Destructive Love in Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte, the characters find themselves unable to understand the meaning of love, but rather engage in a series of destructive, dysfunctional relationships with one another. In this lesson, we will analyze the destructive, obsessive relationships in this novel.

Dysfunctional Relationship

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is the story of two generations of Heathcliffs, Earnshaws, and Lintons. After Heathcliff is recovered from the streets of Liverpool by Mr. Earnshaw and brought to Wuthering Heights to be part of the Earnshaw family, he is eventually well-received by his new sister, Catherine, but not by his brother, Hindley. Mr. Earnshaw's marked favoritism towards Heathcliff improves the sibling rivalry that already exists to the point that Mr. Earnshaw's death places Heathcliff in a precarious position of being raised by a brother that hates him.

With Catherine as his only ally, they become extremely close, until Catherine marries Edgar Linton for the social status and wealth he can provide her, although she truly loves Heathcliff. Heathcliff's jealousy turns into revenge after he comes into money of his own. He diabolically sets out to hurt the people around Hindley, Edgar, and Catherine, including Edgar's sister, Hindley's son, Edgar and Catherine's daughter, and even his own son. Let's look at some of the more destructive relationships from this novel.

First Generation Parenting

What was Heathcliff's life like before he came to Wuthering Heights? We know nothing about Heathcliff's parents except that they left him alone on the streets of Liverpool. Whether it is death, abandonment, or an inability to care for him that left him filthy and starving at the point where Mr. Earnshaw took him in is unknown, but the destructive effects of being left on your own at the age of seven are undeniable.

Mr. Earnshaw adores Heathcliff, but with his own children, he is more of a rigid than a loving parent. He punishes Catherine for misbehavior by withholding his love saying, ''I cannot love thee, thou'rt worse than thy brother. Go, say thy prayers, child, and ask God's pardon.'' Mr. Earnshaw shows a marked preference for Heathcliff over Hindley and even sends Hindley away to school because the two can't get along. It is no wonder that Hindley, Heathcliff, and Catherine are confused about the selfless nature of real love.

Second Generation Parenting

Catherine dies in childbirth, so we are unable to see what she would be like as a parent, but Hindley and Heathcliff are both even worse than their father. After Hindley's wife dies giving birth to their son, Hareton, Hindley becomes a violent drunk. Hareton is solely cared for by a servant, Nelly, who hides him from his father to prevent exposing the child to his rage. At one point, Hindley threatens Nelly with a knife and says, ''By heaven and hell, you've sworn between you to murder that child!''

When Hindley dies and Heathcliff takes custody of Hareton, it is only to torture him and treat him as a servant to avenge the way Hindley treated Heathcliff as a child. Heathcliff also takes custody of his own child, Linton, but doesn't treat him any better. Nelly remarks, ''I could not picture a father treating a dying child as tyrannically and wickedly as I afterwards learned Heathcliff had treated him....'' Heathcliff forces his very ill son, Linton, and Catherine's daughter, Cathy, to get married so that he can become Cathy's father and inherit Thrushcross Grange upon Linton's death.

Heathcliff and Catherine

As bad at parenting as the characters are, they are probably even worse at developing loving romantic relationships. The worst of these is the destructive nature of the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. Catherine knows that Heathcliff is the one she wants to be with. She tells Nelly, ''It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.'' Although she feels passionately towards Heathcliff, and even at one with him, she marries Edgar because Heathcliff does not have the means to provide her with material wealth or social status.

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