Wuthering Heights | Study Guide

Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights | Chapter 34 | Summary

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Summary

A strange illness overtakes Heathcliff and changes his personality. He is restless; he can't eat and he's unusually bright and cheerful. Mrs. Dean is curious why. Heathcliff laughs and tells her, "Last night, I was on the threshold of hell. To-day, I am within sight of my heaven." Mrs. Dean, perplexed, wonders if he's a ghoul or vampire, going as far as to remember Heathcliff's whole life and how when Mr. Earnshaw brought Heathcliff home, "the little dark thing was harboured by a good man to his bane." She shakes off her thoughts as superstitious, then she sees a vision of Heathcliff's grave, which comes true a few days later.

Meanwhile, Heathcliff's good mood confuses Hareton too. When Hareton tries to talk to him, Heathcliff tells him to get away, go to Catherine, and "he wondered how I could want the company of anybody else." Mrs. Dean has no luck coaxing Heathcliff to eat. She finds him wandering around, talking to the air as if someone were there, and clenching his hand when he reaches for food. Not being able to shake off her bad feeling, she offers to find a minister to explain the Bible to him in case he dies, but he says, "No minister need come; nor anything be said over me.—I tell you I have nearly attained my heaven; and that of others is altogether unvalued and uncoveted by me."

Mrs. Dean worries constantly about him until she goes to check on him one morning when he sleeps late, and she finds him dead in Cathy's childhood bedroom. The lattice is open and the rain falls on Heathcliff's corpse. The corpse's sneering grin and wide-open eyes horrify Mrs. Dean. She tries to close his eyes, but they won't stay shut. Joseph says Heathcliff looks wicked and the devil's taken his soul. Only Hareton grieves profoundly for Heathcliff, holding his hand and kissing his face.

Mrs. Dean describes the funeral to Mr. Lockwood. Then she tells him about the rumors and sightings of Heathcliff's and Cathy's ghosts. Even Mrs. Dean is afraid at night now, and she tells of a boy with a lamb and two sheep who she discovered crying on the moors one night. The sheep refused to walk toward the ghosts of Cathy and Heathcliff.

Analysis

The structure of the chapter takes Heathcliff quickly through the steps necessary to draw the conclusion that Heathcliff's love is entirely obsession and he has chosen Cathy over redemption. It would have been tempting to imagine Heathcliff being redeemed by Hareton and Catherine's happier reincarnation of his romance with Cathy, but Brontë makes the issue more complex than that. Heathcliff is "within the sight of my heaven," which suggests that he still lives in a moral universe centered around his and Cathy's love, rather than any larger spiritual or moral code. Since her death, Heathcliff has always longed for the company of Cathy's ghost, so it will not be surprising when he rejects Mrs. Dean's offer to fetch a minister. It is understandable what Heathcliff means by heaven when he says, "I tell you I have nearly attained my heaven; and that of others is altogether unvalued and uncoveted by me." Heaven means being with Cathy, and Cathy, while alive, made the same choice. The novel seems to suggest, for Heathcliff, eternal damnation with Cathy is better than being in heaven without her, and because of this choice, both are left outside of heaven, doomed to wander the moors. It is up to the reader to decide whether Heathcliff and Cathy have doomed themselves to an eternity of restless unhappiness, or whether they have managed to create a version of happiness uniquely suited to themselves and their turbulent love.

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