Supernatural Elements in The Novel Wuthering Heights

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      Emily Bronte is remarkable in the presentation of violent emotions. "Her genius is all fire and air; it can set the pulse of life throbbing in incredible vagaries of feeling; give the most aerial conception a local habitation and a name. If any other novelist had described a man as embracing a woman so passionately that those who watched him wondered if she would come out alive, we should only have thought it comic. Emotion in Wuthering Heights is keyed up to such a pitch of intensity that such an embrace seems its only adequate expression. Again, if another novelist had described a man as dying of starvation because he was occupied in looking at a ghost, we simply should not have believed it. But Emily Bronte not only makes us believe it; she makes us believe it without any difficulty."

Metaphysical Elements

      The love of Catherine and Heathcliff has a spiritual quality about it and is supernatural in its intensity and in the identification between the lovers to an extent that Catherine declares "I am Heathcliff while Heathcliff is lost without his "soul", who is Catherine. Apart from the spiritual quality of love of the chief protagonists, the novel is also concerned with life beyond the merely physical manifestation. The metaphysical element is established in the first few chapters through the language—through words such as: "fiends...magically...devil...herd of possessed swine" (Chapter 1); "ministering angel... beneficent fairy... good fairy...devil's name. ...Black Art modeled in wax and clay....little witch...ghost...cursing" (Chapter 2). These references build upto a carefully structured supernatural element which pervades the novel as a whole.

The Appearance of Ghosts

      In the second chapter itself, Lockwood encounters the ghost of Catherine as he is woken up by a wailing little ghost who is trying to get in through the window. There is an element of horror in Lockwood rubbing the child's hand against the jagged edges of the broken glass of the window. As the storm and wind howl outside, blood drips through the child's hands on to the bed clothes of Lockwood soaking them red. The supernatural assumes a chilling reality in this scene. This scene is paralleled in the end by the scene of Heathcliff's death. He is found dead near the same window which stands open letting in the rain. But now there is no blood. Heathcliff has apparently seen the ghost of his beloved and in his death he is happily reunited with his beloved Catherine who was denied to him during his earthly existence. The reference in the final chapter to the villagers of Gimmerton seeing the ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff on the moors also emphasizes the supernatural element. Besides Heathcliff is referred to by various characters as a fiend, devil or goblin.

The Fairy Tale Element

      This is reinforced as it is a tale told by the fire-side on a winter evening by an elderly woman, the family nurse, sitting and narrating as she sews. The story itself has echoes of childhood fairy tales—the first one being, the story of the 'Beauty and the Beast'.

The Beauty and the Beast' Element

      Mr. Earnshaw's journey to Liverpool and his promise to bring back presents for the three children left at home resemble the journey and promise of the merchant in 'The Beauty and the Beast'. The merchant brings back a red-rose, symbol of the Beast. To him, he has to give his younger daughter in recompense. Mr. Earnshaw brings home 'a dirty, ragged, black-haired child' (Chapter 4) who wins his daughter, Catherine's heart Heathcliff is the Beast's equivalent.

Fairy Tale Transformations

      Like in fairy tales the characters are constantly being transformed: Hindley returns after his three years at college, thinner, paler and speaking and dressing 'quite differently' (Chapter 6). Catherine has gone to the Grange as a wild, hatless little savage but returns transformed into a beautiful and elegant young lady (Chapter 7). Significant is Nelly's comments to Heathcliff:

      "You're fit for a prince in disguise, who knows, but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen, each of them able to buy up, with one week's income, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange together? And you were kidnapped by wicked sailors and brought to England (Chapter 7). In fact, when Heathcliff returns after his three years absence (three - is itself a fairy number and both Hindley and Heathcliff are away for three years) Nelly talks of his transformation. Isabella after her marriage is transformed from her former elegance into a slut Hareton is transformed from a coarse bumpkin into a personable young man.

The Cinderella Aspect

      In Chapter 12, early in what proves to be Catherine's final illness, she believes that she is back at Wuthering Heights and she imagines she sees a face looking at her; it is her own face reflected in the mirror but as Nelly tries to convince her of this, the clock strike? midnight; when Catherine cries out, "myself!... and the clock is striking twelve!" She is not Cinderella, but she is the poor little rich girl, whose "Cinderella dream" of happiness with her prince in disguise, i.e. Heathcliff, dissolves at the stroke of twelve.

Other Myths And legends

      When the younger Cathy is held prisoner in the Heights, she declares, "I wouldn't eat or drink here, if I were starving" (Chapter 27). This echoes the legend of Proserpina, daughter of Ceres, who, when kidnapped by Pluto, the God of the underworld, refused to eat or drink. The faint echo of this Greek and Roman myth equates Heathcliff with the dark King of the Underworld.

Supernatural Passions

      The children of storm in Wuthering Heights are persons of strong emotions. Heathcliff and the first Catherine are capable of feeling intensely. Their love is not common attachment between ordinary lovers. It is a "lava flow", a consuming passion, whose very violence and intensity destroys the heart which possesses it. Catherine s intensity of emotion ultimately kills her. Its violence is unbearable to her, so that she falls dangerously ill. When Heathcliff suddenly leaves Wuthering Heights, so intense is her grief that she passes into a state of delirium. Again, when Edgar Linton quarrels with Heathcliff in her presence, her emotion grows unbearably strong, so that she falls dangerously ill. Lastly, when Heathcliff visits her while she is ill and infirm as form of passions begins to blow in her mind, and she succumbs to its violence. Heathcliff, too, dies of his own violent emotions. He sees a ghost of Catherine, and the sight of it creates such a strong emotion in his mind that wrapped in his own passion he loses completely the sense of this life and starves himself to death.

      There are scenes of violent emotion in Wuthering Heights which remind us of similar scenes of emotional intensity in King Lear. One such scene is that in which Heathcliff meets Catherine a few hours before her death. This is how Ellen Dean describes the meeting of the two lovers:

      "In her eagerness, she rose and supported herself on the arm of the chair. At that earnest appeal he turned to her looking absolutely desper-ate. His eyes wide, and wet at last, flashed fiercely on her, his breast heaved convulsively. An instant they held asunder, and then how they met I hardly saw, but Catherine made a spring, and he caught her, and they were locked in an embrace from which I thought my mistress would never be released alive: in fact, to my eyes, she seemed directly insensible. He flung himself into the nearest seat, and on my approaching hurriedly to ascertain if she had fainted, he gnashed at me, and foamed like a mad dog, and gathered her to him with greedy jealousy. I did not feel as if I were in the company of a creature of my own: it appeared that he would not understand, though I spoke to him; so I stood off, and held my tongue, in great perplexity."

      This passage describes the intensity of emotions of persons who can feel like Titans. They are no common beings, but person of really strong feelings. Emotions transform them to strange wild beasts or gods, so that they appear to be other than human and their action is indescribably strange in its violence.

Supernatural Occurrences

      If there is superhuman intensity of emotion in Wuthering Heights there are also superhuman occurrences. The novel begins with a dream of Mr. Lockwood in which the ghost of the first Catherine stands outside the window of the room in which he is sleeping. It is the first suggestion of a ghost in the story. Subsequently, there is the suggestion of the ghost of Catherine. Seized with an intense desire to take Catherine's dead body in his arms, Heathcliff begins to dig Catherine's grave. But while so doing he hears someone sigh above the grave, and he stops to dig the grave further. Later, Heathcliff sees a ghost, and losing completely the sense of life starves himself to death. Finally, the spirits of Heathcliff and Catherine are united after death and live together in Wuthering Heights. The Dreams of Lockwood

      In the second chapter itself, we encounter the supernatural through Lockwood's nightmares when he spends the night at the Heights. In the first dream, Lockwood is listening to a sermon in a church in the company of Joseph about sins. When the sermon is nearing the end Lockwood rises and urges the others to drag down and crush the speaker. In reply, the preacher orders the assembly to chastise Lockwood and he finds himself grappling with Joseph, his most ferocious attacker. The second dream has even more of a supernatural and eerie quality as Lockwood finds his hand grasped by the small icy-cold hands of a ghostly child, Catherine. Lockwood rubs the child's wrist on the broken glass pane until it begins to bleed and his bed-clothes are soaked in blood. Equally eerie is the small child wailing, "Let me in I've been a wait for twenty years". Thus the element of supernatural and mysterious forces are introduced right at the beginning of the novel.

Natural Forces

      The weather also takes on a supernatural element in the story. There is a furious storm blowing on the night Heathcliff runs away from the Heights after overhearing Catherine's decision to marry Edgar Linton. The storm in Nature corresponds to the tumult in the hearts of the two young lovers — Heathcliff and Cathy. Nelly's description renders its supernatural: "About midnight, while we sat up the storm came rattling over the Heights in full fury. There was a violent wind as well as thunder ... We thought it must be a judgment on us also."

Heathcliff: A Diabolical, Devilish Character

      Heathcliff's character, his actions, his revenge all make him a devilish character. There is a strong suggestion that Heathcliff has sold his soul to the devil. Nelly and Isabella frequently refer to Heathcliff as "ghoulish", "devil", "goblin", "hellish" "fiend". "Judas" and "Satan". Hindley says that hell will become ten times blacker when Heathcliff s soul enters that place. Heathcliff's own utterances and actions imply the influence of supernatural and infernal powers on him. He feels that his existence after Cathy's death will only be a "death and hell". He constantly refers to his own writhing and torment of hell in contrast to Cathy who has achieved peace in death. Heathcliff is haunted by the ghost of Catherine and finally united with her in death. Heathcliff's deeds of savage cruelty strengthen our impression that he is an agent of the devil. His inhuman treatment of Isabella and his own son Linton, his revenge on Hareton whom he brings up as an ignorant brute, the way he lures Catherine and Nelly to the Heights keeping them prisoners and forcing Catherine to marry Linton all contribute to the impression of Heathcliff as a devil incarnate.

Heathcliff's Behaviour before His Death

      There is a strong element of the supernatural in the way Heathcliff feels a sense of tranquility when he manages to gaze at Catherine's face in the coffin when Edgar's grave is being dug. Heathcliff sees the image of his beloved Cathy in every cloud, in every tree, in every object. His strange behavior a few days, before his death frightens Nelly. She says: "Those deep black eyes! That smile, and ghastly paleness! It appeared to me not Mr. Heathcliff, but a goblin; and in my terror, I let the candle bend towards the wall, and it left me in darkness".

      Thus, Nelly's descriptions of Heathcliff and her speculations about the origins of Heathcliff all add to the supernatural atmosphere of the novel. Finally, even when Heathcliff dies, there is the suggestion of the. supernatural. When Nelly tries to shut his eyes after he is dead, his eyes would not shut and seemed to sneer at her. Joseph's comment that the devil has carried off his soul also reinforces the supernatural element. The supernatural atmosphere reaches its climax at the end of the novel when it is believed that the villagers of Gimmerton often see the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine wandering on the moor.

Other Supernatural Elements

      There are other suggestions of the mysterious and supernatural. We are told that Isabella shrieks as if witches were running red hot needles into her. Catherine frightens Joseph by threatening to make a wax image of him and dropping hints about his knowledge of black magic and its link with his rheumatism and the death of a cow. Joseph thinks that Hareton has been bewitched by Catherine and Heathcliff calls her a witch when she dares to defy him.


      Such supernatural happenings as these will be incredible in a realistic novel, but they are admirably suited to the world of Wuthering Heights. For, Wuthering Heights is not a realistic story, but an embodiment of Emily Bronte's vision of life to that vision, life does not end after the body perishes. Besides, according to her concept of life, the soul, after death does not go to "an undiscovered country from whose bounds no traveler returns", it lives in this world. Spiritual existence in this world after death — this is Emily Bronte's faith, which she presents in Wuthering Heights. Viewed in the light of this faith the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine fit in admirably in her story.

      Inspite of the supernatural element, the story of Wuthering Heights is grounded in reality. Indeed, so skilfully does Emily Bronte weave these two strands of her story, that the reader begins to accept the supernatural events as part of the natural world.

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