The Beggarly Interloper and The Bright, Graceful Damsel

March 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

“Heathcliff was hard to discover, at first . . . that naughty swearing boy” (Wuthering Heights pp.51-3).

From his arrival, nearly all the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights treat young Heathcliff disdainfully and as “the other” who has intruded into wealthy enclave. Though the difference between the “beggarly interloper” and the Earnshaw family results in some scuffles and horrible maltreatment from Hindley, the issue of his distinction from them never truly comes to a head until Master Earnshaw dies and Heathcliff’s influential ally is lost (38). At nearly this same time, Catherine Earnshaw, having fallen sick at Thrushcross Grange, is taken in by the Linton family of the manor, and pampered and prodded until she is both recovered and transformed into a “proper lady.” The occurrence of these two events sets a change in the environment of the manors in motion and Heathcliff is suddenly more detached from the life led by the families than ever before. Subsequently, the differences in class and appearance between the “proper” characters of the novel and the adopted Heathcliff are emphasized in the different characters’ language and tones during conversation. Brontë employs these devices as well as extensive imagery in the description of a sulking Heathcliff in contrast to the “new” clean Catherine in order to suggest how extremely different the two had truly become. These devices and language use serve to develop one of Wuthering Heights’ central themes of the ruin of a pure, beautiful and seemingly indestructible bond by others’ institution of social stratification.

Catherine’s time at Thrushcross Grange with the Linton family serves to properly accommodate her to the life she “should” have been living at Wuthering Heights with her own family. The change in the young girl comes rather suddenly, and only when her equally unruly companion, Heathcliff, is not around to act as an influence on her actions. In this passage Heathcliff is presented with his former sweetheart, now referred to as an entirely different person, “the newcomer,” and can do little but brood in her direction because of the already existing constraints on their relationship instituted by his antagonist, Hindley. Brontë describes the imminent aesthetic difference between the two as Catherine steps into the Heights a new person, with “fingers wonderfully whitened with doing nothing” the past five weeks, new clothing and polished hair. Heathcliff, the “dirty boy,” however, is described as having his own “uncombed hair,” a “dismally beclouded” and dirty face, and not having seen soap and water in months. While the two had grown to be such inseparable romping playmates, confidantes, and as near to lovers as adolescents can, the five week stay in the lap of luxury serves to differentiate Catherine entirely from her former counterpart and different rules exist for their interactions now. Heathcliff is told to shake her hand and reacquaint himself “like the other servants,” again instituting the concept of Heathcliff being “the other,” as well as not worthy of introduction with the rest of the family with whom he has grown up.

What is shocking about this divide between the two children is how easily the difference in their social status can tear them apart. Though always represented somewhat in terms of grime or dirt, the imagery Brontë uses to describe Heathcliff becomes more negative: the “black and cross” boy is on the opposite end of the spectrum from young Catherine. While it is Catherine who has undergone the makeover, the description of Heathcliff’s image also changes, and for the first time since his arrival, he is represented to the reader as innately different from Catherine. The suggestion arises, then, that this difference comes from the differences in their lineage and race. When entering the Linton’s house, Catherine is almost immediately distinguished as of Earnshaw blood while Mr. Linton exclaims Heathcliff to possibly be “a little Lascar, or an American or Spanish castaway,” questioning his background and bringing up the issue of racism as a possible reason for his maltreatment (49). Shortly after this, the “pure” Earnshaw child is taken into the Linton home, and Heathcliff is turned away like an orphaned animal and left to run back to Wuthering Heights alone. The theme of black versus white in Brontë’s imagery overflows in this passage, with the darker of the two children representing filth, naughtiness, and something for which Heathcliff should be ashamed. Brontë refers to Catherine’s fingers as “wonderfully whitened,” and therefore something to be proud of rather than animalistic and unclean like Heathcliff’s hands had been from tending to the horses of the Heights. Finally, this difference in colors between the two is also indicative in their new demeanors, as Heathcliff has become even more dark, brooding, and sullen while Catherine is no longer playful and interested in mischievous adventures with her companion. Instead, the young girl has become bright and bubbly and takes curiosity in the things of propriety such as the cleanliness of her dress and the behavior and appearance of others. In very few pages, Emily Bronte is able to suggest the ability of a new dress and hygiene ritual as a barrier between two people and the cause of an undeniably uncomfortable strain between Heathcliff and Catherine.

The dialogue between the two is strained, as well, as Catherine attempts to rekindle their friendship and closeness upon her arrival, while Heathcliff continues to mope. Almost immediately, the girl tells him how dingy he looks now, but that it must be “because [she’s] used to Edgar and Isabella Linton” by now, hinting at a superiority in their appearances versus his. In so many words, Catherine literally tells him she has “seen the light” or the wrongs of her former ways, and she realizes now how she “should” act or appear. Though she means no harm in what she is saying, the current differences between the two are so obvious now that she has been reformed, that the girl cannot help but take note. Later she harps on him, “If you wash your face, and brush your hair, it will be all right; but you are so dirty!” suggesting that he is currently no longer “all right” for her or an acceptable companion, but could possibly be so if he cleaned up his dirtied image like she has. The tension in the dialogue is added to with Catherine’s seemingly unintentional tone of superiority when suggesting these changes to her companion. Though Heathcliff had protected and cared for Catherine before her stay at the Grange, the roles of who attempts to look out for whom change between the children. Catherine now takes an almost mockingly maternal tone with the boy, indicating that with her new clothes she has also adopted status superior to his which grants her the right to note the changes he must make to his appearance. Thus, Catherine has adopted the mindset of the Linton family who took her in and found it their duty to change the dirtied girl’s appearance into one of refinement and appropriateness. Heathcliff later recognizes this superiority of the Linton children in conversation with Nelly, describing “Edgar Linton’s great blue eyes and even forehead” as opposed to his own, and bemoaning the luck and fate that he will incur throughout his lifetime as a result of it (55). Though Heathcliff still recognizes himself as somewhat superior to the cowardly, pampered Edward, with Catherine’s change into one of “them” he no longer finds himself worthy of her affections and maintains the rough exterior of a scorned man throughout his life.

The shockingly quick division between two promising soulmates by something as seemingly paltry as aesthetics suggests to the reader that perhaps the bond between the two was not entirely strong in the first place. A simple stay with a wealthy and pretentious family leads Catherine Earnshaw to realize the family to whom she was born, and who her alliances lie with and thus the difference this makes in her life. This realization and the changes brought about by the Linton family serves to distinguish both Catherine and Heathcliff as entirely separate people, where at one point they had been inseparable, almost conjoined. Brontë’s rich, image-laden language and representation of dialogue between the polar extremes of the Linton-Earnshaw coalition and the ragamuffin Heathcliff represent to the reader the importance of social status in this time and the suggestion that it is more important than even the truest love.

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