Wuthering Heights | Study Guide

Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights | Chapter 12 | Summary

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Summary

Cathy and Edgar have still not spoken since their fight over Heathcliff. Edgar continues to sulk in the library while Cathy is locked in her bedroom, refusing to eat. Mrs. Dean "went about [her] household duties, convinced that the Grange had but one sensible soul in its walls, and that lodged in [her] body." Finally, Cathy requests something to eat, exclaiming "Oh I will die," then changing her mind, fearing Edgar will not care if she does. Mrs. Dean, unable to "get rid of the notion that she acted a part of her disorder," underplays Edgar's concern, saying he's "tolerably well ... continually among his books" when Cathy asks about him. Cathy begs Mrs. Dean to convince Edgar she is in danger of starving herself. Mrs. Dean refuses and reminds Cathy that she ate tea and toast earlier. "If I were only sure it would kill him ... I'd kill myself directly," Cathy responds.

Mrs. Dean narrates that Cathy cannot bear the idea of Edgar's indifference, so "she increased her feverish bewilderment to madness and tore the pillow with her teeth," begging Mrs. Dean to open the window. Mrs. Dean refuses, and Cathy pulls the feathers out of her pillow, which reminds her of a childhood memory—when she and Heathcliff saw a nest of "little bird skeletons." Cathy does not recognize her own face in a mirror, and she sees visions: Mrs. Dean gathering "elf bolts" and a face in the "black press." She speaks of the first night she spent alone after the fight, describing how she lost seven years, going back to the time when Hindley separated her from Heathcliff, and how she woke up in the present "the wife of a stranger: an exile and outcast." She begs again for the windows to be opened; she longs to run on the moors and be a child again. Mrs. Dean refuses to open the window, saying "I won't give you your death of cold," but Cathy retorts, "You won't give me a chance of life, you mean." Then Cathy remembers how she and Heathcliff use to play in the graveyard and ask the ghosts to come.

Edgar, hearing Mrs. Dean struggle to keep Cathy calm, enters the bedroom, and he realizes immediately that she has hidden Cathy's dangerous condition from him, but he rushes to Cathy. She tells Edgar she will be dead by springtime: "They can't keep me from my narrow home ... my resting place." Edgar wants to know if this is all because she loves Heathcliff. "I don't want you," she tells Edgar. "What you touch at present you may have; but my soul will be on that hilltop before you lay hands on me again." Edgar blames Cathy's illness on Mrs. Dean, and, still angry that her interference led to the fight, he tells her he will he will dismiss her if she ever gossips to him again. Cathy, as delusional as she is, understands that Mrs. Dean has betrayed her and calls her a witch. Mrs. Dean leaves to find the doctor, Kenneth.

Outside, Mrs. Dean sees "a creature of the other world." Actually, someone has hung Isabella's dog from a tree, and Mrs. Dean saves it. She hears the sound of horses' feet, but there is no time to inquire. Reaching the village, Kenneth tells her there are rumors that Isabella and Heathcliff are planning to run away together. The next day, a servant confirms the rumor—Isabella has run off with Heathcliff—and Edgar chooses not to send men to bring her back but disowns his sister for "disowning" him.

Analysis

Chapter 12 uses imagery and symbolism to blend themes and to create the chapter's foreboding tone, which reflects Cathy's madness and desire to die. The imagery of death, the macabre, and the grave is presented to the reader to heighten the sense of danger as what was once love between Heathcliff and Cathy turns toward obsession. There's no longer any room in Cathy's heart or mind for Edgar; her love for Heathcliff is too consuming.

The final image of a dog hanging from a noose is different from the other imagery in the chapter. Something truly violent has happened. Dogs, as symbols, appear when a boundary of some kind has been crossed. It suggests that Heathcliff, who until now has hovered between his love for Cathy and the desire for revenge, gives himself over to the latter. The violence against the dog indicates the loss of his remaining humanity.

The symbol of ghosts evolves in this chapter as Cathy regresses to the past to tend to the wounds left from Hindley's violence toward her and Heathcliff. And she longs for the symbolic moors, for the freedom they represent, and for a time when she had a strong sense of herself and her affections and feelings could be expressed freely. Now, she is stifled by a husband she does not love and kept separate from the man toward whom she is naturally drawn. Having failed to choose her true destiny, Cathy searches for a sense of belonging, even as she knows intuitively her destiny is leading her to death.

The symbolism of wind departs from its usual association with violence to represent life-giving breath. Violence is shifted from its associations with natural elements such as weather to Cathy herself when Mrs. Dean refers to "the Earnshaws' violent dispositions," and in Cathy's self-harm, trying purposely to die, being a redirection of her desire to kill Edgar.

The way Mrs. Dean narrates raises the question: Is Cathy's illness real, or is it a show? She paints it both ways; she takes the blame, and she defends herself. And at the end of the chapter, she chooses not to alert Edgar to chase Isabella, which custom and honor would require him to do. Edgar risks dishonor and scandal after all of his snobbery and dislike for Heathcliff, leaving the reader to wonder why. This is not the first, but one of many times in the novel when Edgar will not stand up for himself or those he loves against Heathcliff.

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