Wuthering Heights: Chapter 11 - Summary & Analysis

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      Nelly is constantly worried about Hindley living at the Heights with Heathcliff his sworn enemy. She decides to visit him and warn him against harboring a guest like Heathcliff. She does not meet Hindley but at the gate she sees Hareton who neither recognizes nor remembers her. Hareton throws stones at her and abuses and curses her, behaving like a savage, a ruffian. From his remarks, she gathers that Heathcliff encourages his bad behavior especially towards his father.

      On Heathcliff's next visit to the Grange, Nelly sees him embracing Isabella in the garden and she draws Catherine's attention to it. When Heathcliff comes in, Cathy scolds him. There is a quarrel with Heathcliff angrily accusing Cathy of treating him insufferably. Cathy is torturing him. Similarly, he will torture others and plans to take revenge on those who have wronged him though he adds that he seeks no revenge on Cathy herself.

      Nelly goes and informs Edgar of the quarrel between his wife and Heathcliff. He tells her to call two of the man-servants and proceeds to the kitchen where Cathy and Heathcliff are still quarreling. Edgar harshly abuses Heathcliff and tells him, "Your presence is a moral poison that would contaminate the most virtuous". His words and manner annoy Cathy who locks the door and throws the key into the fire to prevent the servants from entering. Cathy and Heathcliff scorn at Edgar's weakness and provoked beyond endurance he strikes Heathcliff and goes out through the back door to fetch the servants. Heathcliff, on Cathy's plea, breaks the inner lock and escapes hurriedly.

      Edgar comes back and clearly tells Cathy that she can either have him or Heathcliff. Cathy does not reply but becomes hysterical dashing her head against the sofa and grinding her teeth. She locks herself in her room but Nelly imagines it to be merely a fit of spiteful rage and is not unduly worried.

Critical Analysis

      The transformation of Hareton into an uncouth ragamuffin is part of Heathcliff's revenge on Hindley. It reveals a sinister aspect of Heathcliff's character, who is ready to ruin a child's life to avenge himself. It is also one of the many transformations that take place in the novel.

      Heathcliff's flirtation with Isabella evokes very strong reactions and leads to a quarrel first between him and Cathy and later between him and Edgar eventually leading to Cathy's mental agitation and estrangement from Edgar. Nelly feels strongly about Heathcliff's flirtation and even calls him "Judas!," "Traitor!" Cathy is furious with Heathcliff. Her agitation reveals her confused state of mind. She is conscious of her deep attachment to Heathcliff; yet she does not find him to be a suitable husband for Isabella; she is aware of her duty towards her husband Edgar, she wants to be faithful wife, but is drawn to Heathcliff. As Edgar points out, she cannot have both and this dilemma results in her nervous breakdown.

      Heathcliff appears more diabolic and devilish than ever. Deliberately he has ruined Hareton and he speaks also of his plans for revenge. He says he will make the most of Isabella's passion for him and his final words to Cathy are: "By hell, I'll crush his (Edgar's) ribs like a rotten hazel-nut before I cross the threshold! If I don't floor him now, I shall murder him some time."

      This chapter contains, too, the first of several incidents in which various characters are locked in the rooms. Keys and doors are symbols of domination. Here, Catherine tries to impose her will on Heathcliff and Edgar. She locks herself away, believing that if she starves herself, her physical condition will cause Edgar anxiety and thus cause him to submit to her wishes.

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