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Wuthering Heights | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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What is the significance of Heathcliff and the servants' reactions to the dogs attacking Mr. Lockwood in Chapter 1 of Wuthering Heights?

As it would be expected for the wealthy owner of two estates to keep a guest safe, Heathcliff and his servant Joseph's slow and unconcerned reaction when the dogs attack reveals antipathy, bordering on cruelty, establishing a sense of danger and chaos. The dog attack happens just after Mr. Lockwood describes Wuthering Heights as a wind-and-storm-battered location. This connects to how the narrator describes the servant quelling the dogs as "the storm subsided magically ... heaving like a sea after a high wind," since the servants, throughout the novel, will continuously attempt to repudiate (Joseph), shelter (Mrs. Dean), and ameliorate the abuse the main characters will bestow upon each other or be forced to endure.

What evidence in Chapter 3 of Wuthering Heights confirms that the ghost of Cathy is real?

The events in the chapter suggest the ghost is real even if it appears in a nightmare. Mr. Lockwood sees a ghostly image, "a glare of white letters ... as vivid as spectres" before he falls asleep. The ghost of Cathy speaks her own name, using Linton, which Mr. Lockwood notes is not the name he focused his attention on earlier. Cathy's spirit also tells Mr. Lockwood that "I've been a waif for twenty years," information impossible for Mr. Lockwood to know. It could be argued Cathy has not been dead that long, but the spirit does not use the words gone or dead, she purposely uses the word waif, and she did suffer being reduced to a waif—a homeless child, a thin person, or something unclaimed—which has connotations of both illness and homelessness, years before she dies. The only hint the ghost is a figment of Mr. Lockwood's imagination comes after Heathcliff accuses him of being "mad to speak so." Mr. Lockwood's fear of insulting Heathcliff causes him to make the excuse of "reading it [etching on the ledge] often over produced an impression which personified itself." Previously Mr. Lockwood did not doubt at all the house is haunted and "swarming with ghosts and goblins." The final confirmation of Cathy's ghost actually existing comes from Heathcliff opening the lattice and begging her to come in.

What does Heathcliff's reaction to abuse in Chapter 4 of Wuthering Heights suggest about his character as a child?

Mrs. Dean says Heathcliff "would stand Hindley's blows without winking," and when she pinched him he would act as if it happened "by accident." He does not appear to be naturally violent, allowing others, including Cathy, who spit on him, to injure him and refraining from striking back. She also conjectures Heathcliff is already used to "ill-treatment" by the time Mr. Earnshaw brings him to Wuthering Heights. Yet, he adapts quickly to his new environment and learns to manipulate to get what he wants. Even though Mrs. Dean suggests he will become vindictive later, he seems at first to be struggling to survive in an abusive environment where he is despised by almost everyone.

What is the thematic significance of Hindley and Heathcliff's fight over the horses in Chapter 4 of Wuthering Heights?

Heathcliff's "hold" of Mr. Earnshaw's "heart" and using it to claim the best horse for himself ties in with the theme of judgment versus pity. Hindley, having no pity, loses his father's love and wreaks his father's judgment; Heathcliff gains love by being pitiful and escapes Mr. Earnshaw's judgment for his manipulative behavior. (Heathcliff manipulates Hindley in taking the "handsomest" horse and then taking Hindley's horse when the handsome horse "fell lame.") Since the very first moment Mr. Earnshaw saw Heathcliff, "he was determined he would not leave it as he found it." Mr. Earnshaw is the only member of the family moved to pity for the homeless child Heathcliff. Hindley's malice toward Heathcliff isolates him from his own father, who loves and pities Heathcliff. The fight over the horses between the two boys represents how a lack of pity for Heathcliff and lack of justice for Hindley leads to both of their being emotionally twisted in ways impossible to straighten later, ensuring only tragedy for both characters.

What is the difference between Joseph and young Mrs. Dean's viewpoints in Chapter 5 of Wuthering Heights?

Mrs. Dean, as a young girl, at the time of Mr. Earnshaw's death, believes Joseph is a self-righteous hypocrite, who believes everyone is evil except for him. This leads Joseph to vexing Mr. Earnshaw—to the point of illness in young Mrs. Dean's opinion—and turning him against his children. Mrs. Dean sees Cathy, Hindley, and Heathcliff differently than Joseph does. She sees Cathy as high-spirited, not evil. Heathcliff she describes as smitten with Cathy, a follower, willing to do her bidding. Mrs. Dean understands how Mr. Earnshaw's rejection hardens Cathy against her father and against Joseph's moralizing. There is a significant difference in how the two characters view death. Joseph scolds young Mrs. Dean, Cathy, and Heathcliff for crying for Mr. Earnshaw because he believes it is sacrilegious to mourn when someone has died. Joseph is a hardened man while Mrs. Dean is a child and still has a child's outlook even though she has the responsibilities of an adult.

How does Hindley's new wife, Frances Earnshaw, affect the plot in Chapter 6 of Wuthering Heights?

Hindley seems to have matured while away at college. However, Frances Earnshaw's dislike of Heathcliff provokes Hindley's old hatred, resulting in Heathcliff's lowered status and loss of education. There are several significant instances throughout the novel, during which darkness has the opportunity to turn to light, and this is one of those moments when happiness and peace are thwarted by a lack of compassion, allowing judgment to win over pity. It is significant that Mrs. Dean suspects Frances Earnshaw of low birth and describes in detail how the she delights over the estate, as well as her efforts to win Cathy's love with gifts. This signals a desire to advance her station in life. As in numerous instances in the novel, climbing the social heights requires putting others in a position below.

What can be learned from how Mr. and Mrs. Linton treat Cathy differently from Heathcliff when they are both caught snooping in Chapter 6 of Wuthering Heights?

Mr. and Mrs. Linton take pity—in the sense of sympathy and compassion—on Cathy for being a girl from a wealthy family in mourning for her father's death. Heathcliff is judged for cursing, and he is stereotyped by the Lintons as a "gipsy" and a thief for having dark skin and hair. Heathcliff mentions seeing the Linton family in church, yet they do not "see" him as a true member of the Earnshaw family even with prior knowledge of Mr. Earnshaw adopting him. They judge him by their standards, reserving no pity for someone below their own station. This moment of humiliation for Heathcliff leads to all of the major conflicts that follow in Wuthering Heights, showing just how powerful choosing to judge rather than seek true understanding can be.

How does Brontë use the two narrators conversing in the present in Chapter 7 as a device to reveal character and illustrate bigger ideas in Wuthering Heights?

There are two distinct parts to Chapter 7: Mrs. Dean's story about Cathy, Heathcliff, and the Linton children, and Mrs. Dean's conversation with Mr. Lockwood. The two parts are connected, since they both focus on class distinctions. In the first part of the chapter Mrs. Dean reveals her true feelings about the class distinctions of her society. She gives Heathcliff the advice to heal his injured pride by considering the possibility that he could have come from a noble bloodline. Then she points out that Heathcliff is physically stronger than Edgar. This sheds light on her perceptions of privileged children: how she feels disdain for their physical weakness. In describing Edgar as the type of child who "cried for mamma at every turn ... and trembled if a country lad heaved his fist at you ... and sat at home all day for a shower of rain," Mrs. Dean shows what she values: a strong underdog type like Heathcliff over a pampered privileged child, leaving the reader to wonder if she too felt the sting of bearing her own low station in society. In the second part of the chapter Mr. Lockwood tells Mrs. Dean she does not possess the "manners" "peculiar" to her class, signaling to the reader that (1) servants do not typically show their wisdom to their wealthy masters, (2) Mr. Lockwood considers himself superior to Mrs. Dean, (3) it does not occur to Mr. Lockwood that he is being condescending, or (4) that Mrs. Dean is intelligent enough to know that he is being condescending. Though she laughs in response, Mrs. Dean tells Mr. Lockwood she has read all the books in the library and "sharp discipline" has taught her wisdom. The reader is left to connect the first part of the chapter to the second part of the chapter, to come to the conclusion that upper-class members of society do not necessarily deserve the privilege they enjoy, and they are not automatically better and smarter than their servants; they just think they are, and the current society supports the false notion that they are.

What is the thematic significance of Mr. Lockwood's comments on marriage in Chapter 7 of Wuthering Heights?

After admitting the country lifestyle of Wuthering Heights would be a good environment for finding "a love for life," since there is less chance of distraction from "frivolous, external things," Mr. Lockwood describes his personal view of love. By describing love past a year as "almost impossible" and confusing Mrs. Dean with his superficial views about love being a boring "single dish" or "a table laid out by french maids," meaningless yet full of variety, Mr. Lockwood's comments provide an antithesis for the love and obsession theme that develops in the novel. Cathy and Heathcliff's intense love would be impossible for a character like Mr. Lockwood to truly comprehend or ever experience. However, his more normal and casual attitude helps the reader to fully grasp the exploration of the types of love that occur in Wuthering Heights. He is the lightest on the scale of passion; Cathy and Heathcliff are the heaviest.

Is Mrs. Dean an unreliable narrator in Wuthering Heights?

First, an unreliable narrator, by definition, is untrustworthy due to a mental condition or a seriously skewed perspective, such as Montresor in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe. Mrs. Dean is no Montresor. She is not obsessed by her subjects, nor does she consistently lie, manipulate, or skew the truth. Her agenda, if she has one, changes as circumstances change, in relation to the other characters, which is very natural and human. Brontë draws her to be a fully developed character, and because she is human, with biases, opinions, and preferences, at times she is unreliable. It is only because of her narration that the reader knows she can be manipulative or spiteful: she tells Mr. Lockwood her negative feelings, hinting at her culpability in negative plot events, and she relates how her perspective changes over 23 years. Admitting faults makes her trustworthy more than it makes her unreliable. However, it is important for the reader to recognize that Mrs. Dean is not an objective narrator; her version of the truth is subjective. In addition, her narration is problematic because Mr. Lockwood's personality interferes, and it is impossible for the reader to know to what extent. It's also problematic because Mrs. Dean reveals hardly any personal information about her own life outside of her life as a servant. For instance, the reader only discovers at the very end of the novel that Mrs. Dean rents her own cottage. The reader will never know when or why she lives there. Mrs. Dean only hints at her discontent with being a servant. Without "seeing" her apart from Mr. Lockwood and the privileged characters, it is impossible to know if she has a dual nature, acting differently in different environments. She does slide different speech styles into the narration when she describes her conversations with Joseph and Zillah, but she is still relating the story to Mr. Lockwood, and she keeps with a certain level of formality in the narration. In the end it is impossible to categorize her wholly as an unreliable narrator.

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