The Symbolism Of Books In Wuthering Heights By Emily Bronte
‘Wuthering Heights’ written by Emily Bronte is currently deemed a work of genius, however, when the novel first came out, it received harsh criticism from society due to the presence of extreme violence and emotions. During this time period, men were the head of their families and females in the household were subject to their authority. A woman’s place was in the home taking care of the family and the house and was expected to be kind and obedient. Contrastingly, ‘Wuthering Heights’ portrays defiant and independent women and abnormal households that stray from the Victorian Era view. There was also a certain prejudice towards novels written by women, therefore, Emily Bronte was forced to use the name of a male, Ellis Bell, to credit her work. In ‘Wuthering Heights’ Bronte utilizes symbolism to add depth to the narrative. She uses the symbolism of books to show how the women implicitly take control over their lives. Bronte uses books in her novel to symbolize brute strength versus intellect, escape, and comfort. The symbolism of books is a way for the women in the novel to subtly manage the authority of men in their life.
Bronte uses books as a way for the women to gain control of their life by symbolizing escape. Catherine especially relied on the escape books gave her from her life as her library was in a “state of dilapidation [which] proved it to have been well used”. The condition of her library portrays how Catherine relied on her books often to escape the harsh nature of her life and the suffering she endured while at Wuthering Heights. Additionally, while Lockwood was over to visit Mr. Heathcliff, Cathy “reads a book by the aid of the blaze… and seemed absorbed in her occupation; desisting from it only to chide the servant”. Cathy turns to books as a way to escape the realities of her life and only breaks her concentration to address the servants. Thus, she can take control of her life by immersing herself in books and gaining more knowledge. Books serve as an escape for Cathy because it is the one consistent thing in her life that Heathcliff or anyone else cannot control. Furthermore, when Catherine falls ill, Edgar uses his library as a means to escape this conflict and he “shuts himself up among books”. Edgar avoids dealing with Catherine’s illness and by shutting himself in with books, he resorts to taking his mind off of Catherine instead of consoling her. This is because he wants to escape from the realities of his life and chooses to focus on other things. Moreover, even while Cathy was still at Thrushcross Grange, she would “steal off to corners by herself” and when Nelly would come near, she “suddenly while reading, would start and bend over the book… and hide it”. Through books, she would secretly read notes between her and Linton, which provided an escape for her beyond Thrushcross Grange. Through her exchange of notes with Linton, she was able to somewhat take control of her life, as she began to love him and rely on him for comfort and as an escape from her life at the Grange. With books, she was able to gain control of her life by being able to escape when needed.
Additionally, Bronte incorporates books to also symbolize comfort, which can allow women to have some control of their life. Even Nelly reads book and in one instance she “dared hardly lift her eyes from the page before” her because “It seemed so dismal to go upstairs” due to the storm outside. Nelly remained immersed in her book until late because it gave her comfort over the raging storm outside. She chooses to read a book rather than watch the storm outside, which gave her some control of her life. Additionally, Catherine relies on books for comfort from her boring life at the Heights When Lockwood learns that she does not have access to books anymore he says, “how do you contrive to live here without them?”. This expresses the dependence Catherine has on books because only they can provide her with solace. They give Catherine comfort because she can resort to them as books rely only on the reader and they give her relief from her suffering. Catherine is able to have peace of mind in the chaotic and uncivilized environment of the Heights. Furthermore, books give Hareton and Cathy comfort as Cathy teaches Hareton through books and they remain “bent over the page of the accepted book… and the enemies” become “sworn allies”. The books serve as a bridge between Hareton and Cathy which offers them both comfort. Cathy finally makes a friend at Wuthering Heights and can confide in Hareton as books helped them mend their conflicts and become friends and eventually lovers. Finally, the comfort that books give to Cathy shield her from the problems in her life, she once tells Lockwood, “‘I was always reading, when I had them”. Revealing that she would continuously read at the Heights because it gave her entertainment and a way to protect herself of the ongoing conflicts at Wuthering Heights. Therefore, Bronte incorporates books to symbolize comfort, which allow women to have some influence over their life.
Furthermore, the books also symbolize the notion of brute strength versus intellect. At the beginning when Lockwood dreams about the ghost of Catherine trying to get in through the window, he attempts to “pile the books up in a pyramid against it” but later “the pile of books moved as if thrust forward”. This shows how even though the books were meant to keep the figure from coming inside, they proved to be an ineffectual barrier as the books toppled over. This scene shows that books cannot displace the reality of violence, which the female characters eventually realize. Additionally, when Heathcliff was younger, he “extinguished any curiosity he once possessed in pursuit of knowledge… or love for books and learning”. Because he did not foster any ambition in obtaining more knowledge and educating himself, he reverted to violence and his brute strength as he got older. He did not have the intelligence that Catherine or anyone at the heights had so he expressed himself through his strength and extreme brutality. Also, his strength over Cathy is seen when she exclaims that “he took it into his head to destroy my books”. He does not fully comprehend the significance of books because he lacks intellect, so he destroys them to showcase his strength and make Cathy displeased. Therefore, books symbolize the polarity between strength and intellect. Through this representation, the women gain some power over their lives through their intellect, despite the brute strength of men attempting to place authority over them.
By the end of the novel Catherine does achieve power over her life as she gets to marry Hareton and finally live her life in peace without the dominating authority of Heathcliff. This occurs because books become a channel through which love can arise. Books play a crucial role in the development of the relationship of Cathy and Hareton as they bridge the gap between love and hate because by Cathy teaching Hareton through books the “treaty becomes ratified on both sides”. Through books, Cathy is finally able to achieve what she has been yearning for: control over her own life.
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