Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wuthering Heights

Our perception of classic literature and the reality often times are very far apart. I recently read "Wuthering Heights" and was surprised to find out that Heathcliff is not the brooding, romantic hero that he is commonly thought to be. Rather, he is a psychopath and sadist who does everything he can to keep everyone around him miserable. Ostensibly this is because he yearns for his lost love, Catherine. The reality is that he is unhinged from his obsession with her. And with Catherine dead the only outlet for this obsession is to punish everyone around him for being alive.

As "Wuthering Heights" so little resembles its popular representation, I found it to be a fascinating book. Fascinating by just how terrible Heathcliff is. Fascinated by Catherine's multiple pronouncements that she could never marry Heathcliff as much as she enjoys his company. It is Catherine's perception of and relationship with Heathcliff that motivates all the action.

When first seen Catherine is a spoiled child. When Heathcliff is introduced as the adopted gypsy boy, Catherine enjoys toying with him rather than playing with him. Heathcliff, the poor, confused orphan, is out of his depth and completely captivated by Catherine. When, as a teenager, he overhears Catherine declaring she could never love Heathcliff, he runs away.

When Heathcliff reappears he is a grown man. What he has been doing in the interim is only hinted at, but he has come back a cruel and vengeful person.

Another aspect of the novel I found intriguing was the idea of the supernatural. The supernatural, magic powers, the dead returning as spirits, are all mentioned, setting up the idea that many people believe in these things. This has led to, in my opinion, the mistaken idea that Catherine has come back as a ghost and, when Heathcliff thankfully dies, he joins her.

My belief is that Catherine does not return from the dead. Heathcliff, driven mad by his own obsession, begins hallucinating that he sees her until, in his psychotic state, he starves himself to death. The turning point for Heathcliff is the realization that he cannot keep everyone around him sunk in the same misery he wallows in. Catherine's daughter, forced to live in Heathcliff's home, defies him. She falls in love and declares that no matter what he does he will not prevent her happiness. The moment Heathcliff loses the ability to control those around him, he loses control of himself. It is only after he is defied that his hallucinations begin. And, as unlikely as it seems from all that has come before, "Wuthering Heights" has a happy ending.

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