Wuthering Heights | Study Guide

Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

After spending five weeks at Thrushcross Grange with the Lintons, Cathy returns, transformed into a lady. Her meeting with Heathcliff is awkward. Cathy is glad to see him, but he feels ashamed and insulted when she laughs at his "dirty," unkempt appearance.

The Linton family has accepted an invitation for a Christmas party at Wuthering Heights with the condition that Heathcliff not attend. The night before the party, Mrs. Dean reflects on Old Mr. Earnshaw's fondness for Heathcliff and how no one cares for him now. Feeling guilty, she offers to help dress and clean him, so he can impress Cathy. Heathcliff refuses Mrs. Dean's offer, and the next morning, leaves the house early to spend the day on the moors. Later in the day, though, he changes his mind, finds Mrs. Dean in the kitchen, and asks her to "make me decent. I'm going to be good." While standing in front of a mirror, speaking of Heathcliff's eyes, Mrs. Dean advises him to "change the fiends to innocent angels, suspecting and doubting nothing, and always seeing friends when they are not sure of foes." She urges him to pretend his family history is noble to give him "courage and dignity to support the oppressions of a little farmer."

Mrs. Dean does not know at this time that Heathcliff is not allowed to join the Christmas party, so when the Lintons arrive she encourages Heathcliff, dressed up now, to emerge from the kitchen into the sitting area. Hindley is just coming into the kitchen at the same moment, and seeing Heathcliff dressed up, mocks him and threatens to beat him if he even comes downstairs during the party. Just then, Edgar Linton peeks his head into the kitchen and makes fun of Heathcliff's long hair. Embarrassed, Heathcliff flings a pot of hot applesauce on Edgar. Hindley takes Heathcliff upstairs, beats him, and locks him in his room. Cathy tries to enjoy the party after that, but she is too distressed by Heathcliff's absence. Eventually, Mrs. Dean finds her in Heathcliff's locked bedroom—she had climbed up on the rafters then out onto the roof to get into his room.

After the party, Mrs. Dean brings Heathcliff into the kitchen, since he has not eaten much for two days now. Heathcliff tells Mrs. Dean he wants revenge on Hindley: "I'm trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back ... I don't care how long I wait." "It is for God to punish the wicked" Mrs. Dean pleads, trying to change Heathcliff's mind. "No," Heathcliff says, "God won't have the satisfaction that I shall."

Mrs. Dean interrupts the story to converse with Mr. Lockwood, who speculates that she seems more thoughtful than her role as a servant would lead others to believe.

Analysis

Mrs. Dean is, as Mr. Lockwood rather condescendingly notes, wiser than her social status as a servant suggests; she dispenses sane, constructive advice to Heathcliff, and she is kind to him in this chapter, but her advice has to compete with the terms of the cruel social world, which appears bent on rejecting him no matter what he does. Heathcliff wants to clean up his appearance to impress Cathy, but he believes, not without cause, that the deck is not stacked in his favor. Again, the novel displays the tension between the will to be good and the struggle to do so in a heartless world.

Mrs. Dean also acts as a moral compass as she elaborates on how "proud people breed sad sorrows on themselves," a problem Heathcliff knows all too well. At the same time, she urges him to imagine a lineage to be proud of. This attitude suggests readers should consider variations of pride, some—such as lacking humility in social situations—are wicked, and some—such as pride in one's self despite class distinctions—are useful and harmless, considering Heathcliff has no way of knowing his origins anyway. Either way, the advice Mrs. Dean gives Heathcliff in this chapter speaks volumes about her character's inner workings.

During this chapter Heathcliff's personality undergoes a terrible transformation. Heathcliff has been able to withstand being beaten by Hindley and forced to become a servant, but losing Cathy's friendship and respect is too much to bear. While he has been relegated to outdoor labor, the difference in their social status is painfully obvious, although her affection for Heathcliff has not changed. Thwarted in his attempts to turn to the good, he embraces revenge in order to dull his pain. Mrs. Dean's insistence on forgiveness fails to persuade him to change his mind. Heathcliff makes the case that fulfilling his revenge is superior to forgiveness. Due to an explosive mixture of pride and pain, Heathcliff has opted for an absolute path from which there appears to be no turning back.

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