The Conflict Between Nature and Culture in Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and a Room with a View by E.M.Forster

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“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” - Jean-Jacques Rousseau Many readers enjoy ‘Wuthering Heights’ as a form of escapism, a flight from reality into the seclusion and eerie mists of the Yorkshire moors, where the supernatural seems commonplace and the searing passion between Catherine and Heathcliff absolute. Yet Wuthering Heights reaches much further than its atmospheric setting, exploring the complexities of family relationships and Victorian society’s restrictions; similarly, in ‘A Room with a View’, E.M. Forster expands the relationship between Lucy and George to address wider social issues. Both novels explore and dramatise the conflict between human nature and society, between nature and culture. Both Emily Brontë and Forster use setting to represent nature and civilisation. In Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights symbolises the wildness of nature, whereas Thrushcross Grange embodies comfort and civilisation, protected from the violence and tumult of the moors by surrounding walls. All the particularly vicious acts are committed in Wuthering Heights, such as Hindley’s abuse of Heathcliff and his own mistreatment of Hareton; thus Wuthering Heights is inextricably linked to aggression and violence, both through the “atmospheric tumult” of the weather that surrounds the house and its inhabitants. Architecturally, Thrushcross Grange is a more luxurious house than Wuthering Heights (Lockwood describes it as “grotesque” in its decoration, the harsh diction exaggerating his distaste). The moors are a literal wilderness surrounding the two houses, acting as a constant antagonist in the lives of the characters; and as a means of diminishing the importance of human culture by comparison with nature’s sheer power. Forster separates the natural and the civilised world by using different cultural values in contrast to each other. Forster uses the distinction between the freedom of Italian culture which Lucy glimpses through the window, and the stiff propriety of the drawing room if the pension, the representation of Edwardian English society in Italy. Repressed by Charlotte and clinging to her Baedeker, Lucy struggles at first to free herself from the idea of how a well mannered, cultured young Lady should behave within the normal constraints of English society. Just as Lucy is changed by the influence of Italy, Cathy is also transformed by the confinement of Thrushcross Grange. She and Heathcliff are looking through the window, mocking Edgar and Isabella Linton, the two, seemingly well mannered children that live there. Bronte stages it so that the two sets of children mirror each other, the savage on one side of the glass, and the “well-brought-up” on the other. However, Bronte is not schematic in using the setting to contrast the representations of nature and civility, but complicates the matter. Edgar and Isabella are shut on the inside, and although Heathcliff and Cathy admire the material elegance of Thrushcross Grange, (“we would have thought ourselves in heaven!”), Heathcliff says “I’d not exchange a thousand lives, my condition here, for Edgar Linton’s at the Grange” – acting as a critic of the Lintons artificial social refinement. Behind this facade lies a true savagery of character, with Isabella “screaming as if witches were running red hot needles into her”. It is made clear by his observations of the Lintons, that Heathcliff’s outlook is more down-to-earth, despite his rough outward appearance. Likewise, George, lacking the refinement and gentility of an Edwardian gentleman, has a deeper understanding of life beyond the niceties of society, thus enabling him to love Lucy on a deeper level than Cecil, demonstrating the extent to which social conventions are a barrier to life and love. Cathy, bitten by a dog and taken inside the Grange, is not only removed from her wild surroundings, but also from her uninhibited childhood with Heathcliff, with whom she shares fierce disdain for conformity. Together,...
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