When Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, first appeared in 1847, it was thought to be obscene and crude (Chase 19). To the common person, it was shocking and offensive, and it did not gain popularity until long after it was first published. When the piece of literature became widely read and discussed, however, Bronte was declared as a “romantic rebel against repressive conventions and a writer who made passion part of novelistic tradition” (Chase 19). Unlike earlier writers, Bronte used factors from her own life and passions that she personally held to construct her classic novel.
For example, Joseph’s bible-thumper character most likely symbolizes her father, who was a minister. However, Bronte’s book is not only a breakthrough to literature in these ways. The narration of the story is also very unique and divergent because there are multiple narrators. Bronte’s character Lockwood is used to narrate the introductory and concluding sections of the novel whereas Nelly Dean narrates most of the storyline. It’s interesting that Nelly Dean is used because of her biased opinions.
In addition, the structure of Wuthering Heights displays a uniqueness. Just as Elizabethan plays have five acts, Wuthering Heights is composed of two “acts,” the times before and after Catherine’s death. However, unlike stereotypical novels, Wuthering Heights has no true heroes or villains. “Although this work was written in the Romantic Period, it is not a romance. There are no true heroes or villains, only a revealing of what people truly are” (Baxter 1). With all of its unique qualities, Wuthering Heights is a very controversial book.
Many critical essays have been written about the major themes of the book, but revenge is the most imminent theme, the factor that leads the protagonists to their dismal fate. Bronte proves there is no peace in eternal vengeance, and in the end self-injury involved in serving revenge’s purposes will be more damaging than the original wrong. Heathcliff never finds peace through his revenge. In fact, the only time he truly finds happiness is when he gives up his plan for retaliation.
Austin O’Malley states “Revenge is like biting a dog that bit you” (O’malley 1). O’Malley’s quote reflects Heathcliff’s immature need to propagate agony in those who have offended him. Heathcliff’s plan for revenge on Edgar and Catherine is to marry Isabella, who is ignorant of love and of men because she has never experienced either. He wants to hurt Edgar because of his marriage to Catherine, and he wants to get revenge on Catherine by making her jealous. Catherine’s death proves that this flawed plan of repayment helps nothing.
Heathcliff, haunted by the ghost of Catherine because he is her “murderer,” still is motivated by the need for revenge and tries to get young Cathy away from Edgar by having her marry his son, Linton. Heathcliff never finds peace until he gives up his plan for revenge just before he dies. When Heathcliff gives up his plan for revenge, he meets Catherine in death and truly becomes happy once more. Catherine’s revenge does not make things better for her. Her revenge on Heathcliff by blaming him for her upcoming death does not meliorate her mind. Just before she dies, she ascribes Heathcliff for her “murder. You have killed me, and thriven on it, I think” (Bronte 158).
Catherine resembles what Oliver Goldsmith said, “When lovely woman stoops to folly, and finds too late that men betray, what charm can soothe her melancholy? What art can wash her guilt away? The only art her guilt to cover, To hide her shame from every eye, To give repentance to her lover, And wring his bosom, is–to die” (Oliver Goldsmith 1). Catherine’s death is caused by her lack of emotional control and her dual personalities. She and Heathcliff “are” each other (Bronte 80), but her wants of social status and popularity draw her toward Edgar (Bronte 78).
She does not love Edgar, but her selfish material wants control her. Catherine’s revenge on Heathcliff does not assist her in finding happiness. She looks forward to dying and is “wearying to escape into that glorious world” (Bronte 160). Her death is, however, miserable as she wanders around the earth as a waif for 20 years occasionally visiting Heathcliff and torturing him. Just as Heathcliff and Catherine’s revenge make them miserable, Hindley’s revenge on Heathcliff causes him to go bankrupt and eventually die.
Hindley’s attempt to kill Heathcliff only hurts himself in the process; it proves the point Isabella makes, “Treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends; they wound those who resort to them worse than their enemies” (Bronte 177). The fact that Hindley is mistreated as a child reflects the built up anger and resentment inside him and towards others. The hurt that Hindley feels is clearly understood, but sympathy for Hindley is only temporary because it is still his own fault for his predicaments.
Hindley’s loss of Wuthering Heights to Heathcliff and his mysterious death reflect how revenge does not make anything better, only worse. Bronte corroborates that revenge is not only a harsh and rash way to live life, but is counter-productive and hurtful. Out of all of her major themes, revenge is the most imminent. The self-hurt involved with vengeance shows there are better ways to solve conflicts. Bronte sends a great message across by showing how negative revenge can be. There is no solution to obeying the spontaneous reaction of this negative reprisal.