PLOT & STORY
The plot is designed in three parts: Chapters 1-3, Introduction; Chapters 4 (Volume 1) to chapter16 (Volume 2), Nelly’s report of the story; last four chapters, Hareton and Cathy’s relationship. In general, The plot is dense and fast moving. The first three chapters take place in 1801, when Mr. Lockwood meet Heathcliff (his landlord) in Wuthering Heights. There, he also meets Hareton Earnshaw, Cathy Linton, Joseph and Zillah. The strange behaviour of the inhabitants and his nightmare, make him feel curiosity about them. Back in Thrushcross Grange, he asks his servant, Nelly, to tell the story of Heathcliff’s life. From chapter 4 (Vol.1) to chapter 17 (Vol.2), Nelly narrates the story of the first generation – Catherine Earnshaw, her brother Hindley and her sister-in-law Isabella – This story ends in chapter 3 (Vol.2), when Heathcliff becomes the owner of Wuthering Heights. Then, Nelly continues the story talking about the second generation – Cathy Linton, Linton Heathcliff and Hareton Earnshaw – Heathcliff, Edgar Linton, Nelly and Joseph are present in both generations. Afterwards, Mr. Lockwood leaves the place after a visit to Wuthering Heights where he observes the growing love between Cathy and Hareton (chapter17, Vol.2). Lockwood comes back some months later and Nelly tells him the end of the story, which is also the end of Heathcliff, and the future wedding of Hareton and Cathy.
Mr. Earnshaw found him in Liverpool and he took him to Wuthering Heights. His origins are unknown and this gives him an air of mystery. As a child, the first impressions we get of him are through Nelly’s words; for her, he is “a dirty, ragged, black-haired child”, “as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (chapter 4,vol.1). But, as an adult, Mr. Lockwood describes him as “a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman”(chapter1, vol.1) and he also tell us that “he had an erect and handsome figure” (chapter 1,vol.1). Those descriptions are contradictory but it is due to the author ambiguous treatment of Heathcliff; we are sympathetic to him and horrified by him. This also makes the character complex and lifelike. As a complex character, it is difficult to describe him completely but we can say he is a man of action, closely related to nature (to the moors and the atmosphere of Wuthering Heights), and with very powerful feelings. He would represent passion beyond the social, the ordinary.
She is passionate and tough as Heathcliff, to whom she shares his “wild” life till she has to stay with the Lintons. After that, she shows two sides; one related to nature, rebel... and the other attached to social conventions, arrogant, sometimes cruel... Her decision to follow the social conventions and get married with Edgar Linton will bring unhappiness to everybody, especially Heathcliff. She’s trapped by her own decision and this will continue after here death, She will not have peace. (She becomes a ghost).
He is a displeasing character. Jealous, cruel... He is Heathcliff’s first enemy. His personal weakness takes him to sink into depravity; he becomes alcoholic, loses all his properties gambling and leaves his son in Heathcliff’s hands. Like Joseph, this character contributes to the atmosphere of the novel.
He is an educated and pleasant man, but at the same time coward and weak. He is one of the main objects of Heathcliff’s revenge. Through Nelly’s eyes, we usually see his positive qualities but through Heathcliff and sometimes Catherine, he looks insipid and paltry. He is a victim and must suffer because Catherine chooses him rather than her true love. The dislike we feel toward him at the beginning turns into pity when he marries Catherine. He represents conventional things, civilisation.
Isabella is similar to her brother although she seems stronger because she defies conventions and marries Heathcliff, and later, she has the courage to abandon him. She is more passionate than her brother, both loving and hating and her function in the novel is to be a tragic puppet.
She is a strong, positive and good girl. She is passionate but the quality of her love is very different to her mother’s. She is also arrogant and cruel with Hareton as her mother was with Heathcliff. But it is through her love to Hareton that something of the evil in the novel is redeemed.
Through the degradation of this character, Heathcliff takes revenge on Hindley. Hareton becomes a rough and bad tempered boy. (He resembles Heathcliff). But we also see that there could be some hope for him, for example, when he steals Cathy’s books to improve himself. The power of Cathy’s love changes him into an educated and handsome young man.
He is an unpleasant character. Everybody despises him except Cathy. He is a puppet in Heathcliff’s hands. Physically, he looks like his mother and his uncle but he is extremely selfish, this reminds us his father. He contributes to the plot giving to Heathcliff the possibility of inheriting Thrushcross Grange through his marriage with Cathy so Heathcliff can complete his revenge.
He has little to do with the plot but contributes to the atmosphere of Wuthering Heights. His strong dialect of Yorkshire helps to give realism to his character. He is very religious and this is a contrast with the lack of morality in some characters. But, truly, he is a hypocrite, unable to love and a bad tempered man.
She is the principal narrator of the story. She is a practical woman and a good nurse. Nelly is the confidante of most of the major characters and also of other characters whom Heathcliff has forced to suffer (Isabella). She is not a passive woman, She advises the characters and at the end, It is she who encourages Cathy to lead Hareton back to humanity.
Mr. Lockwood is one of the principal narrators. He is a city gentleman and declares himself a misanthropist. The fact that he is a strange in that land, his behaviour and the differences between him and the rest of the characters makes him a comic figure, although it also gives realism to the story.
There are also other characters less important than these, as Zillah, Doctor Kenneth, Hindley’s wife...
The action takes place in the Moors of Yorkshire. The characteristic weather of this region is so important that gives the title to the novel; Wuthering Heights. At the beginning of the novel, Mr. Lockwood explains the meaning of “Wuthering”, it is a “provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather” (chapter 1, vol.1), and stormy are the events which take place inside Wuthering Heights as well as outside. “Heights” could be related to the almost metaphysical love between Catherine and Heathcliff or to the extreme feelings of some characters. The landscape and the weather are also reflected in the characters (pathetic fallacy), this is a gothic element of the novel. The wild, uncivilised moors are like the wild, uncivilised people who live there, and the same can be applied to Thrushcross Grange. The second generation will be a mixture of both environments. In Wuthering Heights, we can also see the contrast of two different worlds; one represented by Wuthering Heights and the other by Thrushcross Grange. In terms of the gothic novel, Wuthering Heights would be the demonic world and Thrushcross Grange the idyllic world. The first one is a stormy world, uncivilised, isolated, wild... but also a functional place, while Thrushcross Grange is the world of calm, domestic, civilised... a place for leisure.
The story of Wuthering Heights is told through a series of flashbacks. First, the action takes place in 1801, when Lockwood visits Wuthering Heights (first three chapters). Then, Nelly’s story situated us in the past, in1771. She narrates the story of the first generation and afterwards there is a pause. When she continues the narration, twelve years have gone by, we are in 1796, and she tells us the story of the second generation. Nelly stops her narration and Lockwood takes us to the future, 1802, when he visits Wuthering Heights before he abandons the moors. But the same year, in September, he comes back and we go back to the past as Nelly tells him the end of the story. We noticed that the story begins almost in its climax (chapter 3), this could be a device of the author to create an atmosphere of mystery and suspense.
The narrative techniques are that of a story within a story. Except the events Lockwood experiences himself at the beginning and at the end of the novel, Nelly narrates the rest of the story to Lockwood and he translates it to the readers. There are two interruptions in Nelly’s narration; Isabella Linton’s letter and what Zillah tells to Nelly. Both interruptions belong to moments in which Nelly is not present. But all the narrators are characters; all belong to the story. Lockwood as a narrator is not reliable, he cannot understand the characters, we can see this in his incapacity to understand Heathcliff and Catherine’s love: “I could fancy a love for life here almost possible; and I was a fixed unbeliever in a love of a year’s standing” (chapter 7, vol.1). Beside this, Lockwood is an stranger in the region and the houses and he needs a guide: Nelly. She is an eyewitness, although it could mean prejudice. The fact that there is no omniscient narrator, that there is a third person who place reliance on the events, that we see the story through the eyes of ordinary people and the multiplicity of points of view, make the story much more credible.
Part of the story is developed in dialogues between a few characters. In those dialogues the language is direct, simple, with a lot of metaphors. Through them, the characters express their feelings, their passion... Dialogue also helps to give realism to the story, especially, the character of Joseph and his Yorkshire dialect.
Descriptions are very important to create the peculiar atmosphere of the novel. Although there are little direct descriptions of the landscape, they reinforce the gothic element within the story. This is closely related to the “pathetic fallacy”, the writer assumes that nature (either weather or landscape) is like the moods of her characters, here, we see the moors in harmony with the characters, and this is idea is central to Wuthering Heights. According to some critics, the descriptions of the interior of the house have many resemblance with the prose of Walter Scott. Descriptions are also important in the characterisation of the characters, physically and psychologically.
Regarding comments, we see that sometimes, Nelly stops the narration to make some comments or judgements about the characters. Nelly is somehow involved in the story so it is normal that she gives her opinions, that is why she is partial, but at the same time, it gives credibility to the story because she helps us to see the contrast between the world of passions (romantic element of the story), and the conventional world (realistic element of the novel). Also, through these comments, we get a picture of the narrator’s personality.
In my opinion, the main subject of the novel is love, but different varieties of love represented in different couples (Heathcliff & Catherine, Catherine & Edgar, Cathy & Linton, Cathy & Hareton). Other subjects which appear in the novel are the attachment or not to the social conventions, the mental and physical decay of people, revenge and hatred... But the most important is the contrast between “romantic” love (Heathcliff & Catherine) and conventional love (Cathy & Hareton).
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Oxford World’s Classics.