Use of Flashback in The Novel Wuthering Heights

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      Normally the story follows a constantly forward movement in time. It follows a steady course without breaking the time sequence, so that it progresses from Monday to Tuesday, from January to February and so on. But at times the novelist upsets the time-sequence, so that the story instead of moving constantly onward in time begins to move backward, revealing incidents that occurred in the past. Instead of beginning from a point from where it only moves onward in time, it may begin differently. For instance, the opening chapter in a novel may present the hero as a young man living comfortably with his wife. But the subsequent chapters may reveal his boyhood, education and love for a girl, which ends in his marriage with her. Thus, in this case, the novel begins with them, and the story instead of moving onward in time moves backwards, revealing the incidents which occurred earlier than those presented in the first chapter. This device of upsetting the time-sequence is very common in the modem novel. Novelists like Aldous Huxley and Somerset Maugham have made frequent use of it. In his novel, Eyeless in Gaza, Huxley freely upsets the time-sequence, and so does Somerset Maugham in Cakes and Ale. The technical name of this device is "Flash-Back" or "Throwback". The onward movement of the story is arrested, and it is made to turn its course and travel back in time. "Flash-Back" today is a common cinematographic technique. On the screen, a story may begin in the middle or at the end, or at any other point except the beginning, and then may travel back in time to reveal the past incidents. So, the novel and the screen have commonly adopted this technique.

Artistic Purpose

      This device serves an artistic purpose. If the novelist closely adheres to the time-sequence, his story often tends to become dull. Hence, to safeguard against this possibility of dullness, he begins the story with an arresting scene, not essentially the first one in the sequence of time. He may begin the story in middle or at the end, and then in the subsequent chapters present the incidents which occurred prior to the opening scene.

Flashback in Wuthering Heights

      Emily Bronte has made use of the technique of "Flashback" in Wuthering Heights. The story begins almost at the end. When Mr. Lockwood visits his land lord, Heathcliff, in the opening scene, most of the incidents of the story have already occurred. Several characters are in their graves. Mr. Earnshaw, senior, his son Hindley, his daughter Catherine, her husband Linton, and Heathcliff's son young Linton, are all dead. When the story begins Heathcliff is a child; but in the opening scene, he is in his forties. So, the opening scene presents life at the Wuthering Heights some forty years after the commencement of the story. When the story begins Hareton is not even born. But in the opening scene of the novel he is a young man of twenty. In the first chapter of the novel, we find Heathcliff, a rich landlord and farmer, living at Wuthering Heights with his widowed daughter-in-law, Catherine, a young man, named Hareton and a servant, called Joseph. Mr. Lockwood pays a couple of visits to his landlord on two successive days, and on each visit discovers that Heathcliff and the other inmates of his house are persons of peculiar habits and manners. Their way of living, too, is uncommon. He gets curious to know more about them, and asks his housekeeper, Ellen Dean, who for many years was a servant at the Heights, to tell him more about Heathcliff and the other manners of his family. Accordingly, she narrates the story from the very beginning, and the narrative travels back in time.

Ellen Dean's Narrative

      Ellen Dean begins her narrative from the time when Mr. Earnshaw, the old master of Wuthering Heights, brought from Liverpool a gypsy child, whom he found wandering about the streets of the town. He named him Heathcliff. Then she relates the subsequent incidents in their chronological order without breaking the time-sequence. She relates the incidents leading to the opening scene of the novel. So, when her narrative ends the story having traveled back in time emerges once again at the point from where it begins. From Chapter 4 to Chapter 30 the story travels in the past in Ellen Dean's narrative, and in Chapter 31 emerges once again in the present, so that the opening situation of Mr. Lockwood's visit to his landlord is repeated in this chapter. After that, there is a short gap of time during which Mr. Lockwood remains absent from the Grange. During this period Heathcliff dies, and Ellen Dean goes to the Heights as its housekeeper. These incidents are recounted by Ellen Dean, who relates to him in detail how Heathcliff died. Thus, before the story ends it once again travels back in time in Ellen Dean's narrative. This is the final "Flash-Black" in Wuthering Heights.

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