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Wuthering Heights | Chapter 17 | Summary

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Summary

Isabella, who is pregnant, runs away from Wuthering Heights and shows up unexpectedly at Thrushcross Grange, where the household is still in mourning for Cathy. While Mrs. Dean bandages her neck, which is bleeding from a knife Heathcliff flung at her, Isabella describes how Heathcliff, mourning for Cathy, cries and prays to a senseless God—"like a Methodist," and he has confused God with the devil.

Then she explains why she ran away: One night, when Isabella was sitting in the parlor with Hindley, who was drunk and angry at the time, Heathcliff returned. Hindley decided to lock Heathcliff out of the house and wanted to know if Isabella would help him kill Heathcliff, mentioning that they both had a right to take revenge. Hindley asked her, "Are you as soft as your brother," or "are you willing to endure to the last, and not attempt a repayment?" She responded, "Treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends; they wound those who resort to them worse than their enemies." Hindley disagreed; to him, "treachery and violence are a just return for treachery and violence." Then he wanted to know if Isabella would just be quiet and let him kill Heathcliff, but Isabella shouted, "I'll not hold my tongue!" through the door and warned Heathcliff. Hindley cursed her, and she contemplated what a blessing it would be if Heathcliff and Hindley killed each other. Then, feeling secure with a door between them, Isabella mocked Heathcliff, telling him now that Cathy is dead, he should stretch himself over her grave and die like a faithful dog. Hindley stuck his arm and weapon (the gun with the knife on the end) out of the door to kill Heathcliff, but he grabbed it, the spring fell back and sliced Hindley's arm instead. Heathcliff smashed the glass in the door, got inside and beat Hindley, almost to death. When Hindley passed out, Heathcliff bandaged the wound, and Isabella ran for Joseph.

The next morning, Hindley came downstairs and Isabella told him what happened because he couldn't remember. Heathcliff was there, but so deeply in mourning, his face was sealed "in an expression of unspeakable sadness." (Then Mrs. Dean breaks in to scold Isabella for delighting in "paying wrong for wrong." Isabella admits the only way she can forgive Heathcliff is "if [she] may take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.") Isabella finishes telling her story: That night, she continued to taunt Heathcliff, but he was too absorbed in his anguish to notice, until she struck a chord by saying Cathy was happy before he came back into all of their lives again. Heathcliff's "eyes rained down tears among the ashes, and he drew his breath in suffocating sighs." But Isabella pushed him further by taunting him, and he threw a dinner knife at her, hitting her behind the ear. Terrified, Isabella, rushed out into the snow across the moors to Thrushcross Grange.

After telling her story, Isabella leaves for Gimmerton. She settles south of London and raises her child, Linton, by herself. Mrs. Dean explains that Isabella ends up dying when the boy is 12 years old.

Meanwhile, right after Cathy's death, Edgar becomes a hermit, but he loves and dotes on his daughter, Catherine. Mrs. Dean compares Edgar and Hindley: "They had both been fond husbands ... and I couldn't see how they shouldn't both have taken the same road, for good or evil." Hindley, she thinks, is the weaker man because Edgar "displayed the true courage of a loyal and faithful soul: he trusted God; and God comforted him."

Hindley dies six months after Cathy, and Heathcliff gets custody of Hareton by threatening to take Linton from Isabella.

Analysis

Just as Isabella is a foil for Cathy's character in the novel, Isabella and Heathcliff's relationship contrasts Cathy and Heathcliff's relationship. Although, there are similarities as well: both relationships involve violence of emotion, cursing, and inflicting pain. Ultimately, Isabella and Heathcliff's relationship serves as a contrast because it is one-sided and Isabella saw a Heathcliff that was only an illusion while Cathy saw Heathcliff for who he really is. In Chapter 14 Heathcliff describes the delusional nature of Isabella's love, and the idea of distorted love is fortified in this chapter by his tears and "unspeakable sadness" over Cathy's dying being more prevalent than Hindley's violence and Isabella's malice. Heathcliff is revealed to be not cold-hearted as much as he is monomaniacal in his love for Cathy, which is not only the most important thing in his life, but the only thing that seems to motivate his actions and influence his feelings.

Also, Heathcliff's humanity expands in this chapter as he openly weeps and mourns the love of his life's death. He is not a stock character "devil" or villain; good and evil will be something he must choose between, and, plot-wise, this is his character's personal cusp between the two. He has revenged Hindley and holds Hareton's future (and his own) in his hands. What choice will he make?

Ideas of good and evil are explored in the chapter when Mrs. Dean contrasts "faithful" Edgar to "unfaithful" Hindley and she describes the difference faith makes in each character's life: Edgar thrives, Hindley dives deeper into darkness. Then ideas of violence and revenge are explored in the chapter when what has become of Isabella (representing good and proper and Thrushcross Grange) under the influence of the malevolent Wuthering Heights environment is revealed. This is Isabella's moment of truth. Hindley is the one who presents the two moral tests for Isabella, and both times, even though she says she wants revenge, her actions do not give in to it. It is significant that Brontë details the nuances of Isabella's morality (ultimately painting a well-drawn character, not turned evil, but truly changed: no longer weak and definitely capable of feeling real hurt, hatred, and desire for revenge) because through Isabella's story line, Brontë continues the exploration from the beginning of the novel: what happens to "good" in a violent and negative environment? Where ideas of good and evil are explored, ideas of violence and revenge are usually close by, and the main events in the chapter—comparing Edgar and Hindley and Isabella's storyline—are interrelated. Hindley resorts to violence, and he is repaid with violence; and he dies violently.

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