Guest post by Tacy Williams Beck
Wuthering Heights is a story, ultimately, of the doom of ignorance. Heathcliff Earnshaw is doomed, because he is an adopted son with gypsy blood. He can tame horses, yet struggles with himself. He takes books away from his son. He falls in love with a woman he cannot have. He follows Cathy, even after she is married. He lives in regret after she dies.
Catherine Linton (Cathy) is a person doomed because her family lives on Thrushcross Grange, where strange things brood, ghosts and ghouls present themselves, and books are thrown out. Two families dwell there, and it seems they cannot get space. She cannot help falling in love with her adopted brother Heathcliff. Her true husband Linton is Heathcliff’s foil.
The novel’s major player is ignorance, because recognition is unarmed, and self-harm is the characters’ determined fate. Why? When we recognize someone, we know them. We know they are someone’s grandparent, someone’s daughter. Recognition means friendship. When we remain strangers, we could be filled sometimes with love, sometimes antipathy for strangers and relatives alike.
Heathcliff’s one major character flaw is his inability to control his love for Cathy and move on. If he had fallen in love with Isabella, his eventual wife, he would not have chosen to use her as a tool in his resentful plan of revenge on her family. If we remain shrouded in the darkness of intemperance, we live with the same fate as Heathcliff: doomed by love for the wrong thing.
Though they remain siblings with a menaced relationship, lack of self-control mainly on the part of Heathcliff is a sad, desperate attempt at friendship. He was an adopted gypsy who was loved by his father. However, when his father dies his adoptive brother hates and abuses him. This is the context in which Cathy and Heathcliff fall in love (Not a good context at all, I tell you!) Ignorance marks their passion, and the gothic scenery is a distraction from what is actually going on: an acute look at the trouble of a world without recognition.
You could say my reading of Wuthering Heights casts Heathcliff and Cathy as simply mistaken lovers, like many other star-crossed lovers who have a ruined fate. Like Romeo and Juliet, or Vronsky and Anna Karenina, their destiny to be together is at odds not with only politics, race (somewhat), and religion, but even mere family ties. Is it that simple? To that I give you this quotation from Catherine which throws light on the depths of their friendship:
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.
One could say that recognition is just that simple, and without it we are all living in a dark world. If the Earnshaws and Lintons had had truer faith, perhaps they could have avoided scandal and infidelity. When we recognize the stranger, we’re polite. We’re kind. Furthermore, we we do not fall in love with someone though they may have qualities we find attractive. Perhaps this type of self-harm could be sidestepped. The Church has stood the test of time and, ultimately, she is the antidote to this type of suffering, highlighting the dread that happens at the hands of those unaware.
Heathcliff is a man destined to clobber his neighbor, but if he could see himself he might realize his own unattractiveness.
Tacy Williams Beck is a wife and mother to three girls and one boy. She likes to read, bake, sew, and, of course, write. Read more of her articles at her blog and Catholic Mom. Follow her on Pinterest here.