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Wuthering Heights Essay, Research Paper
Settings and Characters in Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather . . . One may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting cornerstones (Bronte 2).
This is a description of Wuthering Heights by Mr. Lockwood, a narrator, who is first witnessing the foreboding household.
Ah! It was beautiful – a splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson-covered chairs and tables, and a pure white ceiling bordered by gold, a shower of glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the centre, and shimmering with little soft tapers (Bronte 40).
This is a description of Thrushcross Grange from the point of view of young Heathcliff, a major character in the novel. The two main settings in Wuthering Heights, the houses of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, are so opposite that it simply begs for analysis. Similarly, the characters juxtapose each other and personify each house’s characteristics. The wild, uncivilized manner of Wuthering Heights and the high, cultured, civilized nature of Thrushcross Grange are reflected in the characters who inhabit them by use of their dissimilar settings.
Wuthering Heights is a grim, thick-walled farmhouse built near the moors (Bloom 10). According to Eleanor Hubbard, it could simply not exist anywhere else (1). The moors are described as cruel and unsheltering, and as a savage earthly paradise (Bloom 12). There is a certain harshness to the moors around Wuthering Heights which suits its inherent qualities. The Heights is “strong,” “built with narrow windows and jutting cornerstones,” and is “fortified to withstand harsh conditions” (Bronte 2). There are a few stunted firs at the end of the house, and there are thorns bordering the house’s frame. The Heights’ appearance inside and out is wild, untamed, disordered, and hard (Laban 394). It is said to be the “epitome of the storm” (Smith 1). It is subject to extremes in weather. Winds, snow, and cold buffet the house and the grounds (Barth 7314). When Lockwood is describing the house at first sight, he says that Wuthering’ is “descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather” (Bronte 2). It is described as primitive, aboriginal, and Bohemian (Bloom 49) and identified with the outdoors and nature, displaying strong “masculine” values. Wuthering Heights is described as rustic and wild, as open to the elements of nature (Laban 394). It is severe, gloomy, and brutal in aspect and atmosphere, while staying firmly rooted in local tradition and custom, according to Derek Traversi. The Heights is chaotic and cheerless, but its bleakness takes on a sort of wild beauty. Presented as a monstrous place, Wuthering Heights’ violence is the mark of its own spirit (Bloom 49).
Compared to the abundance of information presented about Wuthering Heights, considerably less is known about Thrushcross Grange. What is known is this: it has crimson carpets and crimson-covered tables and chairs, white ceilings with a gold border, and an intricate chandelier in the center of the main living area (Bronte 40). It is surrounded by orderly parks and gardens which suit its tidy, regulated nature. The Grange is extremely luxurious and beautiful (Hubbard 1). It expresses a civilized, controlled atmosphere; the house is neat and orderly, comfortable and refined, and there is always an abundance of light (Laban 394). It reflects a conception of life at first sight altogether more agreeable and more human, yet sometimes shows signs of decadence (Traversi 130). The values of Thrushcross Grange are social, political, and personal, compatible with the emerging England of the time period (Bloom 49). The weather seems somewhat less severe here (Barth 7315).
Aside from the obvious contrasts between the two houses, according to Harold Bloom the juxtaposition of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange is inescapable, but it is not simple (49). It has been long recognized that the two houses represent the fundamental polarities in the novel (Dawson 1). Wuthering Heights is surrounded by wild, windy moors while Thrushcross Grange is bordered by neat, orderly parks (Baxter 1). The Heights houses a sort of rough freedom which contrasts with the Grange’s dignified calmness (Wasowski 26). Wuthering Heights is associated with childhood and is seen as the place of the soul, whereas Thrushcross Grange is likened to adult compulsions and the place of the body (Bloom 49).
Wuthering Heights is home to Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff, Hindley Earnshaw, Hareton Earnshaw, the servant Joseph, and lots of dogs. The characters at Wuthering Heights tend to be strong, wild, and passionate, much like the house itself (Wasowski 14). The stunted plants surrounding the house reflect the inability of anything to flourish or grow normally there, just as the characters find it difficult to fulfill their own needs or seek help from others (Smith 2). Catherine is willful, mischievous, charming, and manipulative (Hubbard 1). She is wild, impulsive, and arrogant while extremely selfish. Heathcliff is Wuthering Height’s human incarnation (Traversi 130). He is abusive, brutal and cruel (Wasowski 10), and as wild and dark as the moors surrounding Wuthering Heights (Helmer 4733). Uncomplaining yet vindictive, Heathcliff has no tolerance or pity for weakness (Hubbard 1). Like the Heights, which must be strong to stand against the wind, the children who love the moors, Catherine and Heathcliff, are strong and independent (Carlson 1). Hindley is wild and uncontrollable (Laban 394) as well as jealous and revengeful (Wasowski 11). Hareton is uneducated, unrefined, and proud, yet has a generous heart (10). Joseph is a hypocritical zealot who has extreme religious fanaticism (11). The dogs at Wuthering Heights are wild and certainly not kept as pets (Hubbard 1). When Lockwood is randomly attacked by the dogs, he exclaims, “The herd of possessed swine could have had no worse spirits in them than those animals of yours, sir. You might as well leave a stranger with a brood of tigers!” (Bronte 5). The architecture of the Heights is open. All the beams can be seen, not unlike how each of the characters in this house is tactless and blunt, leaving no part of themselves up to the imagination. In Wuthering Heights everyone shouts. The winds around the house are partially generated by its inhabitants, and “the violence of the tumult is the fury of their expression” (Karl 89). According to Eleanor Hubbard, “The bleak and harsh nature of the Yorkshire hills is not a geographic accident. It mirrors the roughness of those who live there” (1).
Thrushcross Grange is called home by Edgar, Isabella, and Catherine Linton. The characters at the Grange are passive, civilized, and calm, which personifies the house they live in. Edgar is well-mannered and wealthy (Wasowski 10), but is also a coward with a whiny gentility (Hubbard 1). Catherine Earnshaw describes him as “rich” and “pleasant to be with” (Bronte 66). Edgar and Isabella are as refined and civilized as Thrushcross Grange (Laban 394) and neither express much interest in the moors (Carlson 1). Catherine is energetic and warmhearted, relating to the bright, cheery air of Thrushcross Grange (Hubbard 1). Plants flourish at the Grange in the more welcome environment, just as the characters are more able to grow beyond their initial difficulties (Smith 2).
Both settings in this novel are completely removed from society, and each house represents its inhabitants (Wasowski 14). The superficial characters at Thrushcross Grange provide a stark contrast to the incredibly passionate characters at Wuthering Heights (Smith 3). When Catherine and Heathcliff spy on Edgar and Isabella, they witness them fighting over a small dog. This seems ridiculous to them, and Heathcliff says of the Lintons, “The idiots! We laughed outright at the petted things; we did despise them!” (Bronte 40). The material impulses of the Lintons seen through the eyes of someone already dedicated to passionate sincerity are totally lost on Heathcliff and Catherine.
The Heights has wild, windy moors, and its inhabitants possess the same characteristics. Opposite this is the calm, orderly parks of the Grange and its sedate inhabitants (Wasowski 7). The characters at the Heights are more at home outside in the moors, while those at the Grange pass the time with quiet, solitary endeavors such as reading. In the novel, “one of [Catherine and Heathcliff's] chief amusements” is “to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day” (Bronte 38), whereas the Lintons prefer to stay inside and amuse themselves with each other. Heathcliff is not a reader and likes to go out hunting, while Edgar is described as extremely “bookish” (Bloom 49).
Wuthering Heights is not only a result of rough manners, bad education, and a gnarled landscape. It exists in its own right by a natural law formulated before the laws of men and society, while Thrushcross Grange is completely representative of society and the social order to which it conforms. Wuthering Heights is governed by the natural elements, especially wind, water, fire, and animals (Bloom 50). The world at Thrushcross Grange, however, revolves around reason, formality, and money (49). When Catherine is deciding if her decision to marry Edgar is the right one or not, she says about Heathcliff, “I love him . . . because he’s more myself than I am,” (Bronte 68) but says she loves Edgar “because he is handsome, and young, and cheerful, and rich” (66). These statements prove how Wuthering Heights and the characters who live there abide by a natural law as opposed to those at Thrushcross Grange who are controlled by a material one.
All of the characters reflect, to greater or lesser degrees, the masculine and feminine values of the places they live in. Wuthering Heights is extremely masculine in that it is strong, wild, and primitive, whereas the Grange is seen as more feminine with marked decadence and gentility. Catherine Earnshaw is willful, wild, and strong, all highly masculine, while Edgar Linton is described as weak and effeminate. One night when Edgar comes over to visit Catherine, she gets upset with Nelly and pinches and then slaps her. When Hareton begins to cry, she shakes him furiously, and when Edgar tries to stop her “in an instant one was wrung free, and the astonished young man felt it applied over his own ear in a way that could not be mistaken for jest” (Bronte 60). Then, after Catherine has hit him, he stays and even asks her to marry him! This proves Catherine’s masculinity in that she has total control over the entire situation, including Edgar who displays his feminine characteristics of fragility and inferiority. Heathcliff is always out of place at Thrushcross Grange because he is so thoroughly masculine (Laban 394). When he and Catherine get caught for spying on Edgar and Isabella, the Lintons cannot believe that he has any affiliation with Catherine. Mrs. Linton says he is “a wicked boy, at all events, and quite unfit for a decent house” such as the Grange (Bronte 42).
Heathcliff and Catherine belong to the natural and immaterial world while the Lintons live in a purely material society (Hubbard 1). The Earnshaws are farmers and landholders, not as gentrified as the Lintons who are professionals (Baxter1). The Lintons are a contrast to Catherine and Heathcliff in that they are safe, spoiled, and cowardly as opposed to being self-willed, strong, and rebellious (Wasowski 26). In the novel, when Edgar Linton insults Heathcliff when the Lintons come over to the Heights for Christmas dinner, Heathcliff throws a bowl of hot applesauce on Edgar, and in response Edgar whines and cries instead of fighting back (Bronte 49).
The Earnshaws and Lintons are in harmony with their respective environments, and because of this they cannot be content in the other home (Laban 393). While the Grange is seen as comfortable, for Cathy and Heathcliff it is a site of unhappiness, a sort of restrictive heaven (Bloom 12). After Heathcliff’s return from spying on the Lintons, at first he says, “We [he and Catherine] should have thought ourselves in Heaven!” but then goes on to say, “I’d not exchange, for a thousand lives, my condition here, for Edgar Linton’s at Thrushcross Grange . . . ” (Bronte 40) which displays his overall delight in the lavishness of the house, but his discomfort at the thought of having to stay in a world full of triviality and emptiness.
The settings and characters are patterned against one another, and fireworks are the only possible result. For example, the marriage of Edgar and Catherine is doomed from the very beginning not only because she does not love him, but also because each one is so strongly associated with the values of his or her home that he or she lacks the opposing and necessary personality components to have a meaningful relationship. Only Hareton and Catherine Linton can sustain a successful mutual relationship because each embodies the psychological characteristics of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange (Laban 394). Catherine appears to display more Linton characteristics than Earnshaw, but her desire to explore the wilderness outside of the Grange links her strongly to the wild Wuthering Heights people (Hubbard 1). Hareton is rough on the edges because of the influence Heathcliff has had on him, but he has a kind and gentle heart as well as a desire to learn and better himself, which makes for an interesting amalgamation of the characteristics of each household. In describing Catherine and Hareton’s relationship, Lockwood says, “They are afraid of nothing. Together they would brave satan and all his legions” (Bronte 290).
The setting in Wuthering Heights is significant to the novel as it represents all the themes and juxtapositions of characters that are dealt with (Smith 4). Each character distinctly represents the house he or she lives in and the values associated with it. With each house being so opposite of the other, this creates extremely polar characters. By utilizing the contrast of settings and the reflection of them in the personalities of the characters as a basis for the action in the novel, Emily Bronte creates an enthralling drama which is absolutely delightful to read. Works Cited
Barth, Melissa. “Wuthering Heights Critical Evaluation.” Masterplots. Ed. Frank N. Magill. 12 vols. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1996.
Baxter, Gisele. Notes on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. [Online] Available http://www.interchg.ubc.ca/gmb/bronte.html, February 26, 2001.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights Bloom’s Notes. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1993.
Carlson, Melissa. BookRags Notes: Wuthering Heights. [Online] Available http://www.bookrags.com/notes/wh/TOP2.html. February 28, 2001.
Dawson, Terence. Physical and Psychological Settings- the Polarized Houses in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. [Online] Available http://landau.stg.brown.edu/victorian/bronte/ebronte/dawson1.html, March 3, 2001.
Helmer, Dona J. “Wuthering Heights Novel 1847.” Beacham’s Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction. Ed. Kirk H. Beetz, Ph.D. 13 vols. Osprey: Beacham Publishing Corp, 1996.
Hubbard, Eleanor. ClassicNote on Wuthering Heights. [Online] Available http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/sources/wutheringheights.html, February 26, 2001.
Karl, Frederick. “The Brontes: The Outsider as Protagonist.” The Nineteenth Century British Novel. 1st ed. 1964.
Laban, Lawrence F. “Emily Bronte.” Critical Survey of Long Fiction. Ed. Frank N. Magill. 4 vols. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1991.
Smith, Jenny. “The Nature of Wuthering Heights- The Use of Setting and Natural Imagery in Relation to the Characters of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.” [Online] Available http://www/geocities.com/jenkez2.html, March 3, 2001.
Traversi, Derek. “The Bronte Sisters and Wuthering Heights.” From Dickens to Hardy 1963: 256-273. Rpt in Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 35. Ed. Joann Cerrito. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992. 128-133.
Wasowski, Richard. CliffsNotes Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Chicago: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 2000.
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