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Wuthering Heights is “truly a novel without a hero or a heroine”. How far do you agree with this opinion?
It is fair to assume that Catherine and Heathcliff are not your typical hero and heroine. Whereas we would expect them to be “dignified” “hero[es] of romance”, we are given traits of constant “violence” and a “passionate temper” that can almost certainly kill. However, it is their love for each other that declares their heroic side, with Catherine declaring that their souls “are the same”. Also, their liminal struggles are majorly significant - the realism in their characterisation make them even more heroic, as they are not flawless, nor are they the perfect fictional character that readers want to uphold as role models.
Both Catherine and Heathcliff have a “violent” and temperamental anger which certainly disregard them as a hero and heroine. As well as strangling his wife’s dog, Heathcliff also “flung it [a dinner knife]” at her head. The word “flung” highlights his carelessness as he is supposed to love his wife, yet has instead almost murdered her. It can be said that a lack of humanity is presented through this, as it is a “devilish” action, matching both Nelly and Isabella’s description of him being a “devil”, “ghoul” and “vampire”. Neither description considers him worthy of being classified as a hero, since his central feature of violence causes them to be demonic and almost satanic. It is similar with Catherine, except her lack of heroic actions arises from her “passionate temper”. Even as a married woman, Bronte effectively portrays her as the selfish and immature child she once was. Her vow – “I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own” – symbolises her need for attention. The word “them” reiterates the never-ending love triangle and it allows me to come to the conclusion that the love triangle only exists because both Edgar and Heathcliff give her the attention she craves. This was evident at a young age, where she “wakened in her a naughty delight to provoke” her father, so that she may gain his attention; it makes her an unlikely heroine, for her lack of sympathy for other characters and disregard for the rules obtain her as rebellious and an unlikeable person. Both she and Heathcliff happen to transgress the typical outlook of a Victorian man and woman through their fundamental attributes of violence and anger which, in turn, characterise them into something more haunting than a hero and heroine should actually be.
However, what does have the possibility of deeming Catherine and Heathcliff as a hero and heroine is their undying love for one another, powerfully portrayed through the very theme which disregards this opinion: violence. Catherine claims him to be “my murderer” and although it is a vicious expression of love, the personal pronoun “my” melts the hearts of readers, for it symbolises that he belongs to her. After her death, Heathcliff returns this form of expression by ordering her to “haunt” him, as “the murdered do haunt their murderers”. Stanton Peele argues that love is an addiction, which in this case proves to be correct: neither can live without the other, which leads to the interpretation that a reason why Heathcliff had trapped the younger Cathy may be because she reminds him of the one he loved. She has the same “dark eyes” and “high” spirit as her mother. It is the structural genius of Emily Bronte that the younger Cathy is used as her mother’s doppelganger, as when she marries Linton, she is “Catherine Heathcliff” – a symbol of what would have been if Catherine had married Heathcliff instead of Edgar. It can be inferred from this that the violence has been distinctly used to trick us into guiding the readers away from viewing Catherine and Heathcliff as heroic, as it can come across as an addiction with one another rather than love. It is only at the end of the novel where readers realise the significance of their love, as their ghosts are seen together at Penistone Crags. Therefore, it is this undying love that makes Catherine and Heathcliff a hero and heroine because it transgresses the boundaries of death itself.
Additionally, it is important to explore the notion of a Gothic hero and heroine. Kermode describes how Heathcliff is ‘between’ as a character, which can also be described as him being a liminal character. Using the previous examples of violence expressing his love for Catherine, it is evident that he struggles between the good and bad, where his love for Catherine is the good and the violence he uses to express it is the bad. When she is upon her death, he criticises it – “that while you are at peace I shall writhe in the torments of hell” – highlighting that even then, he cannot properly express his emotions. Some say it is perfectly justifiable, considering his “brutal” upbringing yet I consider the saying ‘treat others how you would like to be treated’ in more esteem. If he loved her, then should he not treat her in a loving manner? However, it can be said that she is underserving of that love: like Heathcliff, Catherine is a liminal character but instead struggles between the known and the unknown. In chapter six, she is “bit[ten]” by what Heathcliff describes as a “devil” dog, which can possibly symbolise a demonic possession as she arrives home changed and “dignified”, rather than the “wild, hatless little savage.” It is what causes her struggle in following her heart instead of social expectations, ultimately leading to her decision to marry Edgar instead of Heathcliff. As a result, it can be inferred that this decision deems her unworthy of Heathcliff’s love. This decision also leaves her in-between life and death: her desperate cry for forgiveness – “Let me in!” – highlights the reason behind Heathcliff’s series of revenge, as well as presents the consequences of her demonic possession. Through this, Catherine and Heathcliff are considered to be a Gothic hero and heroine, as their liminal struggles effectively brings a universal significance: we all struggle throughout our lives and we can use the manner in which the protagonists’ deal with their struggles to better ourselves in dealing with our own.
In conclusion, it is often assumed that the novel has not hero or heroine as their protagonists are not the romantic heroes we would expect them to be. Whereas readers would expect genuine forms of affection to express their undying love, we are greeted with powerful violence and a passionate temper which ultimately transgress death itself. However, the novel’s Gothic genre allows us to view them as a Gothic hero and heroine through their liminal struggles. Heathcliff’s struggle between the good and bad is a result of Catherine’s struggle between the known and unknown, for their love should ideally conquer all when it instead does the opposite. It seems to me that although we should not uphold devilish characters as role models for reality, Catherine and Heathcliff are exceptional characters which we use as examples in bettering ourselves, as everyone struggles with something.