Wuthering Heights: Chapter 17 - Summary & Analysis

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      The bright, cheerful weather of the preceding three weeks breaks on the evening of the funeral and storm and wind and snow set in. The next day Nelly turns the parlor into a nursery and as she is sitting with the crying baby in her arms, Isabella rushes in, breathless and hysterical. She is dripping wet, her face is scratched and bruised and she has a deep cut under one ear. She throws her wedding ring on the floor and then drops it into the fire. Changing into fresh clothes and over a cup of tea, she tells Nelly of her escape from Heathcliff and the Heights.

      For the past week, she tells Nelly, Heathcliff has almost been a stranger at the Heights. Hindley intending to go to Catherine's funeral, has remained sober overnight but begins to drink heavily in the morning and is thus unable to go to the church. He and Isabella stay at home all day. When Heathcliff returns at midnight he finds the backdoor locked. Hindley locks the front door too and plans to kill him as he tries to get in. Isabella however warns Heathcliff that Hindley is ready with a knife and loaded gun. Just as Heathcliff breaks through the window Hindley tries unsuccessfully to kill him and is himself injured. Heathcliff continues to kick and beat his unconscious adversary. He silences Joseph who makes a fuss about Hindley's condition and shakes Isabella till her teeth rattle.

      The next morning Hindley looks very weak and sick. Heathcliff is stunned with grief. Isabella sympathizes with Hindley and taunts Heathcliff and goads him into throwing a knife at her. It cuts her beneath the ear, but she flees from the room and manages to escape across the moor to the Grange.

      Now that her tale is told she wants Nelly to arrange for a carriage to drive her away to the village of Gimmerton from where she intends to go somewhere else. Isabella then leaves by the coach which Nelly has ordered for her to kiss her brother Edgar's and Cathy's portraits. She makes her way to London where a few months later she gives birth to a son who is named Linton. Heathcliff takes no immediate steps but tells Nelly that he will take his son's custody whenever it pleases him. Nelly explains, that this time does not arrive until Linton is twelve years old and after Isabella's death.

      Six months after the death of Catherine, Hindley too dies, following a night of drinking.

      Heathcliff is now master of Wuthering Heights as Hindley has gambled every tiling away and Heathcliff holds the mortgage. Hindley is left destitute and Heathcliff's intention is to keep Hareton and see, 'if one tree won't grow as crooked as another'.

Critical Analysis

      The narrative perspective shifts once again to include Isabella's interpolated story.

      Several dramatic developments take place in this long chapter: Isabella's escape from Heathcliff and her subsequent departure to London where Linton is born, the fight between Hindley and Heathcliff, the death of Hindley, the death of Isabella, and thirteen years after the death of Cathy. The contrast between Heathcliff and Edgar is continued. Edgar becomes a hermit in his grief for Cathy. Heathcliff on the other hand is violent even in grief; he spends sleepless nights and sheds profuse tears; not eating a meal for nearly a week after Cathy's death.

      Heathcliff decision to rear Hareton crookedly is significant. It harks back to Hindley's rough treatment of Heathcliff which has brutalized him permanently. Isabella's description of Heathcliff: 'sharpe annibalteeth,' 'basilisk eyes', ’clouded windows of hell' 'fiend' all present a picture of one not truly human and, when Nelly claims, 'He's a human being,' Isabella denies it.

      This chapter is the halfway mark in the novel. The characters of the first and second generation are all dead except Edgar and Heathcliff. The births of Cathy and Linton herald the opening of the story of the third generation.

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