and retaliates by tossing hot Apple sauce in his face is the point at which Catherine demonstrates totally her love for Heathcliff as she avoids the business of others and goes to discover him in his room, running the risk of the displeasure of others to comfort the one she likes.

In conclusion, Catherine is a character towards whom the reader’s feelings vary due to her raging moods and occasional infliction of ruthlessness on other characters. However positively there are events, such as the one in Chapter VI that reveal Catherine’s kind nature and undoubtedly prove that she ‘meant no harm’ regardless of her wicked ways on occasions.

It can be seen that her failure to express her real sensations for Heathcliff, along with his three year absence, drove Catherine to presume the title that Nelly offered her of ‘a wild, wicked slip’. Undoubtedly there can always be explanations to lighten her of this title such as the societal situations of her age and the seemingly prohibited love that she harboured for Heathcliff. It is for that reason possible to agree to a degree with Nelly’s evaluation nevertheless there are elements of Catherine’s character that do not agree with her view.

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