Wuthering Heights: Chapter 4 - Summary & Analysis

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      After his strange experience at the Heights, Lockwood is naturally curious and asks Nelly Dean, the housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange, when she brings his supper, to tell him what she knows of their neighbors at Wuthering Heights.

      She is ready to do so, for, in her younger days almost all of her time had been spent at the Heights. Her mother had nursed Hindley Earnshaw and she (Nelly) herself had lived with the family doing various odd jobs.

      Nelly, launches into her story telling, how, many years before, Mr. Earnshaw, father of Hindley and Catherine returns from Liverpool, carrying a great bundle, and his great coat. It turns out to be a dirty, ragged, black-haired child, whose language no one can understand. Mr Earnshaw had picked him up from the streets of Liverpool starving and homeless.

      His wife and children refuse at first to welcome the gypsy child. Catherine however becomes friendly with him after a time. He also becomes Mr. Earnshaw's favorite much to Hindley's hatred and jealousy. He is named Heathcliff after a son who had died.

      Mrs. Earnshaw dies two years after Heathcliff's arrival. The children all come down with measles and Nelly takes charge of them. She finds Heathcliff very patient and uncomplaining. However, she realizes that it is hardness, not gentleness that makes him a good and uncomplaining patient.

      Hindley treats Heathcliff brutally but Heathcliff always manages to get what he wants (for eg. the better horse) by threatening to tell Mr. Earnshaw of his ill-treatment. This however, only drives a deeper wedge of hatred between Hindley and Heathcliff.

Critical Analysis

      The story as told by Nelly begins to reveal the characters of the principal protagonists. Heathcliff is seen as a ragamuffin child, unloved and rejected initially by everyone in the family. It is Catherine who first makes a move to befriend him and this we see will account for Heathcliff's life long passionate and violent love for her.

      However, he is a difficult child and the streak of cruelty is already evident when he frequently torments Hindley. As, Nelly rightly observes, Heathcliff brings trouble to the Earnshaw family from the beginning. By supplanting Hindley in Mr. Earnshaw's affection, the seeds of hatred and rivalry are already sown between the two. It explains Hindley's harsh treatment of Heathcliff when he eventually becomes the master of Wuthering Heights on the death of his father.

      The chronological tale begins from this chapter and Nelly's narrative takes us back in time to the year 1771, when Catherine is six, Hindley fourteen and Heathcliff was first brought to Wuthering Heights. References to age and dates enable us to trace very accurately the chronology of the whole story.

      The multiple narration method is thus extended to include Nelly's story within Lockwood narrative. Lockwood's narration has been objective because he is a stranger and an outsider. Nelly story however, is the story as told by an insider. She is familiar with the events she is describing. The reader as well as Lockwood is thus able to gain a new insight into the life, incidents and characters at Wuthering Heights.

      The story Nelly tells may be strange and mysterious but the setting itself is very commonplace as the story is told beside the fire on a winter's night with a passive listener and the narrator quietly sewing as she speaks.

      Another interesting feature of the narrative style is that both Lockwood and Nelly reproduce the dialogues—the spoken words of the protagonists themselves.

      Nelly's language has a colourful turn of phrase and is full of similes and metaphors drawn from the everyday life around her: 'Rough as a saw-edge' 'hard as whins tone', 'uncomplaining as a lamb'.

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