Literature

Literary Summary: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is a classic of English Gothic literature. The story is a multigenerational tale of love, sin, and redemption centering on the devilish and vindictive Heathcliff, the ecstatic Catherine Earnshaw, and Cathy Linton. Heathcliff is an orphaned young man, abused and mocked by those at Wuthering Heights – including Catherine.

Catherine mocks and taunts and whips Heathcliff out of fun, but also because she has a deep love interest in the young boy. As she tells Nelly one night: “I am Heathcliff.” She also opines that she would rather be cast out of heaven to be with Heathcliff than live separated from him, However, she marries Edgar Linton and eventually succumbs to ill health. On her deathbed she begs forgiveness from Heathcliff. Heathcliff refuses. Catherine dies and Heathcliff calls upon a curse that the ghost of Catherine haunt him for the rest of his life.

Fast forward many years: Cathy Linton, the child of Catherine and Edgar. Cathy arrives at Wuthering Heights and is ensnared in the violence of Heathcliff, his son Linton (from a woman named Isabel), and mocks her ignorant and weak cousin, Hareton. Eventually, however, Cathy learns to manifest a kind of love that was never previously shown: compassion. Cathy’s spite toward Heathcliff, Linton, and mocking torment of Hareton subsides. She shows compassion to Linton who is dying of tuberculosis and marries him. After he dies, she shows mercy and begs forgiveness from Hareton for her mocking of him earlier; he accepts and forgives.

Cathy’s compassion breaks Heathcliff’s heart of stone. He dies. The implication being Cathy was the ghost of Catherine. Cathy and Hareton marry and life, love, and beauty are finally restored to Wuthering Heights. Cathy’s compassion and forgiveness, the love that Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff were incapable of showing—and that all in Wuthering Heights were incapable of showing—is the key to undoing the curse of hatred, envy, and jealousy. Emily Brontë’s message is simple: forgiveness and compassion are the highest realities of love and bring beauty and serenity in a world of darkness.

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Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor-in-chief of VoegelinView. He is writer, classicist, and historian. He has written on the arts, culture, classics, literature, philosophy, religion, and history for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Diseases, Disasters, and Political Theory. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies (biblical studies & theology) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.

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