How does Bronte shape the reader’s response to Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff?

(Short essay on the introduction to Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” and the character Heathcliff, 2012.)

How does Bronte shape the reader’s response to Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff in chapters 1-3?

In the opening three chapters of Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, the reader is given contrasting views of Heathcliff regarding his personality and demeanour, however the description and atmosphere of WutheringHeights itself stays similar throughout the opening chapters.

From the beginning of chapter one, through simple description of his face, Heathcliff comes across as rather mysterious. ‘I beheld his black eyes withdrawn so suspiciously under their brows’, by stating Heathcliff’s eyes are ‘black’ and ‘withdrawn so suspiciously’ Bronte creates the impression that Heathcliff may be untrustworthy or evil. Furthermore, by Heathcliff reply of a nod when questioned by Mr. Lockwood inquiring about his identity enforces the sense of mystery around him.

The reader’s first impression of WutheringHeights comes across as threatening through violent lexis used in Lockwood’s description of the building. ‘Bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times…excessive slant of a few stunted firs…range of gaunt thorns…narrow windows deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.’ By using such lexis, an aggressive atmosphere is associated with WutheringHeights before Lockwood has entered the building. The ‘gaunt thorns’ Lockwood mentions suggest that the building and its tenants are unwelcoming of outsiders which Lockwood finds to be true in following chapters. Moreover, Wuthering Heights’ ‘narrow windows’ and ‘corners defended with large jutting stones’ imply the building is prepared for attack, adding to the hostile atmosphere. Lockwood also notices a selection of weaponry in the house, ‘villainous old guns, and a couple of horse pistols,’ emphasising that the house is prepared to defend itself or be a threat if need be. Use of the adjective ‘villainous’ may imply the nature of the tenants of Wuthering Heights, emphasising the feeling of threat.

Heathcliff is stated by Lockwood to be a ‘complete contrast to his abode and style of living’ but Lockwood’s first, short, description seems to fit him comfortably within Wuthering Heights. However Lockwood’s full description of Heathcliff presents many contrasts within his character. ‘A dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manors a gentleman…an erect and handsome figure…people might suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride’. This clearly shows that Heathcliff is a complex character. By describing him as ‘a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manors a gentleman’ shows that he acts better than his cultural background would suggest. These contrasts also show he may be able to act as required in different situations, reinforcing the initial impression that he is untrustworthy. ‘He’ll love and hate, equally under cover’ show more contrasts in Heathcliff’s character and ‘under cover’ further implies he can hide his true motives or feelings when needs be. His apparent ‘impertinence to be loved or hated again’ shows a possible cynical attitude towards companionship.

Towards the end of chapter one, Heathcliff appears friendlier towards Lockwood. ‘Here take a little wine. Guests are so exceedingly rare in this house that I…hardly know how to receive them. Your health, sir!’ Heathcliff’s modesty in not knowing how to greet guests suggests his earlier attitude and almost hostility towards Lockwood were merely out habit of being unsociable. However before Heathcliff offers Lockwood wine Bronte writes ‘His countenance relaxed into a grin’, Bronte’s use of ‘grin’ rather than ‘smile’ may suggest sarcasm in his offering to Lockwood instead of a genuine attempt at friendship.

The reader’s impression that Wuthering Heights is unwelcoming of visitors is suggested from the beginning of chapter two, as evident by the tenants’ unwillingness to answer Lockwood as he attempts to escape the snow. ‘Wretched inmates…you deserve perpetual isolation from your species for your churlish inhospitality.’ Bronte describing the Heights’ residents ‘wretched’ becomes more fitting as the chapter progresses. Furthermore, calling the tenants ‘inmates’ likens Wuthering Heights to a prison which is reinforced as Lockwood is essentially stranded there as none of the occupants are willing to guide him back to Thrushcross Grange,

Heathcliff comes across as very condescending and unwelcoming in chapter two when he scolds Lockwood for coming to Wuthering Heights during a snowstorm, ‘I wonder you should select a snow-storm to ramble about in.’ However, although Heathcliff says Lockwood has ‘rambled’ towards Wuthering Heights, which comes across as him criticising Lockwood’s foolishness, this may be appropriate as Lockwood is new to the area and likely not to know it well. When Lockwood mistakes ‘Mrs. Heathcliff’ to be Heathcliff’s wife he seems to take pleasure in mocking his mistake, ‘My amiable lady…you would intimate that her spirit has taken the post of ministering angel…’ If at the end of chapter one Heathcliff is considered to be making a genuine attempt at friendship with Lockwood then this shows a remarkable change in character and further implies Heathcliff has no time for foolishness and doesn’t like to be intruded upon. However it is more likely Heathcliff’s attitude toward Lockwood previously was sarcasm, if so this is very in character for him.

Bronte uses a semantic field of threat to show dangerous atmosphere of Wuthering Heights. ‘He fixed his eye on me longer than I cared to return the stare…dismal spiritual atmosphere…neutralized the glowing physical comforts around me’. By contrasting this with Lockwood calling the situation ‘a pleasant family circle’ it emphasises the threat towards Lockwood and greatly suggests the residents want him to leave.

Wuthering Heights becomes further intimidating when Catherine begins to argue with Joseph over witchcraft. ‘I’ll show you how far I’ve progressed in the black art…your rheumatism can hardly be reckoned among providential visitations.’ By saying she is the cause of Joseph’s rheumatism may be an attempt to scare Lockwood away however it may be to worry Joseph as it is made clear he is very religious, ‘may the Lord deliver us from evil!’ Shortly after this Lockwood is attacked by two dogs that are ‘more bent on stretching their paws and yawning’. Although the dogs seem a threat to Lockwood they do not harm him, this may be a metaphor for Catherine professing her skills in sorcery when really Josephs rheumatism worsening is coincidence and not by her hand.

Heathcliff is also presented as vigilant over his property. ‘No, no! A stranger is a stranger, be he rich or poor – it will not suit me to permit any one the range of the place while I am off guard.’ Although previously stated to be uncaring of people, this shows a side of Heathcliff that is protective, however it is more likely Heathcliff is protective over what he owns rather than the safety of people he lives with. Also Heathcliff and Lockwood’s roles from chapter one are also reversed as Lockwood now appears untrustworthy to Heathcliff.

Chapter three begins with a sense of mystery surrounding Wuthering Heights as Lockwood isn’t allowed to stay in a certain room. ‘Never let anybody lodge there willingly.’ The impression of mystery increases as Lockwood finds names carved into the window ledge, ‘Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and again to Catherine Linton.’ As the names Earnshaw and Heathcliff have previously been mentioned, Bronte builds tension surrounding the mystery of WutheringHeights and why Heathcliff keeps Lockwood’s room off limits.

In this chapter Heathcliff’s past and his relationship with Catherine Earnshaw is briefly explored. Heathcliff is shown to have misbehaved when he was younger, ‘Heathcliff kicked his to the same place.’ Which could imply that Heathcliff has always been unsociable and an outsider since his youth. However the reader is also made to feel sympathy for Heathcliff. ‘Poor Heathcliff! Hindley calls him a vagabond, and won’t let him sit with us, nor eat with us anymore.’ By stating a younger Heathcliff was treated badly, it offers the assumption that Heathcliff’s cold personality stems from mistreatment as a child. Finally Heathcliff’s outburst when Lockwood mentions Catherine Earnshaw, ‘What can you mean by talking to me in this way to me,’ highly suggests she was significant in his past and Bronte’s emphasis on ‘you’ and ‘me’ enforces the great feeling of insult Heathcliff feels after he has let Lockwood into his home.

F.Golding, 26th September 2012

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