Wuthering Heights | Study Guide

Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

Twelve years later, Cathy's daughter, Catherine, is thirteen years old. Mrs. Dean describes her personality as soft, mild as a dove, and not prone to furious anger as her mother was. Catherine grows strong with only "trifling illnesses, which she had to experience in common with all children, rich or poor." Her only fault is a "perverse will, that indulged children invariably acquire."

Edgar never lets Catherine leave Thrushcross Grange. One day, he receives a letter from Isabella. She is dying and wants Edgar to come to London, say goodbye, and take over raising her son, Linton. Catherine takes the opportunity to explore beyond Thrushcross Grange park. Telling Mrs. Dean she needs food to go out and explore the Arabian Desert (really the moors), she jumps her pony over a low bush and winds up meeting Hareton when their dogs get into a fight. When one of Catherine's dogs returns with a swelled head and bleeding ear but no sign of Catherine, Mrs. Dean searches frantically, finally finding her with Hareton (now 18) and Zillah, a servant, at Wuthering Heights.

When Catherine, having a lot of fun with Zillah and Hareton, refuses to leave, Mrs. Dean tells her she would want to leave if she knew who owned the house. The conversation leads to Catherine figuring out that Hareton is not Heathcliff's son but a servant. Embarrassed, Hareton refuses to fetch Catherine's pony. Hareton calls Catherine a saucy witch, and she replies "How dare he speak so to me ... musn't he be made to do as I ask him?" Zillah urges Catherine to be civil and reveals Hareton is her cousin. The idea of a servant being her cousin makes Catherine cry. She can hardly believe it, but Mrs. Dean consoles her: "people can have many cousins and of all sorts ... without being any the worse for it." When Hareton returns with the pony, seeing Catherine upset, he offers her a puppy, but she refuses it.

Analysis

A minor detail leads into an exploration of class distinctions when Mrs. Dean slides into the narrative that Catherine has "to experience in common with all children ... rich or poor." Mrs. Dean expounds on Catherine's high-quality nature, so it is significant that Catherine's one fault is linked to her upper-class station, and it causes the main action in the chapter—when she turns against Hareton for being a servant, not a gentleman, in an echo of her mother's rejection of Heathcliff. Mrs. Dean's narration paints a picture of beauty and peace, which turns ugly when social distinctions are made.

The symbolism of dogs is woven throughout the chapter, and it supports the topic of social distinctions between masters and servants:

  • Catherine wants food for her imaginary horses and camels (actually dogs) because she is pretending to cross the "Arabian Desert." This is dramatic irony. The reader knows Wuthering Heights is across the "desert." There is a sense of Catherine leaving behind her ignorance, and innocence, of the world, and the dogs accompany her as she crosses the new boundary.
  • Catherine's dog has a swelled head and bleeding ear. This foreshadows Catherine's prideful reaction (swelled head), to something she hears (bleeding ear) and does not like.
  • Catherine and Hareton meet because of a dogfight. This creates a feeling of doom and the sense that peace between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange is impossible; they cannot coexist, nor ever be equal; it's as if rivalry between them is as instinctual as a dogfight.
  • Hareton tries to make peace by giving Catherine a puppy, but she refuses the peace offering. In this way, the interchange involving the dogs represents the characters' natures: Hareton is peaceful and happy-go-lucky, but Catherine is stubborn and shunning him. On a literal level, the exchange helps complicate the plot. Catherine's refusal of the peace offering lays the foundation for all that is to come in the second half of the novel, and it is significant that a puppy is at the center of the first moment between the two characters.
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