Catherine and Heathcliff: to love and hate in equal measure by Dr Jennifer Minter
Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights revolves around the love-hate relationship between two parallel characters: Heathcliff and Catherine. For C. Day Lewis, Heathcliff and Catherine “represent the essential isolation of the soul, the agony of two souls–or rather, shall we say? Two halves of a single soul–forever sundered and struggling to unite.”
This relationship is expressed through the various worlds they inhabit: on the surface, the civilised world of the Linton’s at Thrushcross Grange contrasts with the wild and uncivilised rawness of Wuthering Heights. Within this rustic secluded world of the landed gentry, whose occupations are shooting, riding and farming, it is Heathcliff, who imbues the world of Wuthering Heights with its fiendish magnitude, and who captivates readers the most.
From the outset, Bronte depicts the estate of Wuthering Heights as a hostile and grim place that owes its name to the “atmospheric tumult” that occurs during “stormy weather”. The tumultuous weather also symbolises the “surly” Heathcliff who wreaks havoc and the anarchic spirit of the place. During this initial description, Bronte draws attention to the force of the “north wind” which makes it almost impossible for trees to grow and for shrubs to flourish. The “excessive slant of a few stunted firs” testify to the wind-swept plains. As Bronte describes, it is fortuitous that the architect had the “foresight” to inset the “narrow windows” deep into the walls and to use “jutting stones” to reinforce the corners of the building. Likewise, there is an evident lack of warmth that penetrates the surroundings, and the “alms” become distorted as they reach for the sun. This harshness also foreshadows the dysfunctional family relationships that begin to fester.
The narrator, Mr Lockwood, draws attention to the “surly” and impatient owner who ushers him into the kitchen, which is evident for its lack of hospitality. Lockwood observed “no signs of roasting, boiling, or baking, about the huge fire-place”. AS J Hillis Miller points out (in “The Disappearance of God”, 1963), the storm which blows at the exterior of the house and gives it its name is echoed by the storm within the house, a tempest whose ultimate source, it may be, is the people living there”. Lockwood finds that “everyone at the Heights hates everyone else with a violence of unrestrained rage”. “Anarchy prevails”. A force akin to “universal selfishness” prevails. Ultimately this first storm is one of many that suggest the occupants are at the mercy of the raging aggression of natural forces and are threatened by extreme danger. Other storms include the night that Mr Earnshaw dies; the night Heathcliff leaves the Heights and there is a rainstorm on the night that Heathcliff dies.
Although Heathcliff is evil, he is not repulsive. As Muriel Spark writes in “My Favourite Villain” Heathcliff”, he is “a terrible, a real Prince of Darkness”. He is not “only the villain, he is the hero of the book in the grand Homeric sense”.
Mr Lockwood also suggests that this Byronic hero, who is proud, temperamental and also pessimistic, is also capable of loving and hating in equal measure. (“He’ll love and hate equally”.) Likewise, Emily’s sister, Charlotte Bronte, refers to Heathcliff’s feelings as “perverted passion and passionate perversity.” In this regard, Emily Bronte, blurs the boundaries between these two opposing emotions. As passion turns into revenge and the deepest and darkest revenge becomes a reflection of the depths of their love, it becomes difficult to ascertain where these two emotions begin and end.
There is no doubt, that Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s love mirrors their savage and uncontrollable surroundings. It is raw, deep, powerful and all-consuming.
Above all, it seems purely spontaneous. Or is this because of the dynamics of the family?
After Mr Earnshaw brought Heathcliff, this “gypsy brat”, this “little black-haired swarthy thing”, to the Heights, he “took to Heathcliff strangely” and “petted (Heathcliff) far above Cathy, who was too mischievous and wayward for a favourite”. Mr Earnshaw attempts to fulfil the role of a father figure for Heathcliff and accordingly, gives him more attention than he gives to his own children. Ironically, it is this substitute role that is both necessary and dangerous because it fuels the tension in the family. Later, a similar maternal role is played by Mrs Dean who nurtures Hareton after the death of his mother. He was “ever more than all the world to her and she to him”.
The outsider breeds a “bad feeling”
Mrs Dean notes that Heathcliff “bred bad feeling” and it is through this toxic mix of favouritism that Heathcliff disturbs the stability of the family. In this regard, the wild agitation Heathcliff provokes in others, reflects “the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather”. (His emotions are frequently forecast by extreme weather such as the storm that “came rattling over the Heights in full fury”.)
As the favoured child, Heathcliff becomes vulnerable to Hindley’s resentment and scorn. Mr Hindley harbours a grudge that Mr Earnshaw treated Heathcliff too “liberally”. He “hated him” and forever vows to “reduce him to his right place” (22). Rather than confronting the source of his ill-will, Bronte suggests that Hindley “grinds” those beneath him to exact revenge.
Whilst Hindley nurses his anger at such favouritism, Heathcliff, who also masters the art of blackmail, knows that Mr Earnshaw will protect him.
When Heathcliff demands the colt from Hindley he threatens to show the father the bruises, “the three thrashings you’ve given me this week and show him my arm, which is black to the shoulder” (39) Hindley throws the iron weight at Heathcliff (“the dog”, the “beggarly interloper” and “imp of Satan”) that is used for weighing potatoes and hay and that leaves him “breathless and white”.
Upon the master’s death, Heathcliff is left brutally at the whim of Hindley. Catherine laments Hindley’s role as a “detestable substitute” of a father-figure, whose conduct to Heathcliff is “atrocious”. She delights in subverting Hindley’s attempt to control the “vagabond” and rebels against an unjust authoritarian regime. She admits that she subversively, and wickedly, delights in encouraging and initiating hers and Heathcliff’s acts of rebellion: “we took our initiatory step this evening” aware that the slightest noise sets off Hindley’s bad humour.
It is on the wild heath that Catherine and Heathcliff, the two heathens, come into their own. “They promised to grow up as rude as savages, the young master being entirely negligent how they behaved” and Catherine encourages Heathcliff’s defiance. “It was one of their chief amusements to run away to the moors and play there all day”. The landscape, which is severe, especially “on that bleak hill top” where “the earth was hard with a black frost”, provides the perfect backdrop for their subversive play. As Spark comments, “the familiar moorlands have somehow become dislocated from their natural time and place; the inhabitants are outside of the ordinary law of the land”.
Through their affinity, Catherine indulges in her wild and uncultivated side. Their lack of restraint often leads to incivility. Heathcliff speaks ‘gibberish’ when he first comes to Wuthering Heights, and frequently “growls” when talking and acts like a mad dog. Catherine tells Mrs Dean, “he gnashed at me and foamed like a mad dog”, as a reflection of his anger or frustration. (111) A natural power play is also evident. When “Cathy held Heathcliff down, he tried to rise, but pushed him down”.
There is an unbridled, intemperate aspect of their love as it subverts Joseph’s fire-and-brimstone sermons. They delight in hurling “the prayer books into the fire.”
He becomes so
The more Hindley delights in brutalising and degrading his victim, the more intransigent and rebellious Heathcliff becomes, thus raising the question, whether he is naturally “rude” or whether he becomes so.
There is no doubt that Heathcliff is an aggrieved character, but Bronte asks us to consider whether his rudeness, his aversion, and his savage bearing are natural, or whether they are cultivated by Heathcliff as a reaction to his social and economic context.
Hindley physically abuses Heathcliff, ‘reducing him to his right place’ by separating him from the family. He halts his education and dooms him to a life of ignorance and vulgarity. In his turn, Heathcliff reflects the scorn and contempt that are directed towards him. He becomes a ‘sullen, patient child, hardened perhaps to ill-treatment”.
Hindley’s contemptuous treatment reflects Bronte’s distaste of a class system that seems to brutally oppresses the victims with impunity. In fact, as Bronte shows, Hindley literally stomps on Heathcliff, ties him up like an animal and imprisons him in the barn to reinforce his rude disposition. This seemingly senseless discrimination helps to define him, marring the once favoured child. Reduced to the status of a slave and increasingly alienated from those who would provide favourable company such as young Cathy and Mrs Dean, Heathcliff is left to bemoan his treatment.
Heathcliff responds well to Catherine’s tutelage but Hindley prefers to keep him uncivilised and uneducated and the gypsy’s morose temperament comes to reflect his unwillingness to be tamed by those would treat him viciously.
His sullen, chaotic and subversive temperament reflects the harsh and unforgiving landscape at Wuthering Heights and “the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather”.
“In the first place, he had, by that time, lost the benefit of his early education: continual hard work, begun soon and concluded late, had extinguished any curiosity he once possessed in pursuit of knowledge, and any love for books or learning.” His childhood’s sense of superiority, instilled into him by the favours of old Mr Earnshaw, was faded away.” Then personal appearance sympathised with mental deterioration.” (68)
Separation is the biggest punishment: (46).
Whilst Cathy and Heathcliff find solace in each other, the biggest punishment is to separate them. (46).
While he has Catherine’s total and unconditional support Heathcliff bears his “degradation” but as soon as he loses her devotion, he too, rebels against an unjust system that seeks to deny him a chance to improve: “He bore his degradation pretty well at first, because Cathy taught him what she learnt and worked or played with him in the fields”.
Ruthlessly, and systematically, the tyrants in Bronte’s fiction take revenge in malicious and unwitting ways on those who are most dependent upon them: “the tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him; they crush those beneath them”.
After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Hindley nurses his (psychological) “injuries” (38) and upon his return, the brutality escalates. Joseph becomes a convenient accomplice and at times thrashes Heathcliff “till his arm ached” (47).
Like Hindley, Heathcliff understands the economic system of control. He aptly recognises that each one systematically degrades those in their charge as a reflection of their own impotence with regards to the oppressor: “The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him; they crush those beneath them”.
Resentfully, Hindley, who “hated him”, begins to physically abuse young Heathcliff in an attempt at “reducing him to his right place”. In his own right, Heathcliff becomes a contrasting figure of chaos, who subversively, refuses to adhere to his assigned place.
As Heathcliff’s resentment grows, so, too, does his obsession with revenge against his brutal upbringing at the capricious whim of Hindley. Heathcliff realises that he needs to take (economic and social) control of those “beneath” him. He tells Mrs Dean, “I’m trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back, I don’t care how long I wait, if I can only do it, at last”. This he does, through the system, by gaining economic capital and a degree of social status. Rather than subverting the system from without, he gains control within. He returns an altered gentlemen (he always had the potential) and by stealth, uses his capital, to manipulate and to gain a hold over Hindley. The once sceptical Catherine comes to realise the extent of her treachery and the enormity of her loss.
“I am Heathcliff”: rejection and revenge (“he’s always in my mind … as my own being”)
Both Catherine and Heathcliff appear to be victims of a harsh, social environment that provides little freedom and opportunity for difference. Powerful emotions such as resentment, and animosity are kindled by this oppressive class system that pits the morally corrupt and savage surroundings of Wuthering Heights against the civilly, restrained Thrushcross Grange. The latter is set on a valley with “garden trees” and a “wild green park”. It reflects prestige and cultivation with its “pure white ceiling, bordered with gold”, equipped with a library and reading rooms. These families live orderly and harmoniously when separate from each other and confined within their rigid social classes however when they come into contact with one another, chaos is the result.
To the two “barefoot” roving gypsies, Thrushcross Grange appears as a palace, shining and radiant. As Heathcliff recounts to Nelly, Catherine was “immeasurably superior to them” as they fussed around her. But first, Bronte describes their awe. According to Heathcliff, as the light shines on the chandelier, the half-closed shutters reveal a “splendid” basement carpeted “with crimson”, “crimson-covered chairs and tables” and a “pure white ceiling bordered by gold”. However, Bronte also describes an undercurrence of violence as Isabella and Edgar almost dissect the little “yelping” dog for their own amusement and Mrs Linton vehemently denounces Heathcliff.
Tragically, Catherine comes to see Heathcliff through the eyes of the Lintons after this very significant escapade and encounter with the savage bull dog that bites her feet.
Whilst Catherine is treated with the utmost sensitivity and gentility, Mrs Linton recoils in horror after seeing Heathcliff and after hearing his foul language. Isabella expresses the family’s disgust as she typecasts him as a thief. She compares him with the “son of the fortune teller”, who “stole my tame pheasant”. Mrs Linton treats Heathcliff as she would a servant and despatches him to the cellar. Upon his return, Hindley forbids Heathcliff to utter a word to Miss Cathy or he will be dismissed.
Despite being completely consumed by Heathcliff to the point where she states “I am Heathcliff”, Catherine admits that it would be socially contemptible or “beneath” her to marry him and chooses to conform to a conventional marriage with Linton.
Catherine’s rejection of Heathcliff is couched in social terms: “If the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I wouldn’t have thought about it”. (81) This leads to Catherine’s assertion that it would ‘degrade [her] to marry Heathcliff’ despite the love they share.
In the end, they both rail against the system that imprisons them both, especially Heathcliff, who competes for Catherine’s love from a position of disadvantage. Edgar appears to have priority over Catherine’s affection because of his superior social status.
If Heathcliff is socially undesirable, Mr Linton is socially respectable. Catherine chooses Edgar as he is “handsome and pleasant to be with” and because “he loves (her)”. It is an expedient love match. Edgar holds a higher social standing and is sure to make her “the greatest woman of the neighbourhood.” Edgar, too, is acutely aware of his social difference and reminds Heathcliff of his place. He refers to him as the “gipsy”, the “plough-boy” who is anything but a “marvellous treasure” and who should be spoken to in the “kitchen” not the “parlour”.
Catherine fiercely seeks to protect her social status and thereby rationalises her marriage by suggesting that, “if I marry Linton, I can aid Heathcliff to rise, and place him out of my brother’s power”. She also defends her actions by suggesting that “if Heathcliff and I married, we should be beggars”. (81). She hopes that Nelly will not see her as a “selfish wretch”. (Upon his return, Catherine identifies herself with Heathcliff, “being of the lower orders” in contrast to Isabella and Edgar who are “gentry”. (95))
Heathcliff does not buy Catherine’s initial excuse regarding the marriage. He vows to Catherine that “you have treated me infernally … and if you fancy I’ll suffer unrevenged, I’ll convince you of the contrary”.
Heathcliff becomes completely fixated on his vengeance and over time, “though his exterior was altered, his mind was unchangeable”. He admits he lacks pity: “I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush their entrails!”
Muriel Spark notes that many of the characters walk “very easily into the traps Heathcliff prepares for them”. It seems they lose their wits in his presence. “He is a kind of moral hypnotist, and it is in some deep hidden way that he is able to manoeuvre his victims”. Even Edgar Linton, who has every reason to detest him, seems to fall into his huge plan for vengeance, almost “collaborating unwillingly” with him. Both Catherine and Mrs Dean Dean find him irresistible.
A degree of peace
The marriage promises a great deal. Edgar and Isabella “were very attentive to her comfort, certainly. It was not the thorn ending to the honeysuckles, but the honeysuckles embracing the thorn” (92) Both Edgar and Isabella “yielded” to her whims and tried to ensure that nothing displeased her.
From Edgar Linton’s perspective, Bronte depicts a joyous and proud love – one that promises to fulfil both the newly-wedded young adults. Edgar is infatuated, “and believed himself to be the happiest man alive on the day he led her to Gimmerton chapel, three years subsequent to his father’s death”. T G also provides the perfect, restrained and idyllic setting for their budding romance and Mrs Dean certainly suggests that the initial months of their marriage seems to bring fulfilment. “I believe I may assert that they were really in possession of deep and growing happiness” (93) There are also signs that Catherine equally gains fulfilment. She is even “over fond of Mr Linton” as well as of his sister, possibly enjoying her privileged social status. As long as they do not “ruffl(e) her humour” Catherine is very pleasant, and even Mrs Dean states, in the absence of tension and opposition, it is impossible not to be congenial. She asks, “who can be ill-natured and bad tempered, when they encounter neither opposition or indifference?” (92) Just before the monumental disruption caused by Heathcliff’s return, Mrs Dean is struck by the serenity of the household, which is equally reflected in the misty valley of Gimmerton. “Both the room, and its occupants, and the scene they gazed on, looked wondrously peaceful.” (94)
And yet there is a certain gloominess that overrides the relationship and undermines Catherine’s happiness and stability. Soon, Edgar’s composure is also disrupted with the return of Heathcliff who becomes a constant “nightmare” for him.
An ambiguous “capital fellow”
There are always signs that the “dark skinned gypsy” has the carriage of an “erect and handsome” gentleman.
Whilst Heathcliff appears as the rough-hewn, untamed “dark skinned gypsy”, Lockwood also describes him as a ‘capital fellow’. He has a dark-brooding kind of charm. “He is a dark skinned gypsy, in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman, that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure, and rather morose”.
Earlier as a youngster, when the Linton children first came to Wuthering Heights for a meal, Mrs Dean transforms Heathcliff because he is too “uncouth” to be in their presence. His eyes, which are like “devil’s spies”, become eyes of “innocent, angels” “suspecting and doubting nothing”. To enhance his confidence, Mrs Dean encourages him to think of himself as a “prince in disguise” whose parents could buy Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
Prophetically, when he reappears at Thrushcross Grange after the three-year absence, he is described by Mrs Dean, as someone sporting an “upright carriage”; he is ‘tall, athletic” and a “well-formed man”. “His upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army. His countenance was much older in expression and decision of feature than Mr Linton’s; it looked intelligent, and retained no marks of former degradation.” (96)
In fact so bewildered and amazed is Mrs Dean upon Heathcliff’s entrance, that she scarcely recognises him. (“Is it really, you?” she asks as she greets the “worldly visitor”. So soldier-like is he, that he appears quite “altered”. )
A terrible misunderstanding: “he’s more myself than I am”
Heathcliff’s revenge is also born of a terrible misunderstanding. As Mrs Dean points out, Heathcliff overhears only part of Catherine’s confession – the fact that it would ‘degrade” her to marry Heathcliff.
He does not hear her defence which is to rationalise her choices and to express her incredible spiritual and soulful bond. She has no intention of rejecting Heathcliff; she defends their incredible natural and spontaneous bonds. “He’ll be as much to me as he has been all his lifetime”. “He’s more myself than I am”; “his and mine souls are the same”. “He had listened until Catherine say it would degrade her to marry him, and then he staid to hear no farther” (81)
Her love for Heathcliff is eternal; unchangeable and like the “eternal rocks beneath”. “I am Heathcliff”. In fact, she professes to be so close that nothing can render them asunder. Anyone who seeks to separate them, would “meet the fate of Milo”. “Every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing before I could consent to forsake Heathcliff” (82)
Contrastingly, Catherine states that she loves “the ground under [Edgar’s] feet, and the air above his head, and everything he touches, and every word he says’. She never explicitly professes her love for Edgar.
“Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy?” “You have broken it, and in breaking it, you have broken mine.” (163). Their separation is the “greatest punishment”” “I struggled only for you” (97)
And so in betraying Heathcliff, Catherine betrays her own heart. Her deep-rooted feelings of disloyalty, disappointment and dissatisfaction undermine her emotional stability.
Catherine’s anxiety and warring emotions are represented metaphorically through her pathologically unpredictable and fragile sickness which becomes an escape from her tumultuous relationships. Typically, Catherine puts herself “in danger of being seriously ill” in order to “frighten (Heathcliff)”. Maliciously, she often uses her sickness to fuel the rivalry between Heathcliff and Edgar and her frequent need to withdraw exacerbates the tension. Mrs Dean notes that “his visits were a continual nightmare to me: and, I suspected, to my master also. His abode at the Heights was an oppression past explaining. I felt that God had forsaken the stray sheep there to its own wicked wanderings, and an evil beast prowled between it and the fold, waiting his time to spring and destroy.” (106)
At times, Heathcliff is encouraged to imagine himself as Catherine’s jailor: ‘You are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement”. Catherine also uses her misery to stimulate Heathcliff’s passion: by presenting herself as an unfortunate victim, she also encourages Heathcliff’s hatred and resentment of Edgar.
Ultimately, Edgar asks Catherine, “will you give up Heathcliff hereafter or will you give up me, it is impossible to be my friend and his at the same time”.
Catherine’s protestations about the fact that she will not go to heaven make Heathcliff just as determined to haunt the earth. “Well might Catherine deem that Heaven would be a land of exile to her, unless, with her mortal body, she cast away her mortal character also.”
Killing herself, she kills Heathcliff; forgetting her is to forget his own existence. “You know that I could as soon forget you, as my existence”. (161)
Upon her death bed, she claims, ‘I care nothing for your sufferings, why should you suffer’. But their similarity once again comes to the fore. Catherine is just as capable of revenge. Her visage ha a “wild vindictiveness on its cheek” as she brands her harsh words into Heathcliff’s memory, “eating deeper eternally”.
“Is it not sufficient for your infernal selfishness, that while you are at peace I shall writhe in the torments of hell?” (161) She admits that she hopes they will “never (to) be parted” and should a word of mine distress you hereafter, think I feel the same distress underground” (161)
The depth of Heathcliff’s revenge, also born of his equally deep love, is most shamefully evident through his exploitation firstly of Isabella and then of his own son both of whom he uses to complete his plan to degrade both Edgar and Hindley. Isabella becomes a victim of his plan (“she’s her brother’s heir, is she not?”) when she becomes infatuated with Heathcliff only to be manipulated by “a lying fiend, a monster and not a human being”. “Monster! would that he could be blotted out of creation, and out of my memory!”
Typically Bronte uses animalistic imagery to depict the raw, unethical and savage aspect of Heathcliff’s revenge agenda as he transforms into a “fierce, pitiless, wolfish man”.
Although he protests at times “I don’t hate my son”, Heathcliff nevertheless cannot resist taunting and humiliating the “ailing, peevish creature” and uses him as a pawn. (233) He is a constant reminder of his father’s loss and unhappiness. Heathcliff states that “I despise him for himself and hate him for the memories he revives! I’m bitterly disappointed in the whey-faced whining wretch”.
And the more Linton reminds him of his own impotence, the more Heathcliff rages. In betraying Linton he betrays himself, just as Cathy betrays herself in rejecting Heathcliff.
As Bronte reminds us, we tend to inflict the most damage and harm upon those who are closest. Just as Catherine rejects Heathcliff who is “more myself”, so Heathcliff also does the most harm to Linton, whom he hated for being “himself”.
Mrs Dean is appalled at the physical abuse Linton receives from his monstrous father. She “could not picture a father treating a dying child as tyrannically and wickedly as (she) afterwards learnt Heathcliff had treated him”. Heathcliff’s scheming treatment is reinforced when Heathcliff forces Linton to appear healthy but weak in order to attract the young Catherine’s attention and compassion. However Catherine realizes that her visits are more of a punishment than pleasure and proposes to leave. “That proposal … roused him from lethargy, and threw him into a strange state of agitation. He glanced fearfully towards the Heights, begging that she would remain another half an hour at least”.
“I am Heathcliff”
Bronte suggests that their spiritual closeness, which defies conventional religious explanations, transcends physical boundaries. Their souls are made of “the same” subsistence and “nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted (them)”.
The physical landscape also closely mirrors the metaphysical relationship between the two protagonists as Bronte constructs an alternative spirituality that transcends, but is closely linked to the physical and the personal aspects of existence.
Their hearts and souls appear inextricably linked. “I am Heathcliff” reflects the close relationship and bonds between the physical and metaphysical worlds as they share the same soul in this savage relationship.
“My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished and he remained, I should still continue to be; and, if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a mighty stranger. . . . My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it. I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees – my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath – a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Mrs Dean, I am Heathcliff – he’s always in my mind – not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself – but, as my own being – so don’t talk of our separation again – it is impracticable.
Whilst the metaphysical ensures their closeness, physical separation torments.
Their metaphysical world is expressed through the ghosts that haunt each other. Dying, Catherine avers that “while you are at peace, I should writhe in the torments of hell”. The heavens will only be reached when both of them meet again in the afterlife.
Heathcliff challenges Catherine: “You say you hate me, well then haunt me” as a reminder of his passion and intimacy. (But the ghosts also become a sign of their impossible separation.)
“They’s Heathcliff and a woman yonder” captures their ongoing relationship in the metaphysical world as their ghosts continue to haunt the next generation and replays the love story all over again.
After the death of Heathcliff, his pursuit of revenge becomes dimmed and he no longer suffers from the pain of living “with his soul in the ground”. This event is accompanied by “sweet, warm weather” in the Heights which seems to be a rare occurrence. Lockwood talks about how he “lingered around (the graves) under the bright sky…and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
Upon Heathcliff’s death, Ellen Dean notes, “I tried to close his eyes – to extinguish, if possible, that frightful life-like gaze of exultation, before anyone else beheld it. They would not shut – they seemed to sneer at my attempts, and his parted lips, and sharp, white teeth sneered too.”
Despite the utter chaos that occurs as a result of Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s impossible love, Bronte does provide readers with hope of redemption through the orderly and balanced love of young Cathy and Hareton which makes a stark contrast between the savage and obsessive relationship that consumes Catherine and Heathcliff. Regardless of being born into the same savage, unkempt surroundings as Catherine and Heathcliff, Hareton appears to be a cultivated blend of both Edgar Linton and Heathcliff and young Catherine’s compassionate persona “brought sunshine into the desolate house”. In this younger generation, these personality traits combine in harmony. Young Catherine continues the education of Hareton, that was so abruptly curtailed by Hindley. Mrs Dean admires the “radiant countenances bent over the page of the accepted book” which young Cathy offered as a sign of conciliation earlier (it was a “handsome book” wrapped “neatly in white paper” (314)
Significantly, Heathcliff renounced his books upon the descent into wildness without restraint.) This is a story of mutuality and compatibility whereby both of their natures complement rather than undermine each other. “both their minds tending to the same point – one loving and desiring to esteem; and the other loving and desiring to be esteemed – they contrived in the end to each it” (316)
Mrs Dean’s commentary also reinforces Bronte’s view that this is a perfect union. The fact that readers tend to trust her judgement and value her moral comments, her endorsement of the marriage counts for a great deal for readers. “the crown of all my wishes will be the union of those two; there won’t be a happier woman than myself in England”. (316)