Evolution

     The books and films studied revolve for the most part around women. Each woman starts her respective work in one physical, mental, and/or emotional state. As the works progress, the women experience various levels of change. Some progress; some regress; some just do not make it until the end. In every case, though, there is an evolution of sorts.

     Consider, for example, the evolution of Catherine (Earnshaw) Linton in Emily Brontė's 1939 Wuthering Heights. In the beginning when Cathy is just a girl, she is happy and relatively carefree. Then Heathcliff (the catalyst) enters, and Cathy's evolution begins. The first evolution is illustrated when she is forced to stay with the Lintons after the dog-bite incident. Her initial protests soon gave way to an interest in the arts of being a lady. When she returns to Wuthering Heights she is refined and redefined--no longer a girl, now a young lady.

     During her stay, Catherine also began to take an interest in Edgar Linton, the boy she had initially ridiculed for being weak. This disturbs Heathcliff, and he unwittingly (?) prepares himself to act as the catalyst in Catherine's next evolution, which occurs when she marries Edgar. She was happy when she married Edgar. Then Heathcliff returned, and the storm began. Catherine's second evolution was a waltz into depression and death.

     This is evidenced in William Wyler's 1939 film version of the novel. Merle Oberon makes the transition to corpse fairly well. However, if the film were longer, the transition could have been more truly prolonged with the introduction of the second part of novel, which included the births and upbringing of the second generation. I think the beginning of her physical decline in the book came after the discovery that she was pregnant. Abortion, I suppose, was not an option, and the thought of bringing another life into the world of Heathcliff's misery was numbing. Quiet set in. Edgar could do nothing. The baby was born, and Catherine died. In the movie, she seems to have died of a broken heart.

     So Catherine's evolution was not for the best. Unless, of course, one thinks she lived better in death--that, I think, is a viable option. Heathcliff was the one to thank (though others played insidious minor parts as well). It is ironic that he caused the death of the one thing that kept him alive in the world he believed to be so cruel.

Jared R. Nelson

Table of Contents