I first read this book back in school for the English class and remember disliking it very much. The characters were too black and the story was too dark for my preference. But with my recent turning back to reading classics again, I felt maybe I should give this book another chance and see if my teenage prejudice was ill-founded. After this second reading, I can safely draw two conclusions. Yes, my prejudice was ill-founded, for I have not appreciated the characters in their given context, and yes, the characters are still black and the story too dark for my preference.
The story mainly revolves around Heathcliff, a young orphan adopted by the rich Earnshaw family. This action of Mr. Earnshaw, however, causes a rivalry and resentment between his natural son Hindley, and the adopted son, Heathcliff. After the demise of the father when Hindley became the master, Heathcliff tastes the flavour of ill-treatment. But the daughter of the family, Catherine Earnshaw, forms a close attachment to Heathcliff, and the two eventually become lovers of a sort. Heathcliff bears all abuse and contempt for the sake of Catherine to whom he is devoted. But Catherine’s fancy towards Edgar Linton, and the misinterpretation of a part conversation between Catherine and Ellen Dean, make Heathcliff believe that Catherine is indifferent to him. So he leaves only to come back three years later, a rich man, to avenge for all his grievances. This new Heathcliff was violent, wicked, and almost inhuman, and with him, Emily Bronte has created one of the darkest characters in the history of classics.
Emily Bronte has based the book on three different themes: love and despair, complexities of human nature, and similar to the contemporaries of her time, on the class difference. The relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine is one of love and despair, which sees the former ending up as a mad inhuman and the latter paying up with her life. With the use of dark and imperfect characters, Bronte accomplishes brilliance in portraying the prejudices of the human mind, the violent and wicked inclinations of humans, and the extremity of vengeance a human mind is capable of when injured. Catherine senior’s wavering between her true love Heathcliff and Edgar Linton, since the latter was similar in status her, and Catherine junior’s preference of Linton Heathcliff over Hareton although both of whom were her cousins, show how strong the class and status difference mattered at the time the author lived.
I had a serious issue with the narrator, however. This whole story was narrated by Mrs. Ellen Dean, the housekeeper. Mrs. Dean entertained a dislike for Heathcliff and Catherine senior from their younger days. This dislike was felt through most of her narration. So, one cannot truly rely on either the accuracy or the sincerity of her narrative. I’m truly surprised that Bronte used such a prejudiced narrator. It sort of affects the readers’ view of those two main characters. I sincerely wish Bronte had chosen an unbiased person as a narrator to recount this tragic tale.
The passionate, engaging writing style, the easy flow, and the beautiful metaphoric language of Emily Bronte have made Wuthering Heights a beautiful classical tragedy of the Victorian era. This second reading certainly altered my prejudices about the book, and though I still didn’t quite like the characters, I was able to appreciate them better.