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Literary Criticism of Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is not just a love story, it is a


window into the human soul, where one sees the loss,
suffering, self discovery, and triumph of the
characters in this novel. Both the Image of the Book
by Robert McKibben, and Control of Sympathy in
Wuthering Heights by John Hagan, strive to prove
that neither Catherine nor Heathcliff are to blame for
their wrong doings. Catherine and Heathcliff’s
passionate nature, intolerable frustration, and
overwhelming loss have ruined them, and thus
stripped them of their humanities.

McKibben and Hagan take different approaches to


Wuthering Heights, but both approaches work
together to form one unified concept. McKibben
speaks of Wuthering Heights as a whole, while Hagan
concentrates on only sympathies role in the novel.
McKibben and Hagan both touch on the topic of
Catherine and Heathcliff’s passionate nature. To this,
McKibben recalls the scene in the book when
Catherine is "in the throes of her self-induced illness"
(p38). When asking for her husband, she is told by
Nelly Dean that Edgar is "among his books," and she
cries, "What in the name of all that feels has he to do
with books when I am dying." McKibben shows that
while Catherine is making a scene and crying, Edgar
is in the library handling Catherine’s death in the only
way he knows how, in a mild mannered approach. He
lacks the passionate ways in which Catherine and
Heathcliff handle ordeals. During this scene
Catherine’s mind strays back to childhood and she
comes to realize that "the Linton’s are alien to her and
exemplify a completely foreign mode of perception"
(p38). Catherine discovers that she would never
belong in Edgar’s society. On her journey of self-
discovery, she realized that she attempted the
impossible, which was to live in a world in which she
did not belong. This, in the end, lead to her death.
Unlike her mother, when Cathy enters The Heights,
"those images of unreal security found in her books
and Thrushhold Grange are confiscated, thus leading
her to scream, "I feel like death!" With the help of
Hareton, Cathy learns not to place her love within a
self created environment, but in a real life where she
will be truly happy. The character’s then reappear as
reconciled, and stability and peace once more return
to The Heights.

Hagan, when commenting on Catherine’s passionate


nature, recalls the same scene when Catherine is
near death. Hagan shows, like McKibben, that
Catherine has an ability to love with fierce passion,
something that only herself and Heathcliff share. "I’ll
not be there by myself; they may bury me twelve feet
deep, and throw the church down over me, but I won’t
rest til you are with me. I never will" (p108). Hagan
shows that by Emily Bronte’s use of sympathy, the
reader cannot pass moral judgment on the
characters. Even though Catherine is committing
adultery, and Heathcliff is planning a brutal career of
revenge, the reader still carries sympathy for them.
Because Catherine chose to marry Edgar, she
created a disorder in their souls. Bronte, Hagan says,
modifies our hostile response to Catherine and
Heathcliff by always finding a way to express their
misery.

McKibben’s and Hagan’s ideas interlock when


commenting on the apparent frustration that both
Catherine and Heathcliff face throughout the novel.
McKibben concentrates on Catherine’s frustration and
hopelessness when she realizes that she never
belonged on Thrushhold Grange. Hagan recalls the
emptiness and frustration Heathcliff encountered
when he came back to The Heights to find Catherine
married to Edgar. The atmosphere of Thrushhold
Grange is that of normalcy and convention. McKibben
goes farther to explain that convention is "merely an
accepted method of simplifying reality." By simplifying
her life, Catherine assumes that she will avoid all of
the unpleasant aspects of life. Sadly, she ended up
doing just the opposite. Catherine pretended to be
something that she’s not, and by doing so lead her to
a life of hidden frustration. When Heathcliff found out
that Catherine was married to Edgar, he decided that
the only way to get even with Edgar was to marry
Isabella. Because of his marriage, Catherine became
so sick with jealousy and plain frustration that she
ended up killing herself. The years after Catherine’s
death were so empty and full of regret and frustration
that Heathcliff ultimately also ends up killing himself.
Hagan and McKibben both end their analysis with the
idea of Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s overwhelming
loss. Catherine’s self discovery of a wasted life leads
her to her death. She faces at the end what she
refused to see during her life. She and Heathcliff had
always belonged together. Although Edgar was a
good man, he could never share the blind passion
that Catherine and Heathcliff had. Shortly after
Catherine’s death, Heathcliff is driven to madness by
the thought that only "two yards of loose earth are the
sole barrier between us" (p229). He opens her casket
in the hopes of holding her in his arms once again,
only to find that she is gone, and the only way to
reunite with her is through death. By showing
Heathcliff’s misery, Bronte, Hagan comments, " uses
symapthy to modify our hostile response to his cruel
treatment of Isabella and his unjust scorn of Edgar"
(p73).

Hagan and McKibben, though they use different


approaches, concentrate on the same basic points.
They proved that the reader stripes both Heathcliff
and Catherine of all their evils because they were not
in a state of mind to think rationally. Bronte’s use of
sympathy is so well done that the reader continues to
view Heathcliff and Catherine as victims, rather than
immoral and corrupt villains. Hagan states that in the
end, "we do not condone their outrages, but neither
do we merely condemn them. We do something
larger and more important: we recognize in them the
tragedy of passionate natures whom intolerable
frustration and loss have stripped them of their
humanity" (p75).