In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte employs the character Heathcliff as both a real and mythic being in order to challenge class conventions in Victorian society. She shares this societal contention with other Victorian novelists, but where her contemporaries are typically realistic in their works, Bronte creates a concurrent mythic realm alongside the real in order to allow Heathcliff the space and license to be a Revenant, a symbol used in the folk tradition of the Scots, which I contend was a likely influence on Bronte’s work. Heathcliff’s real nature clashes with this symbolic one, especially when reality will not allow him to be with Catherine, the woman he loves. Her rejection of him serves two central purposes: 1) for the author to spotlight the arbitrary nature of the class system and the decisions individuals make inside it; and 2) for the author to provide a pivot point in the story at which she transforms Heathcliff from a real character to a mythic one. Heathcliff spends the latter half of the novel exacting redemptive punishment on all who have wronged him (and the marginalized he represents), including Catherine herself, a reality he struggles with because he still loves her despite her class-motivated marriage to the hated Edgar Linton. In the end, Heathcliff transgresses his symbolic purpose by going too far in punishing the innocent Hareton, at which point Bronte has him die as unceremoniously as she did Catherine earlier in the novel. Young Hareton and Cathy’s relationship is the fruit of the Revenant Heathcliff’s redeeming work, an ending that, for Bronte, seems to merge more than just the two houses; it seems to also reconcile divergent and conflicting ways of thinking inside the class system.
|Commitee:||Bobo, Elizabeth, Ryan, Laurel|
|School:||University of Louisiana at Lafayette|
|School Location:||United States -- Louisiana|
|Source:||MAI 57/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||British and Irish literature|
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