Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.
Have you ever known someone with such an inflated fear of abandonment that they ended up driving others away from them? The residents of Wuthering Heights have each had isolation imposed on them at some point in time. As a result, many of them use self-destructive means to attempt to control their surroundings, which only serves to further their isolation, or loneliness. In this lesson, we will use quotes from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights to investigate the theme of isolation in the story.
If you had a great deal of money, what would you do with it? After Lockwood, the tenant at Thrushcross Grange, meets his landlord Heathcliff, he realizes that something is off and asks the servant, Nelly to tell him the story. When he asks why Heathcliff would continue to live at Wuthering Heights when the Grange is so much nicer, Nelly explains Heathcliff's insatiable desire for more by saying, 'It is strange people should be so greedy, when they are alone in the world!' This statement tells a lot about who Heathcliff has become and sets the reader up for finding out how he turned out this way.
Heathcliff's story of isolation begins as a child. We don't know how Heathcliff ended up destitute and alone as a seven year old, but when Mr. Earnshaw brings him home to Wuthering Heights, it is with the best intentions of providing him a better life. Nelly says, 'The master tried to explain…a tale of his seeing it starving, and houseless, and as good as dumb, in the streets of Liverpool, where he picked it up and inquired for its owner. Not a soul knew to whom it belonged, he said; and his money and time being both limited, he thought it better to take it home with him at once, than run into vain expenses there: because he was determined he would not leave it as he found it.' Whether or not this turned out to be a kidnapping is hard to say because Heathcliff seemed to not speak English at that time.
Mr. Earnshaw's son, Hindley, and daughter, Catherine, were less than pleased with Heathcliff's arrival, but Catherine learned to love Heathcliff. It is Hindley who felt isolated from his father and from Catherine as both favored Heathcliff. After his mother dies, Hindley views '…his father as an oppressor rather than a friend, and Heathcliff as a usurper of his parent's affections and his privileges; and he grew bitter with brooding over these injuries.' Hindley is sent away to college because he is so mean to Heathcliff, which only serves to make him feel less wanted.
After Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley takes over as the Master of Wuthering Heights and turns Heathcliff into a servant. Hindley marries a girl named Frances who dies while giving birth to their son, Hareton. Hindley's grief causes him to self-destruct, isolating him from the family and even his own child. Nelly says, '… Hareton fell wholly into my hands. Mr. Earnshaw, provided he saw him healthy and never heard him cry, was contented, as far as regarded him. For himself, he grew desperate: his sorrow was of that kind that will not lament. He neither wept nor prayed; he cursed and defied: execrated God and man, and gave himself up to reckless dissipation.' Hindley turns to alcohol, leaving the next generation (Hareton) to also suffer feelings of abandonment.
Catherine and Heathcliff's Lonely Relationship
As Heathcliff matures, he falls in love with Catherine. Catherine also loves Heathcliff, but recognizes that Edgar Linton can provide her with comfort and security that Heathcliff cannot. Heathcliff runs away on his own to make money. When he returns, Catherine is married and pregnant.
The struggle between Edgar and Heathcliff contributes to her decline in health, causing Catherine to die when giving birth to her daughter Cathy prematurely. When Heathcliff learns of her death, he can't bear the thought of being isolated from Catherine. He says, 'Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! only DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!'
Catherine takes him up on that offer, as she haunts the grounds of Wuthering Heights until Heathcliff's death fifteen years later when they reunite and haunt the grounds together.
One of the recurring themes of Wuthering Heights surrounds the isolation that is imposed on the characters from outside forces and self-imposed. Heathcliff begins his life at Wuthering Heights after he is found alone on the streets. It is unclear why he is alone or why Mr. Earnshaw feels compelled to step in and make him one of the family, but soon, Mr. Earnshaw begins to favor Heathcliff to the point that his own son, Hindley, feels abandoned.
After Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley makes his relationship with his siblings even worse by seeking revenge against them for making him feel left out. When Hindley's wife dies during childbirth, Hindley isolates himself with alcohol and leaves his son, Hareton, in the care of a servant, which perpetuates the feeling of abandonment to the next generation. When Catherine decides to leave Heathcliff to marry Edgar, he leaves Wuthering Heights. In his self-imposed isolation, he makes a great deal of money. When he returns, Catherine falls ill and then dies during childbirth, leaving Heathcliff alone for the next 15 years.
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