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Wuthering Heights: A Challenging Perspective

While Charlotte Bronte is known for allowing her characters to break the fourth wall and speak directly to her audience, and Anne Bronte’s work is marked by having her heroines maintain a plucky, resilient state of mind while telling their stories, it is in Emily Bronte’s work, Wuthering Heights, that the reader is sitting right alongside the listener, Mr. Lockwood, learning all the secrets that the great household contains.

               In the beginning of Wuthering Heights, the reader is drawn into the story by venturing into Mr. Lockwood’s perspective. He is staying at Thrushcross Grange but wishes to be amiable and make the acquaintance of the neighbors. But upon visiting Wuthering Heights, he finds that the place is melancholy, and the occupants are less than sociable. They do not wish to converse with him. They ranted because he dared to come calling. And they seem perfectly content in knowing that he shall lose his way when he tries to take his leave and return to the grange.

               It is once Mr. Lockwood strikes up a conversation with Nelly, a servant, that he begins to learn why the people at Wuthering Heights are so lacking in charm and manners. It is through Nelly’s words and recollections that much of the tale unfolds. To be brief, the master of the house, Mr. Earnshaw, had two children, Hindley and Catherine. One day, he brought home another child and called him Heathcliff. Immediately, there was a great dislike between the two boys, but Catherine doted upon Heathcliff. Their friendship was steadfast until one night, while spying on the inhabitants at Thrushcross Grange Catherine and Heathcliff were caught. She was brought inside and struck up a friendship with the inhabitants of that house, Isabella and Edgar Linton.

               As time passed, Catherine decided she must marry Edgar Linton and when she made this announcement, she broke Heathcliff’s heart. He fled and waited several years before returning. Throughout the rest of the novel, there are tragic, grievous deaths, and new sources of life, but there is no felicity. From the way Nelly tells it, one terrible event is heaped right after the next. And it is not until Mr. Heathcliff dies that any peace can be found at either Thrushcross Grange or Wuthering Heights.

               Many debate whether this is a love story or a revenge tale. But…the answer lies in the narrator and, of course, the listener. From Nelly’s point of view, Heathcliff and Catherine were wild, careless beings. Regularly, Heathcliff is described as a fiend and even Catherine is referred to as unruly. Together, they plague Nelly, aggrieve Mr. Earnshaw before his death, and wreak havoc on the lives of the Lintons. When Heathcliff loses the one thing which he holds most dear, he seeks to bring pain and suffering to everyone who has ever wronged him, taking his plot so far as to impact all future generations.

               And that is the way Nelly chooses to see it. Happiness and Mr. Heathcliff cannot and do not coexist.

               Had the story been told from Heathcliff or Catherine’s perspective, how might the tale have changed?

               Would Heathcliff have considered himself an awful, despicable man who was bent on making the lives of others fraught with troubles? Or would he have explained himself fully, letting the reader know why he wished to torment others?

               And what of Catherine? Had she been the narrator, how would the story have been altered? Would the love she bore Heathcliff been enough to make the reader swoon? Would the passion they shared have been boundless and perhaps tempted even the gentlest of readers to find a hot-tempered rebel of their own?

               This tale is unique in that the reader seldom comprehends Heathcliff or Catherine’s motivations. Because Nelly has been granted the ability to tell everything from her perspective, one must wonder if she is a reliable narrator. Did this love story, which is tinged with tragedy, seem so terribly harsh because Nelly said it was? Or…was Mr. Heathcliff perhaps not quite the monster she painted him to be?

               For those who are intrigued by this concept, it might be worthwhile to watch several of the adaptations. Note that in many of the movie versions, the tale slants differently depending on if the director wanted viewers to think it was a revenge story or was based on love. It is worth noting that Nelly perceived the love between the characters, but she continued to think of them as they were…rough, stubborn, and enormously egocentric—which is interesting, considering she is the one telling their story.

               Of…if you wish to explore further works by the Bronte sisters that are told from a unique perspective, join Maizie as she reads through Charlotte Bronte’s novel Shirley. It is quite intriguing, because the title character, Shirley, is not introduced until the novel is well under way. Almost one hundred pages elapse before Shirley changes the course of things and alters the conclusion of the story.


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