Love, Class and Consequence in Wuthering Heights At the heart of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, are the characters, Heathcliff and Catherine (Cathy) Earnshaw Linton. Bronte created a love between Cathy and Heathcliff that dared to step outside the normal constraints of the ideal romantic love and social classes of the seemingly proper Victorian England. This class distinction is made early in the novel when Heathcliff is described as “being dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire…a degree of under-bred pride” (Bronte 7).
This description differs to that of Cathy who at the age of eight is referred to as the “lady” of the house after her mother dies only two years after Heathcliff, an orphan, who is brought home to her almost as a gift from her father (Bronte 24-25). While Bronte hints to the readers that the love of these two young people would grow to a love beyond all reasoning for one another, she also shows the reader that as a result of these class differences that Cathy would reject the gypsy to become the wife of a respectable gentleman of a neighboring estate.
Unfortunately, it is because of this rejection of love for one another that creates the tragedies and circumstances that affects both Earnshaws, Lintons and Heathcliff throughout Wuthering Heights. Early on in the novel the reader gets a brief glimpse of Heathcliff’s apparent social status by Lockwood, as referenced above, this description is supported by Nelly Dean, the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights. She relays her initial impression on his surprising entrance into the Earnshaw household as “a gypsy brat” speaking in “gibberish” who was literally “picked up” off the streets by Mr.
Earnshaw and brought home to be raised with his own children. Heathcliff, the name he was given by Cathy’s father, is also the name of the Earnshaw’s deceased son (Bronte 24). While Heathcliff was expected to become a member of the household, he was never fully accepted by Nelly Dean and Cathy’s brother, Hindley. Hindley felt threatened by Heathcliff and Nelly stated that “Hindley hated him: and to say the truth I did the same; and we plagued and went on with him shamefully” (Bronte 24). Neither Nelly nor Hindley ever lost their dislike for Heathcliff.
In Hindley’s case it was not only the threat of losing his inheritance to somebody that didn’t deserve to be a part of his family, but also that his father grew to love Heathcliff more than him. As for Nelly, it was the idea that she should not have to serve somebody that was so close to her in class status. Nevertheless, as time passed, Heathcliff and Cathy grew inseparable even after Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley puts Heathcliff back in the class he belongs, as a servant at Wuthering Heights.
Still, Cathy “taught him what she learnt” and “they both promised fair to grow up as rude as savages” and their love and passion for one another grew with their maturity (Bronte 28). However, Cathy’s love for Heathcliff is not sufficient enough to prevent her from marrying Linton. She puts her love for Heathcliff in these words when speaking to Nelly “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him…but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same” (Bronte 47).
Not only is Cathy talking to Nelly about her love for Heathcliff while Nelly is trying to figure out why she loves Edgar, but she also references how marring Heathcliff is beneath her at this point since she has been opened up tot the possibilities of a higher social class such as that of the Lintons. When trying to describe why she loved about Edgar, Cathy is only able to describe the things around and about him but not Edgar himself in this following statement “I love the ground under his feet, and the air over his head, and everything he touches, and every word he says.
I love his looks, and all his actions and him entirely and altogether” (Bronte 47). This conversation Cathy has with Nelly represents the struggle she has when she attempted to give Nelly the reasons she was going to marry Edgar. What is more evident in this statement is that she spoke about loving “the ground under his feet” which was representative of Thrushcross Grange, “the air over his head” hints at the air of propriety that was the Lintons, and “his actions entirely” which symbolized his gentlemanly way about him and lacked the passion in the way she spoke of Heathcliff (Bronte 47).
Cathy’s decision to marry Edgar was rooted in purely superficial reasons. It was based on her experiences at Thrushcross Grange and the way she was made to feel like a proper young lady being doted over and such. Unfortunately, what Cathy did not realize was that while she may have felt that Edgar’s riches and status would make up for her losing her soul because in marrying Edgar, she loses Heathcliff which she aptly states is a part of her. It is only after dying, will she be able to regain that which she sacrificed in life.
As children, the social status is not as imposed as when Heathcliff and Cathy reach the age of maturity and it is for this reason that it is only in their adult lives that they seem to be at war with their emotions and one another. While Cathy genuinely loves the wildness that she knows to exist in Heathcliff, she is ultimately unwilling to face the isolation from society by marrying a man who is socially beneath her. For Heathcliff, this great betrayal is such an overwhelming loss that he is never truly able to get over it.
Even though he leaves Wuthering Heights and becomes a wealthy man very able to provide Cathy with all the material things that she desires, he is doomed to live his life unfulfilled. While Wuthering Heights may not be strictly a social novel, it does put the idea of love outside of social classes and the consequences one lives with when dealing with such an issue at its forefront. The main conflict of the novel is the unacceptable passionate love between Cathy and Heathcliff and the reluctance to give in to such a passion.
This reluctance is the result of Cathy’s longing for acceptance as a proper lady because she grew up without much restraint or strong parental guidance; therefore, she didn’t acquire many of the social graces expected of a woman of her class. Living in the isolated environment of a remote family estate, it was quite natural that Cathy and Heathcliff would be attracted to one another and would share similar interests and outlooks on life. Even so, as Cathy’s eyes are opened to the active social world of the Lintons, it is only then that she starts to resent her attachment to Heacthcliff.
She says to Heathcliff “What good do I get? What do you talk about? You might be dumb, or a baby, for anything to amuse me” when he is trying to tell her he “takes notice of her” (Bronte 41). This happens as she is waiting for Edgar to visit and as she finishes her fight with Heathcliff, Edgar arrives. Cathy also makes it a point to put Nelly in her place as servant in front of Edgar by telling Nelly “ I hate you to be fidgeting in my presence” (Bronte 41).
It is when confronted with these social circumstances that Cathy begins to reject the isolation that she felt in the family estate. This supports the idea that Linton is able to give her the attention and social acceptance that his status provides her insecurities because at this point in the novel, Heathcliff has no means to provide Cathy with any type of security. So, even though Cathy is reluctant, she chooses security and social status over her intense bond with Heathcliff.
It is then unfortunate that Cathy didn’t listen to herself when she said “I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven” (Bronte 47). After she marries Edgar and after Heathcliff takes off unable to deal with this marriage, Cathy attempts with little success to be satisfied with the security she received as a result of marrying Edgar. Ultimately, Cathy’s rejection of her passionate attraction to Heathcliff, lead her to a marriage that lacked the intensity she felt with him.
Because of this, it is only Heathcliff who is able to motivate Cathy to release her passion in this novel, if only verbally and not something her husband Edgar or even her new social status seemed able to achieve. Even with the little success of Cathy improving her social standing in marrying Edgar, it was evident that her failing health symbolized her shared dissatisfaction with Heathcliff of the social aspects of the Linton’s world. Her nature is both passionate and rebellious as is Heathcliff’s which she supports in this statement “the thing that irks me most is this shattered prison, after all.
I’m tired of being enclosed here” (Bronte 93). Cathy tells Heathcliff this as she is dying in Thrushcross Grange; this place she longed to be a part of has now become her prison and when faced with death and the birth of her child, a Linton, all she longed for then was Heathcliff. The comfortable secure world provided to Cathy by Edgar seemed so insufficient and insignificant at this point in the novel when Cathy attempted to ask for forgiveness from Heathcliff for making the wrong choice. She says “If I’ve done wrong, I’m dying for it.
It is enough…I forgive you, forgive me” (Bronte 94). She also says “you left me too” almost as an after thought so that maybe it would help her case in begging for his forgiveness (Bronte 94). It is then that Heathcliff makes it very clear that he will possess Cathy again and thereby permanently destroying what little security that she had found in Edgar and society. He does this by refusing to leave Thrushcross Grange, even after Edgar arrives home, he only agrees to leave the house but stays in the garden.
Cathy is content with the knowledge Heathcliff “is in her soul” and at once seemed passionate again in his presence which sets the stage for her death shortly after giving birth (Bronte 93). So, even as Cathy loved Heathcliff and needed him in her life, she also believed hat marriage to him would be degrading. Cathy’s attitude toward her husband is expressed in the following statement “You are one of those things that are ever found when least wanted, and when you are wanted, never” (Bronte 61).
This statement reveals that Cathy has not found in Edgar the happiness that she expected to find in this proper class of marriage. As such, when Heathcliff returned a wealthy man, he married Edgar’s sister Isabella and eventually took over Wuthering Heights as its master. Even so, he does not achieve the true respectability that comes with wealth, being a master and marrying up from his class just as Cathy did not. A marriage made for security and social classes eventually traps Cathy in a prison of her own making and ultimately causes her sanity to fail which in essence results in failing health and her death.
This class of marriage does not bring to Cathy the permanent satisfaction that she anticipated. It is only in death that Cathy’s ghost becomes one with Heathcliff by remaining present in his every waking thought. This is apparent when Heathcliff says this “her features are shaped on the flags. In every cloud, in every tree…filling the air at nigh, and caught by glimpses in every object by day, I am surrounded by her images” (Bronte184).
Consequently, by choosing material comfort, security and intellect over love of that of an upper social class, Cathy effectively betrayed both Heathcliff and herself, which condemned them both to haunt the moors as ghosts in death. Thus, one of the central themes in Wuthering Heights is the conflict that exists when individuals love outside of their social classes and must choose between that class and their love. The choice was made by Cathy Earnshaw and was a choice that ultimately proved unsatisfying and presented consequences for all those around her.
Though her attachment to Heathcliff does not seem to need the physical possession as his attachment to her does, she cannot think of herself as truly separate from this man. By marrying up and acquiring the security she lacked as a child, Cathy betrays a love that is far more meaningful and valuable than the variety of material comforts that Edgar Linton and his social class provided for her. It may even be said that Edgar married below his own class and to a woman with a nature totally opposite to his own.
Therefore it is not only Cathy who is miserable in her choices for comfort and status but Edgar Linton has also been robbed of his own happiness and possibly missed out on a great love that he might have been able to find as well. In regards to Cathy and Heathcliff, class does not decide who one loves nor does it dictate who one’s soul mates are to be. It is safe to say that given the intense nature of their love and bond to one another, Cathy and Heathcliff were indeed soul mates.
It is sad that for whatever reason, Bronte didn’t allow her readers see what marriage without regards to class could have provided these two characters. Marriage might have tamed the gypsy or released the beast within Cathy; however it is without a doubt that a marriage between Cathy and Heathcliff could have resulted in far greater happiness for all parties concerned than that of the marriage between Cathy and Edgar based of the superficiality of the social classes. Works Cited Bronte? , Emily. Wuthering Heights. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, 1990. Internet resource.