Wuthering Heights | Study Guide

Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

Mrs. Dean remembers a conversation she had in Gimmerton with Zillah, the servant at Wuthering Heights. Zillah tells Mrs. Dean Heathcliff dislikes Linton and would dislike him even more if he knew to what extent Linton pampers himself. Mrs. Dean comes to the conclusion "that utter lack of sympathy had rendered young Heathcliff selfish and disagreeable."

The story jumps ahead to Catherine's sixteenth birthday. Out on the moors, Hareton and Heathcliff, whom Catherine has never met before, catch her when she wanders onto his property. Catherine, remembering meeting Hareton a few years earlier, wants to know if Hareton is Heathcliff's son. Heathcliff entices Catherine to come to Wuthering Heights by telling her that Hareton is not his son, but he does have a son and she knows him.

At Wuthering Heights, Catherine and Linton see each other for the first time since they met. Catherine is astounded that he has been so close all this time, and that Heathcliff is her uncle. "I thought I liked you," Catherine tells him. Then she asks if she can visit Linton often, and Heathcliff has to tell her about his quarrel with Edgar: "He thought me too poor to wed his sister ... his pride was hurt, and he'll never forgive it." Catherine thinks her father is in the wrong, so she suggests Linton come to Thrushcross Grange to visit instead, but Linton says four miles is too far for him to walk. This disgusts Heathcliff, and he tells Mrs. Dean "I covet Hareton with all his degradation ... I'd have loved the lad had he been someone else." Linton irritates Heathcliff even more by ignoring Catherine and preferring to sit quietly, so Heathcliff calls Hareton over and suggests he show Catherine around the farm.

When Catherine sees Hareton, she asks Heathcliff, "Oh, I'll ask you uncle ... that is not my cousin, is he?" Catherine whispers something about Hareton in Heathcliff's ear, embarrassing Hareton, but Heathcliff brushes it off, and they go play. Heathcliff tells Mrs. Dean how Hareton is the better boy than Linton, and "he can sympathise with all his feelings, having felt them myself." He explains how he taught Hareton to hate everything beyond the physical, conditioning him to live in a state of ignorance. Then Linton, regretting his decision to stay behind, catches up to Catherine and Hareton just as Catherine is asking why it says "Hareton Earnshaw" above the door (revealed in a previous chapter), but Hareton cannot read, so he does not know what it says—and Catherine and Linton do not tell him. Instead, they tease him for not being able to read, which causes Heathcliff to "cast a look of singular aversion" at Linton and Catherine. Mrs. Dean decides she doesn't like Linton either, and she doesn't blame Heathcliff "for holding him cheap."

Catherine returns to Thrushcross Grange and scolds her father for lying to her about Linton living far away. Edgar explains why Catherine cannot return to Wuthering Heights or contact Linton, but she writes to him anyway, until Mrs. Dean discovers the letters and makes Catherine burn them.

Analysis

The chapter opens up with a reference to Linton as "young Heathcliff," alerting the reader to the doubles in the chapter, making Linton a distorted mirror image of Heathcliff as a child to reinforce ideas of pity versus judgment in the novel. (It is important to note that pity is not used in the modern sense; it is more like having sympathy for or empathy with than feeling sorry for someone.) Often characters must choose between pity and judgment, and pity is typically shown to be a virtue. Mrs. Dean doesn't judge Linton at first. Instead, she makes the lack of pity in his life an excuse for his bad behavior. This jostles the reader's memory of the unfair judgment (based on dark physical features) and lack of pity the Earnshaws had for Heathcliff long ago, which flows directly into Linton and Catherine's judgment of Hareton, also a double for Heathcliff—and history repeating.

Catherine, as a character, falls in the middle of the personality types of Linton and Hareton. Physically active like Hareton and intellectually developed like Linton, she appears to be, at first, a match for Hareton, and then, later, a match for Linton. Matching in temperament is very important in the love and obsession theme in Wuthering Heights, and Catherine's love could go either way at this point.

Heathcliff's "aversion" for Catherine comes only after she fails to recognize Hareton's true value and chooses Linton's mean-spirited pride. The fact that Catherine and Linton have a lack of sympathy for Hareton and they judge him for being unable to read and write—for being lower class—makes it even worse. Heathcliff dislikes Catherine because he has made Hareton in his own image. For Heathcliff, this encounter is like the Cathy of his humiliating childhood happening all over again, and it is significant that this event takes place on Catherine's birthday; it represents the death and rebirth of Cathy, making Catherine's choice of Edgar-like Linton over Heathcliff-like Hareton even more emotionally significant for Heathcliff.

The complex structure of the chapter creates an in-depth exploration of the value of physical strength and genuineness (Hareton) versus intellectual power and upper class pride (Linton and Catherine). The reader cannot help but feel sympathy for Hareton when he cannot read his own name above the door. The reader cannot help but like Hareton and despise Linton, seeing his bad effect on Catherine's character. Soon after, Catherine and Linton's relationship grows through purely intellectual activities. However, Mrs. Dean does not see real value or love between Catherine and Linton because it isn't based on anything physical. The idea that love should have a physical—not necessarily in a sexual sense—component is an unusual one in Victorian England, which tended to privilege the intellect and spirit above things of the body.

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