Emily Bronte’s 20th Century novel “Wuthering Heights” portrays the pressured lives of two young lovers forced apart by their up bringing and social differences.
The undying passion of Cathy and Heathcliff is the main theme that consumes much of Wuthering Heights. They have an unchanging love, rooted in childhood that is everlasting and that binds them together, even after death. However, both of these characters have many traits that stop them from marrying. Both characters are ambitious and Cathy’s social ambitions lead her to marry the rich and powerful Edgar Linton, after her brother reduces Heathcliff to a stable boy. Cathy doesn’t want to marry Heathcliff because they will “be beggars” and Cathy’s social class would drop. So despite their unending bond of love, Cathy opts to marry Edgar because of the huge gap in social class between him and Heathcliff and is arrogant enough to believe that Edgar will love her enough to allow her to keep Heathcliff as a companion, without complaining.
The two seemed like an unlikely couple when Heathcliff was first introduced to the, then young, Cathy, when her father bought him back to the Heights as a gypsy child after a trip away to Liverpool. Cathy’s greeted the boy by spitting at him and tortured him, accompanied by her brother Hindley; is noticeable in Chapter 2 “by grinning and spitting” or “standing Hindley’s blows”. Although Cathy’s original reaction was to spit at Heathcliff as they grew, so did their apparent realisation to their similarities.
Although Hindley didn’t appreciate the way Heathcliff and Cathy felt for each other, their fondness continued to grow and encouraged the care free spirit in Cathy. They quickly became inseparable with their personalities complimenting the others.
Unfortunately their caring for one another came to an abrupt end when Cathy was taken ill at the Grange after being attacked by a dog and she was forced to stay with the Linton’s and away from her soul mate Heathcliff. This was the beginning of their marriage never coming to pass; as it was here the divide between them began. From this point the thin chance Cathy and Heathcliff had of getting married began to fray.
In the years when Heathcliff first arrived at the heights, Mr Earnshaw took an immediate liking to the boy that he had found and formed a relationship with him that Hindley could only dream of obtaining. Their father showed favouritism towards Heathcliff at all times, which drove Hindley to be extremely jealous, especially when he was ordered to go away from the Heights to college, and Heathcliff was allowed to stay. After Mr. Earnshaw’s death, Hindley became the owner of the Heights and all the protection that Heathcliff possessed in his security with Mr Earnshaw from Hindley was taken away from him. Once more he was left venerable to the torment from his spoilt stepbrother. Hindley’s bitterness towards Heathcliff caused him to treat him as one of his servants and not as one of the family, and day by day Heathcliff sank so low in social hierarchy, than even Joseph, the religious teacher and servant, got more respect from Hindley than Heathcliff did.
Hindley’s resentment and, to a degree even some hatred, for Heathcliff grew stronger by the day, because although he was succeeding in making his stepbrother a social out cast, he was also turning his own sister into one as well. Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship was so strong that she stood by Heathcliff during this time. This caused Cathy to become somewhat more like Heathcliff and the Linton family were so appalled at the state of the girl, that before she returned to the Heights they restored her health, her manners and her etiquette. Once she returned to the Heights her perspective on life was different then when she had left. The Linton’s had taught her how to be a proper lady, and when Heathcliff was forced to welcome her back she saw him only as a servant who said “dirty from working, how very black and cross you look.” Apart from Cathy’s initial reaction to Heathcliff when she returned, Hindley made it blatantly obvious that his attitude had not changed one bit, and that his disgust for Heathcliff remained as strong as ever. He demeaned Heathcliff in front of the Linton’s and Cathy by referring to him as a servant when he says” like the other servant”.
Because of Hindley’s jealous nature, it is now that we can see one of the most important reasons why it was made impossible for Heathcliff and Cathy to get married. In Cathy’s absence, the two characters are driven apart by their obvious differences coming more to light. This is the beginning of the characters, especially Cathy, realising that the thought of marriage was a near ridiculous thing. The differences that had been forced upon them became a major issue.
During the time that this novel was written, a woman’s ambition did not allow them to be successful businesswomen or follow a career in any thing like what is possible in the world in the 21st century. Instead their only career or destiny was to marry into a rich family and gain status, whether there feelings involved were there or not, if love came along it came with the package, and was not at all necessary and completely lost in most instances. Status was very important; if you were born into a wealthy family, you had to maintain your status and not disgrace the family name. If not you had to find yourself a respectable man to marry at the very least, or bring disgrace upon the entire family. Her husband and his wealth would determine a woman above all else. Cathy therefore faced a hard decision: marrying the man she loved or following her ambitions to become a successful and powerful woman. Heathcliff could not offer her the life she wanted so badly to lead; another reason why it was made impossible for Heathcliff and Cathy to get married.
Cathy was born into a wealthy and well respected household, so when she arrived at the Grange they were amazed to see the state that she had been allowed to get in by galloping around with “Earnshaw’s gypsy”. She was lucky that the Linton’s restored her dignity, so much so that Edgar Linton proposed to her. On discussing this proposal with Nelly, the idea of status and they way Cathy was expected to act becomes very prominent as Cathy’s heart becomes divided. She describes her love for Heathcliff as “the eternal rocks beneath” because her heart wants to be with Heathcliff but she has to think of the effect that it would have on both herself and her family. “It would disgrace me to marry Heathcliff now” is what she told Nelly.
She compares Heathcliff and Edgar to “moon beam from lightning, frost from fire” in an attempt to try and justify her marrying Edgar and describe how they compare to each other, but couldn’t find any reason for betraying her heart, except for her own ambitions, as she realises how much she loves Heathcliff: “he is more myself than I am … his and mine are the same”. The only way she manages to justify her actions in wedding Edgar is so she can aid Heathcliff to rise out of her brother’s power and save him from the tortures of Hindley. “I can aid Heathcliff, to rise and place him out of my brothers power” and to also become well respected in society “he will be rich and I shall like to be the greatest women in the neighbour hood.” She would be marrying Edgar purely for social reasons; where as her heart would rather be with Heathcliff. The option of divorce was unmentionable in those days, however. To divorce would have disgraced the family also and it was this made it impossible for Cathy to marry Heathcliff, as there was no way she could have wanted to disgrace the family; she would have had nothing if she had done so and Heathcliff was not in the position to provide for her.
During Cathy’s conversation with Nelly, it turns out that Heathcliff was hiding, able to hear every word that Cathy said, but when he heard Cathy talk about him and disgrace he fled, so he did not hear the rest of the conversation. Heathcliff’s fleeing meant that any thoughts that Cathy had had about marrying Heathcliff would eventually have to disappear, as he was not there to keep the thought conscious in her mind. He was not there for Cathy to commit the biggest sin against her family and so her decision was made for her. She had to marry some one and the only choice left was the respectable Edgar Linton. Once the union was made under no circumstances could Cathy divorce Edgar. Heathcliff’s fleeing also shows why it made it impossible for them to get married. Not only because he was not there to commit to her but because he cleared her path to marrying Edgar on leaving.
In my view, if Heathcliff had not left the Heights then Edgar and Cathy would have gotten married anyway. Cathy didn’t really have much choice she was to follow her ambitions and not land her family in disgrace. I feel the main reason as to why they did not get married was the social divide that Hindley made between the two.
Without Hindley’s bitter and jealous attitude the two lovers would have stood a better chance of expressing their love. They would not have had the social problems if Hindley had let Heathcliff be. Neither would have turned vagabond or disobedient and the issue of social hierarchy would not have been looked upon as Heathcliff would have been a gentlemen himself, not a servant.
Also if Hindley had not have forced the divide between them they would not have been at the Grange when Cathy got injured, meaning that Cathy would have had no reason to be associated with Edgar at that time signifying that Cathy could have focused entirely on her relationship with Heathcliff.