Wuthering Heights: A Person, Place or Both?

         The temperaments of characters in a novel can sometimes be portrayed as well as enhanced through their physical surroundings. Their morals as well as values can be arranged in such a fashion that they can almost become mirror images of their surroundings, allowing the readers to understand both the character and their situation. Brontë's choice of words for the title of her 1847 novel can almost make a direct comparison between the area of Wuthering Heights and the characters of Wuthering Heights. From the title, one might imply that the story takes place on a high setting, while constantly battling the forces of nature. But is this really what the story is about? Can the name also imply the highs and lows of human nature? In my opinion, Brontë effectively clashes location as well as character throughout the novel, depicting the instability of not only the place "Wuthering Heights," but also the people of "Wuthering Heights." As a result of the clash that Brontë creates, she succeeds in comparing two aspects of nature: human and mother nature. The 1939 film Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler, is also able to express the personalities of each character by creating a setting very similar to the book. The movie also helps to set the mood of Wuthering Heights, through the selection of Alfred Newman's music played during both climatic as well as anti-climatic scenes throughout the movie.

         Wuthering Heights is in the heights of the moors, making its location susceptible to untamed, atmospheric conditions. Brontë explains her use of the word: "Wuthering being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather." Brontë successfully describes the area of the moors as a bleak, cold and barren place. She also relates the description of the moors to Wuthering Heights as she describes the house as a cold, dark and dismal house, with windows that are deeply set in the walls. The imagery used to describe both Wuthering Heights and its surroundings sets a scene that is grim and dark, almost like a kind of horror film or novel, where the conflict, as well as the climax, takes place in an environment that is full of hate or evil. The people from Wuthering Heights such as Heathcliff, are generally angry, ill tempered, vengeful, and often immoral. These attitudes are clearly reflected through the large, cold and dark house, situated on top of a ruthless hill on the moors. The movie allows the audience to visualize a better picture of the setting of Wuthering Heights, by creating a rugged terrain, filled with valleys and rocks. The condition of the house also aids in the visualization of the deterioration that is present in Wuthering Heights. It is more of a farm-like setting and especially after the time that Heathcliff becomes the head of the house, the lack of repairs and order is apparent. The barn is never really clean, as there is not that much help around to keep up with the cleaning. The house needs repairs; as well as dusting; as spider webs are present. There also seems to be a lot of clutter around the house as if the occupants have never really got rid of anything, and the furniture seems as thought it were the original furniture of the house. In general the movie allows the audience to see that Wuthering Heights lacks newness as well as change.

         Wuthering Heights can also be representative of a wild and uncivilized nature. This wild and uncivilized nature can also be symbolic of the characters that dwell in Wuthering Heights. The definition that I associate with the term "wuthering," is one that is associated with decay or more specifically the breakdown of a physical or emotional entity. Emily Brontë was able to link together the wild and uncivilized nature of Heathcliff, Catherine and Hindley along with their mental and physical decay. The background music of the film helps enhance the wild and uncivilized nature of both Wuthering Heights, as well as its inhabitant, by either showing an increase or decrease in tempo. During the scenes where Heathcliff (Laurence Oliver) expresses feelings of passion, anger or rage, the music is very dramatic; allowing the audience to feel what Heathcliff is feeling during that moment. It also shows the villainous side of Heathcliff as the music becomes more like what is played in a horror or thriller, when the "essentially evil" entity is about to strike. However, whenever Catherine (Merle Oberon) enters the scene, the theme of the music becomes calm as if almost to symbolize the effect that Catherine has on Heathcliff; Catherine is able to sooth his inner rage.

         Heathcliff's decay is apparent from the beginning, as he is an orphan trying to gain acceptance in a new home. One of the central characters in Wuthering Heights, he is often his own worst enemy. Heathcliff evolves from an empathetic, innocent victim, to a self-centered vindictive individual. Throughout the novel Heathcliff suffers various degrees of emotional distress. The first is obvious in his love for Catherine; the second is visible in his hate for Hindley, who has mistreated him for so long. Another degree of distress that Heathcliff suffered was the loss of Catherine, both through her marriage and in her death. His emotional distress then sets in motion the decay of his character. Heathcliff's decay is almost simultaneous to the decay of Wuthering Heights: ever since he has accumulated enough wealth to take over the manor, everything falls apart. The condition of the house worsens not only in appearance, but also in respect to the atmosphere of the house. The house becomes grimmer and filled with more anger and hate, almost as if it were evil personified.

         Catherine, like Heathcliff, also experiences emotional as well as physical decay. This is true because both Catherine and Heathcliff are children of the storm, and she too feels the same kind of love towards Heathcliff as he does for her. "In my soul and in my heart I'm convinced I'm wrong!... for my love for Heathcliff is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees." Catherine's decay becomes visible after she leaves Wuthering Heights and moves in with Linton. She thrives for a while, but then is tormented by the fact that she is away from Heathcliff. She also becomes ill and dies, the ultimate sign of her decay.

         Hindley also experiences decay within the novel, but more so in the movie, as he (Hugh Williams) is alive and living in the house with Heathcliff. There they are able to interact with each other more and the hate between them as well as the fear that Hindley has for Heathcliff becomes apparent. Hindley's decay begins as he turns to alcoholism and gambling and continues to take effect as he now has to live with the tables turned because he has mistreated Heathcliff for so long and inflicted upon him the worst living conditions. Now, it is Hindley who is suffering and continued to decay to his death.

         Human nature verses Mother Nature is expressed in the novel both through the setting of Wuthering Heights as well as through the changing nature of the characters in the manor. In the same way that the moors has the fickle behavior of Mother Nature, the household of Wuthering Heights experienced the fickle behavior of human nature. In my opinion Heathcliff is the personification of Wuthering Heights as his actions as well as character was a direct correlation of the weather experienced by the moors. In Wuthering Heights the only source of heat is the fire located in the center of the house. Heathcliff is also symbolic of this fire, which is like his heart and is therefore fueled by his passion for Catherine. At every vital scene Brontë has described the weather as it correlates to the situation and with this house it is predominantly wild and turbulent. The film also depicts this fuel by showing a Heathcliff that is strong in that he is firm in his nature, but is also weak in his true love for Catherine, with whom he longs to be with, while showing his ill regard for his wife, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald). So is Wuthering Heights a person, place or both? The answer is simply that it is both. Wuthering Heights symbolizes both the disruptive mutability of human nature, as well as the turbulent harshness of Mother Nature.

Chantal Curtis

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