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Clashing Contrasts in “Wuthering Heights”

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The juxtaposition of sharply disparate elements, i.e. “clashing contrasts,” can give rise to violence. Such is certainly true of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. In fact, the entire novel could be analyzed using comparison and contrast. Examples of the “clashing contrasts” are found in the violence between Heathcliff and Edgar, Heathcliff and Linton, Heathcliff and Hindley, Catherine and Isabella, and Heathcliff and Isabella. Other contrasts which serve to explicate the plot and relationships are the differences between Heathcliff and Edgar, Hareton and Linton, and Nelly and Lockwood.

Edgar and Heathcliff are the perfect example of clashing contrasts. These two men are so different from one another that it is no wonder that violence was the way they expressed their mutual hate for one another. Their first encounter was at Wuthering Heights. The Lintons came over for Christmas and Edgar made a rude comment about Heathcliff’s hair. “Heathcliff’s violent nature was not prepared to endure the appearance of impertinence from one whom he seemed to hate. He seized a tureen of hot apple sauce and dashed it full against the speaker’s face and neck.” The two boys’ struggle to win Catherine’s heart leads them to try to hurt one another in the process.

Catherine agrees to marry Edgar and Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights for three years because he is so hurt by this engagement. When he returns, he is a changed man on the outside, but he still has his sinful ways about him. One time, he visits Catherine while Edgar is out and the two get into a heated argument. Edgar is told about this and gets two servants to follow him in to the kitchen to make Heathcliff leave. He questions Catherine and, “Heathcliff, who had raised his eyes at the former speech, gave a sneering laugh at the latter; on purpose, it seemed, to draw Mr. Linton’s attention to him. He succeeded; but Edgar did not mean to entertain him with any high flights of passion.” Edgar said to Heathcliff, “Your presence is a moral poison that would contaminate the most virtuous: for that cause, and to prevent worse consequences, I shall deny you hereafter admission into this house, and give you notice how that I require your instant departure.”

Heathcliff measured Linton’s size and said, “Cathy, this lamb of yours threatens like a bull! It is in danger of splitting its skull against my knuckles. By God! Mr. Linton, I’m morally sorry that you are not worth knocking down!” Edgar hinted to Nelly to bring in the servants but Catherine would not let her. Edgar covered his face and leaned against a chair. Heathcliff approached the chair and gave it a push. “Edgar quickly sprang erect, and struck him full on the throat, a blow that would have leveled a slighter man. It took his breath for a minute; and while he choked, Mr. Linton walked out by the back door into the yard and from thence to the front entrance.” The two men are so violent towards each other because they are fighting for Catherine’s love but their differences don’t stop there.

They took on the father role very differently. Edgar nurtured his little Cathy, whom he raised by himself when Catherine died in childbirth. He kept her close and tried to protect her. She had his complexion and many of his good-natured characteristics along with her mother’s fiery disposition. The two would take walks over the Moors together and were very close. Cathy loved her father so much that she risked sneaking away from Wuthering Heights after being kidnapped by Heathcliff in order to say goodbye to her father who was on his deathbed. The loving relationship that Edgar and Cathy shared helps to amplify the horrible relationship between Heathcliff and his son, Linton. When Isabella died, Linton was sent to live with his father and was not prepared for the lifestyle he was about to enter.

Nelly takes Linton to Wuthering Heights and when she arrives Heathcliff says, “I feared I should have to come down and fetch my property myself. You’ve brought it, have you? Let us see what we can make of it.” He is so evil that he refers to his own child as property and wants to use Linton to his advantage in some way. Heathcliff tells Nelly that, “my son is prospective owner of your place, and I should not wish him to die till I was certain of being his successor. Besides, he mine, and I want the triumph of seeing my descendant fairly lord of their estates: my child hiring their children to till their father’s land for wages. That is the sole consideration which makes me endure the whelp: I despise him for himself, and hate him for the memories he revives!” Linton’s health began to decline after moving to Wuthering Heights. He was always in bad spirits and was becoming afraid of his father. He never wanted to return home after walking the moors with Cathy. He was so afraid of Heathcliff that Linton “shudders when he touches him.” Linton finally gives up and dies after being tortured by his cruel father.

Hindley hated Heathcliff from the beginning. He saw this poor gypsy child as taking his place in the family. Mr. Earnshaw took a strong liking to Heathcliff so Hindley saw him “as a usurper of his parent’s affections and his privileges.” Heathcliff, “would stand Hindley’s blows without winking or shedding a tear.” Heathcliff took one of the family’s handsomest colts and when it fell lame he told Hindley he must exchange horses with him. Hindley at first refused and hit Heathcliff with an iron weight. Heathcliff threatened to tell on Hindley so Hindley gave him the horse and said, “Take my colt, gypsy, and I pray that he may break your neck!” Hindley’s cruelness to Heathcliff as a child fed Heathcliff’s plans for revenge when he returned to Wuthering Heights to stay with Hindley.

Before seeing Catherine when Heathcliff returns, he visits Hindley at Wuthering Heights. They gambled and Hindley, “lost some money to him, and, finding him plentifully supplied, he requested that he would come again in the evening; to which he consented. Hindley is too reckless to select his acquaintance prudently: he doesn’t trouble himself to reflect on the causes he might have for mistrusting one whom he has basely injured.” One night, after Catherine died, Heathcliff came home early to Wuthering Heights to find the doors locked. He broke a window but couldn’t fit through it. Hindley had a gun and Heathcliff grabbed it. The gun exploded and the knife attached to it sprang back into Hindley’s wrist. Heathcliff broke the division between the windows and came inside.

Hindley, “had fallen senseless with excessive pain and the flow of blood that gushed from an artery or a large vein. The ruffian kicked and trampled on him, and dashed his head repeatedly against the flags.” Hindley died less than six months after the incident “drunk as a lord.” His son Hareton was left little more than a beggar for his father had died in debt. “The whole property is mortgaged.” “Earnshaw mortgaged every yard of land he owned for cash to supply his mania for gaming; and he, Heathcliff, was the mortgagee.” Heathcliff had finally gotten his revenge on Hindley: he took everything Hindley owned, caused him to die, and made sure Hindley’s son was left with nothing.

Catherine and Isabella were completely different women. Catherine was strong and had a passionate personality. Isabella was exactly a Linton: she was pale, youth like, and dainty. Catherine had always been close to Heathcliff. The two loved each other and were soul mates. Isabella barely knew Heathcliff, but when he returned, she had a sudden and irresistible attraction towards him. “She grew cross and wearisome; snapping at and teasing Catherine continually, at the imminent risk of exhausting her limited patience. One day, when she had been peculiarly wayward, rejecting her breakfast, complaining that the servants did not do what she told them; that the mistress would allow her to be nothing in the house, and Edgar neglected her; that she had caught a cold with the doors being left open, and we let the parlor fire go out on purpose to vex her, with a hundred yet more frivolous accusations, Mrs. Linton peremptorily insisted that she should get to bed and, having scolded her heartily, threatened to send her to the doctor.”

The two got into a violent and heated argument. Isabella accused Catherine of being harsh to her because Catherine would not let Isabella walk with her and Heathcliff. Isabella screamed, “You are a dog in the manger, Cathy, and desire no one to be loved but yourself!” She tells Cathy that she loves Heathcliff more than Catherine ever loved Edgar. Catherine is very upset by these comments and says, “I wouldn’t be you for a kingdom, then! It is deplorable ignorance of his character, child, and nothing else, which makes that dream enter your head… I know he couldn’t love a Linton; and yet he’d be quite capable of marrying your fortune and expectations! Avarice is growing with him a besetting sin. There’s my picture: and I’m his friend- so much so, that he had thought seriously to catch you, I should, perhaps, have held my tongue, and let you fall into his trap.” Isabella says back, you are worse than twenty foes, you poisonous friend!” The two women have very different views of Heathcliff and their violent argument intensified their differences.

Catherine tells Heathcliff of Isabella’s love for him and he uses it to his advantage. He makes a move on Isabella out front of Wuthering Heights, “supposing himself unseen, the scoundrel had the impudence to embrace her.” She tore herself free and ran to the garden obviously feeling violated. That was only the beginning of his malicious and violent relationship with Isabella. One night Isabella runs off with Heathcliff and the two get married. Six weeks later, Isabella writes to Nelly to tell her about how horrible her life is. She asks, “Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?” One night Isabella shows up at the Grange. She finally ran away from Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights because she could not take his torture anymore.

She says that Heathcliff is, “not a human being, and he has no claim on my charity. I gave him my heart and he took and pinched it to death, and flung it back at me.” The night before she left, Hindley and Heathcliff got into a fight; Heathcliff became so mad at Isabella for keeping him out that he shook her till her “teeth rattled.” The next morning, Isabella told Hindley what Heathcliff had done to him and Heathcliff became so enraged, “he snatched a dinner knife from the table and flung it at her head. It struck beneath her ear.” She ran out the door and down the long steep road until she ended up at the Grange. Heathcliff treated Isabella with such violence that he forced her to run away.

Many of the characters are in opposition of one another. They serve to expound on the plot and relationships by contrasting each other. The most obviously opposite characters are Heathcliff and Edgar, Hareton and Linton, and Nelly and Lockwood.

Heathcliff and Edgar are complete opposites. Heathcliff and Edgar physically look nothing alike. Heathcliff was tall, dark, and handsome while Edgar had light hair and eyes and was much smaller than Heathcliff. When they were children, Nelly tells Heathcliff, “you are younger, and yet I’ll be bound, you are taller and twice as broad across the shoulders: you could knock him down in a twinkling.” Not only are they physically opposite, but they are also from opposite levels of society. Edgar is from the Linton family, the richest and most prominent family of the area. He is well bred and well mannered. Heathcliff is merely a gypsy. He was adopted into the Earnshaw family but is not at their same level in society. This creates a great disparity between the men and their love for Catherine as one of the main themes of the book.

Catherine had very different relationships with the two men. She spent some time with Edgar as a child and eventually married him. To her, Edgar was the proper man to be with because of his good name and kind heart. She loved him because he was “handsome, young, cheerful, rich, and loves her.” But Catherine was much closer to Heathcliff. She grew up with him and spent every day playing with him. The two were very mischievous together and trouble makers. Yet Catherine could never be with Heathcliff. It would degrade her to marry him. Yet she says “he is more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightening, or frost from fire.” She described her love for Edgar as “like the foliage in the woods: time will change it.” But her love for Heathcliff, “resembles the eternal rock beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary.” Heathcliff is the man for Catherine but she marries Edgar, his opposite, instead.

Hareton and Linton serve as the diluted characters of Heathcliff and Edgar. Hareton had a similar childhood to Heathcliff. Hareton was raised not by his mother, but by Nelly and then by Joseph. He was a ploughboy and a servant in his own home just as Heathcliff was for the Earnshaws. He was tall and rugged. He had dark hair and eyes just as Heathcliff did. Contrasting with Hareton, Linton was a small, sickly boy from higher society. Linton was well educated while Hareton was illiterate. The two boys had a relationship with Cathy just as Heathcliff and Edgar did with Catherine.

Cathy is embarrassed that Hareton is her cousin because he is beneath her just as Catherine would be disgraced if she married Heathcliff. Hareton was in love with Cathy but never expressed it to her. Linton, the weaker of the two, managed to capture Cathy’s affection just as Linton did. The two are married because it is a good match. After Linton dies, Cathy has no one to play with. At first, she is very mean to Hareton and makes fun of his stupidity. But eventually she grows to like him and the two play together like Heathcliff and Catherine did as children. They fall in love and their relationship works, unlike Heathcliff and Catherine’s.

There are two main narrators in Wuthering Heights who provide very different insights into the actions and characters. Lockwood is the man who rents the Grange in present day and sees the people after all of the drama Nelly tells of has happened. He is an outsider and has no preconceived notions or knowledge of Wuthering Heights and its inhabitants. On the other hand, Nelly was there for everything and tells the story from her point of view to Lockwood. She knows all of the people personally and has formed her own judgments after years and years of knowing them while Lockwood has only encountered them for a few hours.

As she tells Catherine and Heathcliff’s story, Nelly criticizes both of them, condemning their passion as immoral. But this passion is obviously one of the most compelling and memorable aspects of the book. It is not easy to decide whether Bronte intends the reader to condemn these lovers as sinful or to idealize them as romantic heroes because there is no author intrusion. These two different views from the narrators allow the reader to from their own opinion on the events and characters.

The juxtaposition of sharply disparate elements, i.e. “clashing contrasts,” can give rise to violence. Such is certainly true of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. In fact, the entire novel could be analyzed using comparison and contrast. Examples of the “clashing contrasts” are found in the violence between Heathcliff and Edgar, Heathcliff and Linton, Heathcliff and Hindley, Catherine and Isabella, and Heathcliff and Isabella. Other contrasts which serve to explicate the plot and relationships are the differences between Heathcliff and Edgar, Hareton and Linton, and Nelly and Lockwood.

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