The Self-Interested Individuals of Wuthering Heights

         Thomas Hobbes was a philosopher of the seventeenth century. His idea of the individual was quite pessimistic. Hobbes' "person" is an autonomous individual that seeks only to further and protect his or her own interests. Therefore, everyone has his or her own interests; and each person works solely to enhance and make progress in gaining those interests. The 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontė, and the 1954 movie Los Abismos de Pasion, directed by Luis Buńuel, show this particular view of mankind perfectly. All the characters have their own agenda; and, whether they are aware of it or not, they are serving this agenda.

         Ellen Dean is a prime example of a character with a primary goal of "self-interest." Her position as a servant causes her to try to better her position and worth within her "family." She is a busybody who tries to keep herself in everyone's business in order to seek out those opportunities for her to gain some control of the situation. Her wish to slide into the niche left by Hareton's mother to get closer to Hindley (whom I think she had a crush on) is one example of this. She also allows Heathcliff entrance to many situations to which he has been denied entrance. Ellen enables Heathcliff to see Catherine when she is dying as well as when she is dead. Also she keeps quiet at first about the elopement of Isabella and Heathcliff. Each act allows her to stay on the right side of Heathcliff, who is for a time the owner of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Ellen Dean serves her interests by not burning her bridges.

         The Spanish movie of Wuthering Heights, called Los Abismos de Pasion, was another good source of insight into Ellen Dean's or (in the Spanish version) Maria's character. Because the Spanish culture enforces the master of the house idea, we see Maria (Ellen) (Hortensia Santovena) pay more attention to obey Edgardo (Edgar)(Ernesto Alonzo). She stays faithful to Edgardo throughout the movie by informing him of what is going on in his house. Maria tells Edgardo of Catalina (Catherine) (Iraseme Dilian) and Alejandro (Heathcliff) (Jorge Mistral) talking in the kitchen, and she informs him of Isabel (Isabella) (Lilia Prado) leaving right away instead of waiting as Ellen Dean did in the book. Also when Alejandro sees Catalina in the final scene when she is dying, Maria leaves them alone but returns in no time with Master Edgardo.

         She stays true to Spanish culture and the master of the house; however, this version of the movie plays a great deal on her quality of being a busybody. She is almost in every scene that she could logically be in. If one pays close attention, one will always discover she is in the background listening to the main characters speak. There are two good examples of this. The first is evident when Catalina and Isabel are talking of Alejandro, and the second occurs when Edgardo and Catalina talk of Alejandro. In both scenes, one will find Maria in the background pretending to clean. The very next scene she is usually seen stating her own opinion of what should happen. When Isabel leaves Catalina, Maria stops her in the hallway to tell her that she thinks Isabel should listen to Catalina. In Spanish culture Maria is showed as a self-interested individual again. She knows who the master is; and she follows the master's rules, even if that leads to her being called a traitor by the mistress of the house.

         Ellen Dean, along with the other characters in Wuthering Heights has, what some would call, selfishness. However, Thomas Hobbes claims that this is the state of every individual. Humans, as he would say, are autonomous individuals that seek only to further and protect their own interests. Therefore, one should not dislike the characters in Wuthering Heights because of their actions and perceptions. Instead one should take into account that this is the nature of human beings in general and that Emily Brontë has only brought it out to an extreme for us to see.

Theresa Skinner

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