The influence of childhood in its different ways, on the major characters in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” can be seen as a pervasive theme throughout the novel. Through an exploration of the relationship between the main characters, the theme of childhood’s influence is apparent. It can be said, as noted by Steve Davies, that the childhood of both protagonists Heathcliffe and Catherine, haunts them in their adult lives thus affecting their interactions with and their behavior towards other people in a negative way. However, through Bronte’s portrayal of Hareton and the younger Catherine, the redeeming qualities of the human spirit prevails as they overcome negative influences and memories of their childhood. They emerge at the conclusion of the novel as characters who are not “haunted” by their childhood and “its refusal to die away”, but as two people who have overcome adverse conditions in their past by seeking to improve their existence and personalities
It is evident in the novel through Emily Brontes portrayal of the character of Heathcliff, that revenge which stems from Heathcliffs relationships as a child, motivates him to become vindictive throughout his adulthood.
Heathcliff is introduced to the Earnshaw family upon Mr Earnshaw finding him in the streets of Liverpool, as an orphan. His introduction to the other Earnshaw family members is not well received, Heathcliff is referred to as “it” and is unwelcome by the Earnshaw children, Hindley and Catherine. This highlights a very unpleasant start to Heathcliffs childhood in the Earnshaw household.
Heathcliff develops a particularly negative relationship with Hindley, this starts at childhood and continues into adulthood. From the day Heathcliff enters the Earnshaw house Heathcliff felt nothing but hate from Hindley, the beatings and ill treatment that Hindley instilled on him, hardened Heathcliff and he formed a similar hatred for Hindley. An example of his unpleasant relationship can be seen when Mr Earnshaw gave Heathcliff and Hindley colts, on finding that his lame, Heathcliff informs Hindley, “You must exchange horses with me; I don’t like mine, and if you won’t I shall tell your father of the three thrashings you’ve given me this week, and show him my arm, which is black to the shoulder.” at which Hindley, ” cuffs him over the ears”, this argument concludes in Hindley beating Heathcliff but handing over his horse with a hateful remark, “take my colt…and I pray that he may break your neck”. In the end Heathcliff achieves what he wants.
This transcends into Heathcliffs adulthood and revenge motivates Heathcliff into returning to Wuthering Heights, as an adult to, “settle my score with Hindley”. He achieves this by aiding Hindley’s gambling, eventually taking away his home, resulting in Hindley dying “in debt” thus leaving Hindley’s son Hareton in Heathcliffs custody.
Heathcliff’s relationship with Hareton, allows Heathcliff to distinguish himself in Hareton, “Hareton seemed a personification of my youth”.
and in some ways Heathcliff wishes him to be the kind of son he wanted but never had “I’d have loved the lad had he been some one else”. Even though he empathizes with Hareton, he can not treat Hareton with kindness as he can not put aside the animosity, anger, and resentment he feels, which results from Hindley’s behavior towards him as a child.
Though initially unwelcome by Catherine, within a short period of time Heathcliff and Catherine form a very close bond, this relationship is the only positive relationship in Heathcliffs life, he loves her unconditionally and holds Catherine in high regard. “she is so immeasurably superior to them – to everybody on earth…”
This immense love for Catherine carries on into Heathcliffs adulthood. Heathcliffs departure from the Earnshaw house occurs on the evening of Catherine’s proposal to Edgar, he overhears her conversation with Nelly, upon hearing Catherine say, “it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff “, Heathcliff takes flight heartbroken. He returns to Thrushcross Grange an established gentlemen, unable to let go of this undying love for Catherine “I’ve fought through a bitter life since I last heard your voice, and you must forgive me, for I struggled only for you!” Catherine has made him suffer by marrying Edgar.
Heathcliffs vindictive nature is brought to the surface when a confrontation with Catherine mentions his plan of revenge ” I want you to be aware that I know you have treated me infernally – infernally!…and if you fancy I’ll suffer unrevenged, I’ll convince you of the contrary, in a very little while!”
Heathcliffs love for Catherine is a major motivator for his revenge on Edgar, who Heathcliff envied as a child, for taking away Catherine from him, for he thought that Catherine preferred Edgar’s company to his as Edgar was more refined. ” I wish I had light hair and fair skin, was dressed and behaved as well and had a chance of being as rich as he will be!”
Heathcliff returns to Thrushcross Grange, his love for Catherine still apparent which developed at childhood, cannot escape him, determined to see Catherine when he heard that she is gravely ill, upon him seeing her, he pours his heart out to her ” I have not broken your heart – you have broken it – and in breaking it , you have broken mine…would you like to live with your soul in the grave?” It is there last meeting before her death which took place shortly after the birth of her child the younger Catherine, this makes Heathcliff feel that the child just born has taken away his Catherine, Heathcliffs vengeful nature motivates him to revenge those who interferes with his relationship with Catherine, and his plan of revenge takes a new turn, to now involve the younger Catherine “I want the triumph of seeing my descendants fairly lord of their estates; my child hiring their children to till their fathers’ land for wages”, he does this this by manipulating the younger Catherine into falling in love with his son Linton then forcing them to marry, so upon Edgar’s death he gains his revenge on Edgar through taking away his daughter and his estate. Even though he revenges Edgar, for taking away his Catherine, the immense love he holds for Catherine haunts him, she is his only weakness and he cannot overcome his love for her, he dies heartbroken.
The character of Catherine can be compared to Heathcliff, as she also cannot escape her childhood, and a love that initiates then and carries onto adulthood, thus affecting her relationships and interactions with other people in her life.
Catherine Earnshaw was brought up in a well respected family home, as a child she was accustomed to the finer things in life, which brings about her being spoilt and mischievous, and illustration of this is the night her father returns with Heathcliff, as she had asked her father for a whip before his departure, and on his return finding that he had lost it while attending Heathcliff she spits on Heathcliff.
Eventually Catherine becomes “much too fond of Heathcliff”, and she spends her day running away with Heathcliff, and on one certain day, they end up at Thrushcross Grange, this results in Catherine hurting her ankle, at which the Linton’s keep her for five weeks , Catherine returned to Wuthering Heights a “very dignified person”, she becomes superficial in her materialism and all things nice, such being her new friends the Linton children, Edgar and Isabella.
Her relationship with Heathcliff never completely returns to being the same, since her time away at the Linton’s, but she still holds him close to her heart. As she grows into a young women she keeps up her acquaintance with Edgar Linton, as he is soft and beautiful, but compared to Heathcliff, Edgar “with all his superiority, found it difficult to make an equally deep impression” to Catherine. Her friendship with Edgar turns into a proposal of marriage, she consents even though she loves him for the wrong reasons, when Nelly tries to advise her “he wont always be handsome and young, and may not always be rich”, she replies with ” he is now; and I have only to do with the present'”. She marries Edgar even though she is not suited to him in personality, and does not love him in the way she loves Heathcliff but as she recognizes the dishonorable elements in Heathcliffs personality, his harshness, the fact that he is not refined and could never be a gentlemen, and despite all this still loves him, she feels she can not marry him, as she can not continue to lead the life she has become accustomed to.
As an adult Catherine’s relationship with Edgar, is overshadowed by her extreme love for Heathcliff. An example of this is when an encounter between Edgar and Heathcliff, results in Catherine announcing, “I’d rather see Edgar at bay than you”.
Catherine cannot escape her love for Heathcliff, which started at childhood and still exists in her adulthood, despite her marriage to Edgar, and in betraying her heart for her own selfish reasons, such as her love for all things fine and beautiful, she too dies heartbroken.
In contrast to the characters of Heathcliff and Catherine, is Emily Bronte’s representation of the characters of Hareton and the younger Catherine known as Cathy. Hareton who in spite of his ill treatment by Heathcliff in his childhood, he is not motivated by revenge, but motivated to defeat Heathcliffs damaging influences, and better his character in his adulthood. And Cathy, unlike her mother, looks past the unrefined nature of Hareton, and follows her heart, in marrying him.
Hareton has a fairly unstable start in childhood, shortly after his birth his mother dies and at a fairly young age he copes with the death of his father Hindley. Hareton like Heathcliff is left an orphan.
With the death of his father, Hareton is left in a predicament, “the sole chance for the natural heir is to allow him an opportunity of creating some interest in the creditor’s heart, that he may be inclined to deal leniently towards him”. This results in Hareton “reduced to a state of complete dependance on his father’s inveterate enemy; he lives in his own house a servant deprived of the advantage of wages”. Despite living in these conditions, Hareton still holds a place in his heart for Heathcliff, an example of this is on the morning of finding of Heathcliffs body, “Hareton, the most wronged, was the only one that really suffered much. He sat by the corpse all night, weeping…he pressed its hand, and kissed the sarcastic, savage, face…”, Hareton loves Heathcliff like a father figure despite the way he treated him.
When Cathy comes to stay at Wuthering Heights, she teases Hareton, “commenting on his stupidity”, but only to get his attention,and despite her unfair treatment on him, he dismisses it and forms a close bond with her, Hareton improves himself by allowing her to teach him how to read, he eventually falls in love with Cathy and in doing so, he overcomes the manipulation of Heathcliff, and hence becoming a respectable young man with every thing rightfully his restored to him.
Cathy had the most stable childhood in the novel Wuthering Heights, though she did not have her mother, Nelly was an adequate female role model, Cathy was accustomed to the finer things in life, and was dearly loved by her father Edgar, and she loved him equally. “Her father trusted her to no one else…Wuthering Heights and Mr Heathcliff did not exist for her…she was a perfect recluse; and perfectly contended”. But as a curious young women she eventually, came across the house and its inhabitants, and in doing so she became part of Heathcliffs plans, she falls for Linton and his pretty looks but seeing that he was weak did not love him, and was forced into the marriage by Heathcliff.
In staying at Wuthering Heights after her husbands death, she at first treats Hareton rather shamefully, ‘laughing heartily at his failures”, and disrespecting him for he was not refined as she. But as she is lonely , she soon puts aside her arrogance, “when I call you stupid I don’t mean anything – I don’t mean that I despise you.” She makes friends with Hareton eventually falling for in love with him, “their intimacy commenced, grew rapidly;…both their minds tending to the same point – one loving and desiring to esteem; and the other loving and desiring to be esteemed – they contrived in the end to reach it.”
Despite coming from a well respected home, never seeing herself as a child marrying someone as unrefined as Hareton, falls in love with him and his generous heart thus improving her personality, in so becoming a kind young women.
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