Wuthering Heights Essay

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Explore the role and function of the narrators in Wuthering Heights

Ellis Bell was criticised not only for the novel's blasphemous nature and violent plot but a lack of conclusive moral. It seems freedom of expression was tolerated as long as the reader was left in no doubt of the righteous path. Bronte liberates the reader from this sense of duty and distinguishes her novel from its Victorian contemporaries. Helping to accomplish this task is her style of narration, being unusually structured in the concentric circles of Lockwood and Nelly Dean.

Lockwood descends on the Yorkshire moors, like the reader unaware of the turbulence that the ‘beautiful country' conceals. I have read that Bronte's original purpose of the book was to show Lockwood the meaning of love and her choice of name, ‘Lockwood', implies a depth that is not on display nor easy to withdraw. (From this respect it is an ambitious novel for Emily Bronte to attempt as her life is from all accounts barren of much romantic attachment. Perhaps her impression of love mimics Isabella Linton's adoration for a Byronic Heathcliff, an ideal never quite within reach.) Lockwood strikes me as a character who is much astonished by his own intelligence, he dilutes his account of the Heights with Latinate words and pompous expressions, ‘relaxed a little in the laconic style of chipping off his pronouns and auxiliary verbs'. Either this is an early indication of his arrogance, later confirmed by his unlikely fear that Catherine would regret a union with Hareton on observing how ‘tolerably attractive' he was or possibly the ‘primitive' nature of the Heights provokes him to use language that he associates with civilised society in order to feel comfortable in an evidently uneasy situation. If this be the case Bronte mocks the established politeness of introduction showing his language to be simply a façade disguising his unsettled emotions. This language helps him to preserve his detached demeanour as only once is the reader given an insight to his insecure character. He relates an amusing incident in which a ‘goddess' he professed to be in love with hinted at a reciprocation of feeling that unfortunately caused him to flee rabbit-like, rapidly lessening the warmth of his ‘glances'. This minor incident demonstrates his inability to handle complex emotions and in comparison to the forthcoming passion of Cathy and Heathcliff, Lockwood appears all the more sheltered. It is as though a distant relative of the Lintons has come to call.

Despite his elevated language the reader cannot help feeling cynical of Lockwood's account due to his early blunders. Mistaking ‘a heap of dead rabbits' for ‘an obscure cushion full of something like cats' does not inspire confidence. On observing Catherine he immediately concludes that she is ‘Mrs Heathcliff' and exerts himself to gallantry, ‘. . . with your amiable lady as the presiding genius'. His efforts fall a little flat but I think Lockwood highlights in context this assumption that the lady must be married. The stranger is confronted with Catherine's rage, introducing a theme of female power that will become a major focus of the novel. Bronte is challenging the demure female stereotype whose sole object is marriage. Previously Catherine had demanded Lockwood if he had been invited ‘to tea' to which he had replied ‘No . . . You are the proper person to ask me.' This comment illustrates the place of a woman in the social sphere - as a ‘beneficent fairy' to keep house.

Perhaps the most striking error Lockwood makes, although its absurdity is not apparent until later, is his judgement of Heathcliff's character. He firstly proclaims him to be ‘A capital fellow' and having exchanged a brief, barely polite conversation judges him to ‘love and hate equally under cover' whose ‘reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling'. Bronte draws this sketch with bitter irony, revealing how mistaken our initial...
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