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Emily Brontė - The characters, The plot, Romantic characteristics, The metaphor of the novel, Heathcliff as a capitalist

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Emily Brontė

Emily Brontė was born in a village on the Yorkshire moors at the beginning of the 19th century. She was educated mostly at home and she spent all her life in this village where she looked after her father and after her brother who was causing great distress to her family because of his addiction to alcohol and drugs. She died at the age of 30 of consumption. Her character remains something of an enigma, because she hadn't got close friends, was fiercely independent, and had a deep, mystical love for nature and especially for the moors, as we can see in her book Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights

Her masterpiece is the novel "Wuthering Heights", published in 1847; it was not an immediate success, because it was considered too violent and immoral, but actually the book and its characters are much more complex, and can't be reduced to that definition.

The characters

Heathcliff is one of the protagonists of the novel. His name is very meaningful: in fact it comes from two typical elements of the Yorkshire landscape, the heath (open land covered by heather) and the cliffs, and it gives us some hints about his personality. He is a foundling, and since his arrival at Mr Earnshaw's house, he is described as a devilish creature, a gipsy, with dark hair and dark eyes, mistreated by everyone in the house but Catherine. His devilis nature develops with the passing of time; in fact he grows up like a savage and wild man who has no pity for the people who ill-treated him in his childhood, and s his revenge.

Catherine is the other protagonist of the book. She is a very complex character: she is a wild girl, (gift she chooses whip) her personality is similar to Heathcliff's one, and in fact the two children share everything and have a very strong relationship. The worst punishment for her is to be separated from heathcliff.

But when she gets in contact with the civilized world (represented by Thrushcross Grange), she forgets her nature because she is seduced by the adult world of reason, money and society.

But she can never forget her real personality, and in fact eventually she will commit suicide (letting herself die) rather than living without Heathcliff.

Hindley is Carherine's brother; he is very different fron his sister, because he is a weak and naughty boy,(gift he chooses violin) who mistreats Heathcliff all the time. When their father dies, he is the lord of the house, and becomes more and more wicked towards Heathcliff.

Edgar is Catherine's husband, one of the characters who live at Thrushcross Grange. He is a quiet and balanced man, who lives his feelings in a rational way. He belongs to the world of reason, while Heathcliff belongs to the world of passion, of eternity, of supernatural. Edgar is always seen as the antithesis of Heathcliff.

Cathy is the daughter of Edgar and Catherine. She is very similar to her mother in her character, but to her father in the aspect. With her, the story repeats herself, in fact she commits the same mistakes as her mother: she chooses Linton, the weak and naughty son of Heathcliff and Isabelle. But his premature death is the sign that the two worlds cannot coexist. Hareton is the son of Catherine's brother, Hindley. He is very likely to his counterpart Heathcliff, but he has also good qualities, because he is generous, unselfish, and although he is mistreated by heathcliff, he loves him and doesn't want Cathy to speak ill of him.

Nelly and Mr Lockwood are the two narrators of the story. At the beginning the narrator is Mr Lockwood, who represents the point of view of an outsider; then he becomes the listener and Miss Nelly Dean takes over the narration with long flashbacks, and tells us about her personal experiences.

The plot

Mr Earnshaw, who is the owner of Wuthering Heights, sets off for a journey, and on his return home he brings back a foundling, Heathcliff, who is dark, dirty, black-haired, and is associated to the devil. He is therefore cause of troubles and tensions inside the house. His main characteristic is his close link with nature, a wild nature, in which he can exerts his supremacy,

So, after old Earnshaw's death, he is mistreated by everyone in the house, and above all Hindley.

The only person who doesn't avoid him is Catherine. She is very fond of him, and in fact the worst punishment she is given is to stay away from him.

They are very similar to each other, and they share everything; their best pleasure is to run in the moors free and happy, and they have a deep relationship.

But when they grow up, Catherine leaves the world of fancy and enters the sphere of reason during their visiti to Thrushcross Grange, when they are attacked by the dog and Catherine is forced to stay with the Lintons for 2 weeks. So she changes, while Heathcliff becomes wilder and wilder.

As Catherine leaves Wuthering Heights to marry Edgar Linton, Heathcliff becomes the owner of the house and s his revenge towards the one who mistreated him. So W.H. becomes the infernal house, symbol of devil. So, the difference between the two houses becomes evident: the inhabitants in Wuthering Heights are black haired, passionals, while the inhabitants in Thrushcross Grange are fair haired, delicate, weak. And then, one is set on the hill, surrounded by the moors, while the other is set in the valley, surrounded by a park enclosed with walls, which may represent humanized nature.

Catherine eventually decides to marry Edgar because she says "it would degrade herself to marry Heathcliff", and she wants to climb up the social ladder. Even if she shows her fidelty to Heathclif, because she says to Nelly that "her love for Heathcliff is like the eternal rock behind, while her love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods". Catherine's love for Heathcliff goes beyond the materialistic side, is a sort of supernatural feeling.

Heathcliff doesn't accept her marriage and runs away. His fury and anger is represented by a storm, and that shows the tight link between the protagonist and nature.

When he returns, Edgar is worried, and imposes his wife to choose between them, and at this point Catherine falls ill. This illness represents the impossibility to break the bourgeois order. At the end Catherine lets herself die, because she knows that she couldn't live without Heathcliff; before dying she asks Nelly to open the window, that is to look outside, the nature.

When Catherine dies, her daughter is born, and a new generation takes the place of the old one.

In the final part there is Heathcliff's revenge on his son Linton and on Hareton, that is Hindley's son. He is obsessed by Catherine, he wants to die to reach his love.

At the end the circle is closed because Cathy marries Hareton, and they go and live at Thrushcross Grange. The bourgeois order has been restablished.

Romantic characteristics

The book has several typically romantic characteristics. First of all, Heathcliff can be related to a romantic hero, because of his rebellious nature, his close reationship with nature, and his intense love for Catherine.

Typically romantic is also the tight link between the characters' feelings and the landscape, and especially love is descripted in a very romantic way. In fact, the love between Catherine and Heathcliff is eternal, because it will last forever, even after death, impossible, because it cannot be fulfilled in this world because of the limits imposed by society. But it is also cruel and violent, because the two lovers tend to destroy each other, it follows the instinct, it is full of passion, and it has also a strong religious connotation, because it is something supernatural, which goes beyond the material world.

The metaphor of the novel

The deeper sense of the novel is the relation between the artist and the bourgeois.

The artist is damned, he is serching for truth and for deep sensations. He leads an irregular life, and peopl edon't understand his role in society.

"Wuthering Heights" is an attempt to find a point of contact between the two worlds, but at the end there is Heathcliff's defeat and Lockwood's predominance, so fancy is defeated by reason. the coexistance of these two worlds is impossible.

In fact, when Lockwood is obliged to spend the night at Wuthering Heights because of a storm, he has two dreams, that represent his attempt to leave the world of reason and enter the world of the artist. But, as this is impossible, he falls ill, and it's difficult for him to go on.

One of the particular aspects of the book is that everything has its double. For example, Heathcliff is Edgar's double, Wuthering Heights is opposed to Thrushcross Grange.

As Heathcliff represents the double of the bourgeois, he is condamned to die, because he would overturn the order of the society.

Heathcliff as a capitalist

"Wuthering Heights" could be seen as a timeless story about a world immune from social pressures coming from the industrial revolution.

Wuthering Heights and the Earnshaws may represent the system of yeoman farming, in which the owner farms his own land.

Thrushcross Grange and the Lintons represent the landed gentry, that is when the owner rents his land to tenants and makes profit from it without working.

The novel describes a move from the yeoman system towards the landlord system. At the end the yeoman system disappears and is replaced by the capitalist landlord.

Heathcliff's weapons are money and arranged marriage to take over the land of the yeoman (Wuthering Heights by Hindley). So, he becomes the new capitalist and uses money made elsewhere to destroy the traditional structure of agriculture life and to take his revenge.


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