Characterisation in The Novel Wuthering Heights

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Character Portrayal in Fiction

      Character portrayal is the most important aspect of the novel. In a great novel, the story is rooted in character and grows out of it, so that if the psychology of the characters undergoes a change the story will be different from what it is. The skill of the novelist is exhibited in his character portrayal. A great novelist creates original and living characters, and the greater the novelist the more original are the characters he creates. We expect the novelist to create life-like characters. That is, the world he creates should be inhabited by men and women as we find them in the real world around us. Still, some of the greatest novelists, like Dickens and Dostoevsky have create characters who are not exact copies of men and women in the real world. But whether exact copies of life or not, the novelist's characters should be able to absorb our interest, so that we may be anxious to know what happens to them next. It is how the novelist generates our interest in his story and leads us on from page to page until we arrive at the end. We seldom forget characters who deeply absorb our interest. They ever appear before us fresh and replete with vitality. Mr. Micawber, for instance, is one such unforgettable character. Ever since his creation in the Victorian Age he has been a source of delight to generations. He delights the modern reader as much as he delighted his Victorian predecessor.

      According to E.M. Forster, there are two types of characters, namely "flat" and "Round". "Flat" characters, he says, "were called 'humours' in the seventeenth century, and are sometimes called types, and sometimes caricatures. In their purest form, they are constructed round a single idea or quality: when there is more than one factor in them, we get the beginning of the curve towards the round". The flat character remains unchanged from the beginning to the end of the story. He always behaves in an uniform way, and says almost the same things. His action is predictable so that whenever he appears in a scene we already know how he will behave and what he will say. But there are characters who do not remain uniformly the same in the novel. They grow and change and accordingly, a change occurs in their behavior, so that at the end of the story they are not exactly what they were in the beginning. Such characters are called "round" characters. They are round, because we cannot know every tiling about them all at once, just as we cannot view at once the whole of a round surface. On the other hand, we know all at about a flat character after he has made his appearance in one or two scenes. Just as we can view a flat surface all once, in the same way, we can soon know all about a flat character. The characters of Dickens are mostly flat, while those of Hardy are mostly round. While Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield remains uniformly the same from the beginning to the end of the story, Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge changes with the progress of the story. Circumstances bring about a change in him, which is very much perceptible after his fortune declines.

      Myres in his book Later Realism suggests a third type of character also, and he calls them "extra-realistic". Such a character is conscious of certain realities which are hidden from the common view. The experiences of a mystic, for instance, are real enough experiences, though they do not form part of the experiences of a common man. Mysticism, therefore, is " extra-realism", that is realism which is not the experience of the common man. It is not falshood but reality; but only a few persons can experience this reality. In fiction, we come across characters who appear to have strange and uncommon experiences. Charles Strickland, in Somerset Maugham's novel, The Moon and Sixpence, is one such character. A similar character is Larrv in The Razor's Edge, written by the same novelist. But characters make certain realizations which it is not easy to understand. They perceive certain entities existing beyond the known world. But what those entities are, they alone understand. The point is that reality is not confined only to the known material world. There are certain immaterial realities, which are revealed to the extra-realistic character.

Character Portrayal in Wuthering Heights

      In her novel Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte does not attempt to paint Victorian life and society. The life at Wuthering Heights and for that matter at Thrushcross Grange is not typical of the Victorian life. The men and women inhabiting her world are not essentially Victorian men and women. In this respect, she is different from the other Victorian novelists, who in their stories portray Victorian life and present Victorian problems. In the novels of Dickens normal life assumes a fantastic shape. Still, basically, it is Victorian life. Thackeray is primarily concerned with certain aspects of human nature. Likewise, George Eliot is concerned with a moral problem, but the life she paints in her novels is typically Victorian. So far as Anthony Trollope is concerned, he is a Victorian novelist portraying Victorian life. But Emily Bronte is not a Victorian novelist in this sense. She lived and wrote her novel in the Victorian Age. But it is not the life of her Age that is reflected in her book. Instead of portraying Victorian life, she portrays two contrary aspects of human nature. So, her vision is not limited to the surface of life, to customs and manners of an age and society, or human oddity or normalcy of behavior. Her deep, penetrating vision discovers two opposite principles in life. viz. the principle of storm and the principle of calm. These two opposite principles attract her notice, and it is these she presents in her novel. Underlying her drama of life are these two opposite principles of storm and calm. The world she constructs is an embodiment of these two principles of life.

Two Groups of Characters

      The characters of Wuthering Heights can be divided into two opposite groups. One group belong Heathcliff, Catherine and Hindley, the children of storm. To the other group belong the Lintons, the children of calm. The love of the former is like the "lava flow", that of the latter is deep attachment and lasting companionship. Persons of the former group with their violent nature and strong passions suggest a tempest, while the latter group with its calm and sedate life suggests a gentle breeze. But as the story progresses there comes into existence a third group which partakes of the natures of the two. To this third group belong Hareton, the second Catherine, Linton Heathcliff — the children of the persons of turbulent and calm natures. Hareton is both calm and gentle and also strong and courageous. Catherine is capricious like her mother, but also gentle and affectionate like her father. So Emily Bronte in her novel embodies two opposite principles of life in two different states, namely in the state of separate existence, and also in association with each other. These two opposite principles are meant by nature for separate existence. But they unite in contravention of the law of nature, and their union results in ruins and destruction. Opposites cannot be harmonized, and the opposite traits of human nature cannot be reconciled with each other. It is this basic law of human nature that Emily Bronte reveals in Wuthering Heights. Two opposite principles of life and their harmful contact — this seems to be the theme of the novel. Each should have followed its own proper course. But the two unite with tragic consequences.

Symbolic Significance of the Characters

      The characters of Wuthering Heights have symbolic significance. The two different groups of characters represent two opposite aspects of human nature. The one stands for violent and tempestuous passions, consuming love and destructive revenge, while the other suggests quietness of the mind, calm feelings and quiet affections. Hence, we cannot look for realism in the character portrayal of Emily Bronte. As already pointed out above, her concern is not to paint a picture of Victorian life, and to portray men and women as they lived and behaved in her age. The principle of realism in fiction expects the novelist to be as close to the realities of life as possible. The world he constructs should not be different from the world we live in, otherwise, his story will be incredible, and his readers will lose their confidence in him. The characters of the novelist, according to the law of realism, should be strictly life-like, and they should think, feel and behave exactly as we do. But strictly speaking, the characters of Wuthering Heights are not the replicas of men and women in the real world. They stand for different principles of life and aspects of human nature, and their behavior is different from the behavior of normal persons.

      Heathcliff, for instance, is not a normal man by any standard of judgment. He is a strange amalgam of a human being and a dangerous wild beast. He is a half-real and half-unreal character, a person who is more an embodiment of an idea than a reality. The violence of his passion is overdone, and so is the fury of his revenge. He is Emily Bronte’s idea of a man frustrated in love. What is astonishing about this man is that time has no effect on his feelings. Time fails to mitigate the intensity of his love and the fury of his revenge. Obviously, Heathcliff is a character ideally conceived, and it is useless to look for his prototype in the real world. In fact, the characters of Wuthering Heights are either super-human or shadowy, and though they move about in a real enough world, they do not give us the impression of being absolutely real. Passion in some of them is grossly heightened, so that they appear to assume a gigantic stature. Heathcliff and Catherine are such overdone characters. Linton and Isabella, on the other hand, are shadowy and undeveloped characters. Linton is a puny sufferer, and, though a man, has hardly any manly qualities in him. Passivity in him is carried to on excess, rendering him somewhat incredible. Perhaps passivity in him is deliberately heightened in order to highlight the ferocity of Heathcliff. He is rendered weaker than a normal man, so that Heathcliff's strength may appear to be gigantic. Since Heathcliff has to be presented as a man who has absolute control over others and can do with them whatever he wills, it is necessary that his victims should be rendered puny and helpless. But, perhaps, man in a civilized world is neither so remorselessly cruel and. domineering nor so abjectly helpless as he is in Wuthering Heights. In Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte does not offer to our view a picture of civilized life. It is not the civilized Victorian society that she paints in her novel, but a primitive world with primitive passions strangely in contact with civilized life. The Lintons, though weak and passive, have refined thoughts and feelings of a civilized man. Their misfortune is that they come in contact with primitive persons like Heathcliff's arid Catherine, who have neither remorse nor control over their passions. The result is that they suffer, and suffer a good deal because of this unfortunate contact.

      Wuthering Heights therefore, is not a realistic portrayal of life. It offers to our view a strange picture of two opposite states of existence, primitive and civilized, wild and refined. Wuthering Heights is more a den of wild beasts than an abode of human beings. The law functioning there is the law of the jungle, and the basest quality of man are shamelessly exhibited. It reminds us in certain respects of King Lear. In both the law of the jungle prevails, and the base qualities of man gain an ascendancy over his better self. Near to the beastly life at the Heights, there is another and entirely, different life at the Grange. It is a life of refined feelings and manners, of peace and happiness derived from human association, of culture and goodness of purpose. It is this composite picture of two different states of existence that Withering Heights offers to our view. Obviously, such a novel cannot be judged by the standard of common realism. It is more the outcome of a poetic imagination than the experience of real life.

Belief in Heredity

      In her character portrayal, Emily Bronte reveals her belief in heredity. Her men and women inherit the traits of character from their parents. Heathcliff, a gypsy boy, inherits the primitive traits of his class. In spite of the veneer of culture and outward polish, he is a gypsy under his skin. His wild and uncontrollable passion and remorseless revenge proclaim him every inch a gypsy. Hindley and Catherine both inherit the violent temper of their father, and the mildness of Edgar Linton reminds us of the mildness of his parents. Heredity, again, determines the characters of Hareton, Catherine Linton and Linton Heathcliff. Hareton has inherited the strong physique of the Earnshaws and the gentle and affectionate nature of his mother. The combination of these traits makes him a fine country gentleman. Catherine Linton has inherited the obstinacy and capriciousness of her mother. Heathcliff's son has in his veins the Linton blood, and is weak like his mother and uncle. But he is selfish like his father, and has inherited his bad temper and restless nature. So, heredity determines to a large extent the nature of Emily Bronte's characters. The primitive nature undergoes a change when traits of civilized character are introduced into it.

'Flat' and 'Round' Characters

      It has been said above that characters can be divided into 'Flat' and 'Round'. 'Flat' characters remain uniformly the same, while 'round' characters change and exhibit new traits in their nature. 'Flat' characters are constructed according to a single formula, while 'round' characters are composed of several traits, some of which may even be contradictory. In Wuthering Heights there are both flat and round characters. Joseph the servant at the Heights, is a 'flat' character. From the time we meet him till the end of the story, he remains uniformly the same. With his ostentatious religiosity, superstition and self-importance, he is the same Joseph throughout the story. He is a "humorous" character in the: seventeenth-century sense of the word, and has his own oddity and eccentricity. Emily Bronte follows the conventional method of introducing humour in a story through a servant of odd behavior, Scott follows this method in the Bride of Lammermoor. Caleb Balderstone, a servant in that novel, is such a "humorous" character, and the oddity of his behavior is a source of the comic.

      But the principal characters in the novel are 'round' characters. Emily Bronte endows them with a remarkable depth of soul. No single formula can explain the character of Heathcliff, who is a fine example of a round character. He is cruel and inexorable, but he is also capable of intense love. He is primitive, but also cultured. Perhaps, he is the only man at the Heights who is capable of decent behavior. He is extremely vindictive; still, he does no physical harm to Hareton whom he likes in his heart of hearts. Thus we see that Heathcliff has opposite and contradictory traits in his native, and it is by virtue of such traits that he is truly a round character.

      Another round character is Catherine, who is wayward and capricious, but firm and unchanging in her love for Heathcliff, whom she loves with an uncommon intensity. She is a woman of deep and strong emotions. Still, she has enough practical sense to marry Edgar Linton and not Heathcliff. She has a violent temper, but is also capable of cool thinking. Thus, like Heathcliff, she, too, has opposite traits in her nature. Her daughter, Catherine's nature, too, is composed of several and varied traits. She is capricious and strong-willed like her mother, but she is also gentle and affectionate like her father. She is deep in her love, and firm strong in her opposition to Heathcliff. The Lintons are not fully developed in the novel, and remain rather undertones. Emily Bronte emphasizes Me passivity of their nature. Still, Isabella, Edgar Linton's sister, can hurt Heathcliff with a knife and manage to escape from the Heights, where for all practical purposes she is kept as prisoner by her husband Heathcliff. So roundness is a marked quality of the characters of Wuthering Heights.

      Besides being flat and round, characters in the novel can also be "extra-realistic." This is the theory of Myres, a modem critic. An extra-realistic character is one who is conscious of a reality which is unknown to the common man. A mystic's experiences, for instance, are real enough for him. But the common man does not understand them. In Wuthering Heights Heathcliff gives the impression of having an extra-realistic element in his nature. Towards the end of the novel, and before he dies he sees something, but nobody knows what it is. Perhaps he sees a ghost, or has a glimpse of the other world. His eyes are strangely fixed on something in front of him. That object transports him to a state of hilarity. But nobody in the house has the least notion of what it is. It is an absolutely personal and strange experience of Heathcliff.

Harmony between Temperament and Outside Nature

      Another point to notice about the characters of Wuthering Heights is the harmony between their temperament and the nature outside. The violent temper of the inhabitants of the Heights is in harmony with the storm blowing outside. It appears that they are creatures of storm living perpetually in the midst of gales and tempests. The violent scenes within the Heights are fully in keeping with the violence of the howling winds. Hindley and Heathcliff are men of violent temper. Their nature is so violent that they all but kill each other. Hindley attempts to murder Heathcliff, and Heathcliff in return nearly kills him. Such violent scenes have their counterpart in the storm and thunder outside the house. The mild Lintons, on the other hand, live in a calm atmosphere. Nature around the Grange is mild. The wild tempests, which blow almost perpetually around the Heights, are unknown there. There is warm sunshine and gentle breeze, and beautiful flowers blooming in the order. These suggest the mild and gentle temperament of the inhabitants of the Grange. The inhabitants of the Heights and the Grange suggest two opposite temperaments, calm and turbulent. These two temperaments are well illustrated in the following passage in the novel, which is put in the mouth of Catherine Linton "One time, however, we were near quarreling. He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on the bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom and the larks singing high up over head, and blue sky and the bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of heaven's happiness mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above; and not only larks, but throttles, and blackbirds, and linnets, and cuckoos pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells; but close by great smells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze; and woods and sounding water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk: I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine, and began to grow very snappish"

      The two opposite temperaments, calm and restive, active and passive are well presented in this passage.

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