Joseph in Wuthering Heights: Description & Quotes

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 long-time servant, Joseph, symbolizes what happens when religion and hatred mix. In this lesson, we'll learn more about Joseph.

Religious Malpractice

Have you ever known someone who skewed religion to control others? Joseph is an elderly servant at Wuthering Heights who serves its residents for multiple generations. Despite his strong adherence to ritualistic Christianity, Joseph is not a nice person. His beliefs are based on using the Bible to cast judgment on others rather than any desire to show love or mercy to others. Emily Bronte uses Joseph's character to symbolize her rejection of orthodox religion based on her experiences. Let's find out more about Joseph in Wuthering Heights.

Harsh Disciplinarian

Nelly appropriately describes Joseph to Lockwood when she says, ''He was, and is yet most likely, the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours. By his knack of sermonising and pious discoursing, he contrived to make a great impression on Mr. Earnshaw; and the more feeble the master became, the more influence he gained. He was relentless in worrying him about his soul's concerns, and about ruling his children rigidly.'' Although Joseph is the servant, his influence on Mr. Earnshaw based on his religious beliefs ensure that the children at Wuthering Heights endure a harsh, violent, and loveless childhood that affects the Earnshaws and Heathcliffs for generations to come.

After Mr. Earnshaw's death, Hindley takes over caring for his younger brother and sister. Although Hindley despises Heathcliff based on jealousy, he cares little enough for his siblings that he would not pay much attention to them at all if it weren't for Joseph. Joseph uses his influence to remind Hindley ''to order Heathcliff a flogging, and Catherine a fast from dinner or supper,'' each time the two missed church. Joseph himself carried out the harsh punishments ordered by Hindley by setting ''as many chapters as he pleased for Catherine to get by heart, and Joseph might thrash Heathcliff till his arm ached'' Catherine and Heathcliff survive by sticking together and ridiculing him behind his back. His treatment of Catherine and Heathcliff yields no positive results as the two grow more and more out of control.

Sanctimonious and Self-Centered

After Frances' death, Hindley becomes a violent alcoholic and drives off most of the staff at Wuthering Heights. However, ''Joseph remained to hector over tenants and labourers; and because it was his vocation to be where he had plenty of wickedness to reprove.'' Joseph really enjoys standing in judgment of others whom he perceives as evil, which makes Wuthering Heights the perfect home for him.

On the night that Heathcliff flees Wuthering Heights in anger, the storm that rages is incredibly violent and intense. Nelly narrates about the damage to the residence that was done that night, ''We thought a bolt had fallen in the middle of us; and Joseph swung on to his knees, beseeching the Lord to remember the patriarchs Noah and Lot, and, as in former times, spare the righteous, though he smote the ungodly.'' Of course Joseph's first thought is that Wuthering Heights is finally getting the judgment from God that they deserve. The allusion, or historical reference that Joseph makes in his prayers, requests that he be spared as God spared Noah and Lot. In the Old Testament of the Bible, these two were saved from destruction cast on others because they were righteous men. Comparing himself to Noah and Lot proves Joseph's self-righteous, egocentric view of himself being above the others.

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