Critical Analysis of The Novel Wuthering Heights

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      Wuthering Heights cannot be regarded as an orthodox Victorian novel. It is not a story of ordinary human beings involving conflict between the heroes, Edgar Linton and Hareton, on the one hand, and the villain, Heathcliff, on the other, and ending in the discomfiture of the villain. If we regard the story as a conflict between the villain and the heroes ending in the punishment of the villain and the happy marriage of the good characters, it would appear to be a strange muddle. Why should there be two heroes and one villain in the novel? According to convention, there should have been one hero and one villain. Again, why are half of the characters killed in the middle of the story and their places taken by a batch of new characters who play much the same role in it as the first? Why is the story worked up to a tragic climax when it is to end with a happy marriage? The happy end is brought about through the crude device of a ghost the sight of which drives the villain to self-starvation. Besides, the characters do not fulfill their role properly. Edgar is a poor creature and Hareton is a mere sketch. As compared to the villain, Heathcliff, they are puny, insignificant creatures. There is another difficulty. The villain is not discomfited at all. Comparatively, the good men are more discomfited than he. In the conventional novel, the heroine is on the side of the hero. But in Wuthering Heights, Catherine is throughout on the side of Heathcliff, the villain, and dies committed to him. Heathcliff feels no remorse for his actions and dies in a mood of hilarity. The strangest of all the happenings in the novel is that it is the villain and not the hero who is rewarded with a spiritual union with the heroine.

Elemental Grandeur

      What strikes the reader most in Wuthering Heights is the presence of an elemental grandeur and a passionate effusiveness in the principal characters. The curbs imposed by social order become slack and atavistic and primordial traits manifest themselves. We are in the primitive world where untamed natural life is revealed in savage revenge and wild outbursts of passion. Here imagination runs riot and critics find in it the influence of the Celtic blood of Emily Bronte's Irish ancestors.

      This Celtic heritage made her a gloomy, brooding, and imaginative character. The cheerless surroundings of Haworth parsonage, the melancholy graveyard contiguous to it, and the black moorlands that extended far and wide in its neighborhood aggravated this temper. Her life too was a monotonous round of duties in her impecunious (destitute) father's house.

      We are to take into consideration this to appraise this fiction — a unique product of the Victorian Age.

Characters in the Novel

      It has been argued that the characters of this novel are unreal. The narrow range of experience of a country girl who used to read and write fantastic stories—a habit she continued even after her middle twenties — made her an escapist, and her want of direct experiences of life drove her into the realm of imagination. The central characters of the novel — Heathcliff, Catherine, Hindley. Edgar Linton, and his daughter the younger Cathy are literary creations of a superior order. Heathcliff in the opinion of G.K Chesterton is a demon and not a human being. Catherine is a woman gone mad with passion and her two desires, namely to live a domestic life with her husband and to cultivate a friendship with her former lover in a platonic fashion are incongruous. But literary creations do not always follow life very closely, and passions inhibited in a well-ordered society may find a fuller expression in literature. The characters ''Seated by Emily have been accepted by modern critics.

The Plot-Structure

      The plot-structure is not faultless. The first-person narrative is not the best way for the novelist. The story is not unravelled sequentially and there are shifts in time that confuse the reader. In fact, the novel begins when the story is coming to an end. Yet the first chapter whets the curiosity of the reader and he cannot lay aside the book till he finishes it. The narrator too, is not an unimportant person in the picture, and her verbatim re-production of the conversations of the dramatis personae — though it has an air of unreality—may be ignored, as it is a literary convention, and has not lost dramatic vividness in the telling of the narrative.

      In the opinion of E.M. Forster, if a story is narrated by the novelist in such a way as to carry the reader with it, he gains half the battle. A well-told story which sustains the interest of the reader often covers the minor defects of a novel.

A Story of Human Nature

      Wuthering Heights therefore, cannot be regarded as the story of a few individuals in a state of love and conflict. Rather it is a story of human nature, of man's fate and destiny. The conflict in the story is not between individuals, two heroes and one villain, but between two contrary aspects of human nature, the principle of calm and the principle of storm. Wuthering Heights is the land of storm, and to it belong the Earnshaws, the children of the storm. On the other hand, Thrushcross Grange, situated in a quiet valley, is a place of calm, and to it belong the children of calm, the Lintons. Left to itself each group would have followed its own course of life. But they come in contact with each other with the result that a conflict ensues between the two. Heathcliff, too, is a child of the storm; but he is an extraneous element introduced into the Earnshaw group. And, since he is an extraneous element he causes disturbance in it. He creates a conflict between Earnshaw and his son Hindley, and finally between Hindley and himself. He falls in love with Catherine, a counterpart of his own nature. But since Catherine marries Linton, and he cannot be united with her, he is frustrated in his natural fulfillment. The inner harmony of his nature is disturbed, and he turns into a destructive force. To wreak his vengeance on Edgar Linton he elopes with his sister and marries her. He ruins the life of Hindley and ultimately leads him to his death. Then he proceeds to wreak his vengeance on the next generation — Hareton Earnshaw, Catherine Linton and Linton Heathcliff. He has them under his full control and can do with them whatever he likes. The destructive principle now reigns supreme. But the tide turns, and the opposite principle of calm, harmony and love begins to assert itself. Hareton and the second Catherine fall in love with each other and Heathcliff, with an intense desire for a spiritual union with Catherine, starves himself to death. Heathcliff's nature was not basically destructive. It had become so only because it was frustrated in its true fulfillment. But his fulfillment comes to him at last. He is inseparably united to the object of his love and ceases to be destructive.

Emily Bronte's Vision of Life

      Wuthering Heights embodies Emily Bronte's vision of life, in which the conflict is not between individuals, but between two contrary principles of human life. The individual characters are only expressions of these contrary principles. In her vision of life, the line of demarcation between life and death is obliterated. Death is only a gateway to another and, perhaps, better state of existence. Love, according to her, is indestructible and is fulfilled in this world, no matter if the lover and the beloved die. Emily Bronte is concerned not with individual men and women, but with human life in general, with the nature of its contending forces and the fate that awaits man after death. The story of Wuthering Heights presents her concept of life and death. Her vision is not limited only to this life, but stretches beyond it to the state of existence after death. Just as Hamlet enquires about man's destiny after death and Dante pictures the other world in his Divine Comedy, Emily Bronte presents the fate of man both in this life and the one that awaits him after death.

The Flawless Setting

      The setting of the novel is flawless. The descriptions of the sterile moors, and the rocks, the roaring winds, and blinding snow-storms, have a vividness that remind us of the landscapes in Thomas Hardy's novels. The flower pots, songs of larks, and green woods also have not escaped the notice of the author. The gloomy interior of Wuthering Heights in the opening chapter with snarling dogs, sullen and incommunicative inmates, and heavy old-fashioned furniture, has been described in the manner of Scott.

      The picture of Thrushcross Grange at the lower end of the moor has a pleasant and joyous look; its inside has the pleasing coziness and comfortable air of a drawing-room in Jane Austen's novels. Its attached library suggests culture and its lovely flower pots under the parlor window, are more, inviting than the storm-hit fir plants of Wuthering Heights and its, causeway with a forbidding look just behind the gate.


      The fiction tackles a problem which has been troubling the mind of man since the days of the great Patriarch. It is the eternal conflict between good and evil. The job gets back what he lost but not without going through a severe trial Heathcliff's diaholicalseheme of revenge is ultimately foiled, but not before four innocent lives have been crushed in the devilish machinery geared up by him the destructive purposes. He is more or responsible for the death of Catherine. Isabella, Hindley, and his own son his sufferings for nearly eighteen years are incalculable.

      Evil is ultimately defeated, but not without destroying good people who are also partly responsible for their death. This is also the dominant ideal of the great tragedies of Shakespeare and this is also the profound moral truth underlying this novel.

University Questions

Critically analyse the art of fiction in Wuthering Heights.
Discuss some of the characteristic features of Wuthering Heights as a novel.
Attempt a critical appreciation of the novel Wuthering Heights.

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