Wuthering Heights | Study Guide

Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Mr. Earnshaw has taken ill and now sleeps by the fire in the sitting area of Wuthering Heights. Dying has made him irritable, so everyone in the household tries not to bother him. Mr. Earnshaw's anger is most stirred when anyone tries to "impose upon or domineer over" Heathcliff, his favorite. Ellen, Joseph, and Cathy humor Mr. Earnshaw, and "that humouring was rich nourishment to the child's pride and black tempers." Hindley continues to scorn Heathcliff, which invokes his father's rage.

The curate suggests Hindley leave for college. Wuthering Heights becomes more peaceful in his absence, but Joseph stirs new discord. Constantly "sermonizing," he is relentless in "worrying [Mr. Earnshaw] about his soul's concerns." He encourages Mr. Earnshaw to disapprove of Hindley, Heathcliff, and Cathy in order to gain more influence over the master of the estate.

Mrs. Dean describes Cathy during this time as putting "all of us past our patience fifty times and oftener in a day." Cathy is always "singing, laughing, and plaguing everybody who would not do the same." At the same time, she praises Cathy's sweet smile and "bonn[y] eye." The stricter Mr. Earnshaw becomes as he nears death, the more Cathy "delights in provoking him." Her favorite way to bother her father comes through showing him how Heathcliff does all of her bidding, while he only does Mr. Earnshaw's bidding "when it suited his own inclination." This leads to Cathy's father rejecting her and telling her, "I cannot love thee, thou'rt worse than thy brother."

One warm, windy night, Mr. Earnshaw dies. Cathy, Mrs. Dean, and Heathcliff "wail ... loud and bitter" together. Mrs. Dean must fetch the doctor. When she returns, seeking solace for herself as much as to console the others, she peeps through Cathy and Heathcliff's door, but they are calm and do not need her to console them.

Analysis

The theme of pride versus humility develops as readers see the emotional distance between the servants and upper-class characters in the novel. Joseph turns Mr. Earnshaw against Cathy. Heathcliff's pride increases because he is Mr. Earnshaw's favorite, as Ellen's place in the house diminishes. Ellen is sent to fetch the doctor and excluded from finding comfort when she returns even though she is just as upset about Mr. Earnshaw's death as Cathy and Heathcliff. This shift in status and the characters' differing responses to it heavily influences their actions later in the story.

Is Cathy good or not, and do Ellen's negative comments contain a bias against Cathy, whom she also describes as liking to sing and laugh? Like Heathcliff, Cathy's character is full of contradictions. Like Heathcliff, Cathy also suffers deep rejection. Her father tells her he cannot love her, which hardens her, but she still kisses his hand and sings to him as he lies dying. Cathy's father's last words to her are: "Why canst thou not always be a good lass, Cathy?" In response, she laughs and asks why he cannot always be a good man. Cathy struggles between acting as a "good lass" and being "bold, saucy" and having her own way.

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