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Nature Versus Culture in Wuthering Heights Essay


What is the difference between nature and culture? Does Confucius theory that "When nature exceeds culture, we have the rustic. When culture exceeds nature then we the pedant really exist? In Emily Brontes novel, Wuthering Heights, we see that the universe is made up of two opposite forces: Nature and culture.

Bronte was concerned with the meaning of life. She focused on her characters' roles in the universe, in which everythingalive or not, intellectual or physicalwas animated by one of two spiritual principles: the principle of the nature, which was harsh, ruthless, wild, and changing, and the principle of culture, which was gentle, passive, tame, and was developed in ones mind by training. Bronte used setting, characterization, and tone to demonstrate how nature and culture conflict in the novel.

In order to comprehend the conflict between nature and culture in Wuthering Heights, the reader must first analyze the setting. The wild and uncivilized manner of Wuthering Heights and the high, cultured, civilized nature of Thrushcross Grange are contrasted by use of their dissimilar settings.

The main setting for much of the novel is Wuthering Heights; its significance can be assumed from the fact that Bronte chose to title the whole book after this particular house. This location accumulates to the atmosphere of the novel, exposed as it is to all weather: "`Wuthering' being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather" (chapter one). That the wind is unforgiving is emphasized by the physical appearance of the vegetation surrounding the house: "one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun" (chapter one). As the reader comes to know the characters based at this house, it is easy to see them the same way - exposed to dignified passions and violence, but ultimately searching for love and warmth from one another.

Thrushcross Grange is the home of the civil and socially superior Lintons. The contrast with the neighboring house although only a mere four miles away - could not be greater; here the vegetation is fresh and beautiful, sheltered by the Grange's position tucked away on lower ground.

However, the Grange is not as ideal as it may seem on the surface. Edgar and Isabella Linton are spoilt and foolish as children, and greatly concerned with superficial matters such as appearance. It is Catherine's great misfortune that she finds herself torn between her love for Heathcliff and her desire for the wealth and social position that goes with the position of lady of the house at Thrushcross Grange (Shapiro,1969).

The Grange is also a place of boundaries and restrictions, surrounded by a high wall. When Catherine lies ill in bed at the Grange, all she wants is to return to her old home: "`Oh, dear! I thought I was at home,' she sighed. `I thought I was lying in my chamber at Wuthering Heights" (chapter 12), and her daughter Cathy is forbidden to go beyond the boundary walls. If the residents of Wuthering Heights find themselves exposed, those of the Grange are too sheltered from the realities of real life.

Heathcliff was an orphan Mr. Earnshaw found wandering the streets of Liverpool. Mr. Earnshaw was without a wife and had two children. Hindley, the eldest child, was very jealous of him. When Mr. Earnshaw died two years later, Hindley made Heathcliff work in the fields. Catherine, who is Mr. Earnshaws daughter, and Heathcliff remained close friends. One day, while spying on Thrushcross Grange, they saw two children, Isabella and Edgar, nearly tearing a puppy to pieces in a selfish rage. One of the Linton's dogs attacked Catherine when they tried to run. She stayed for several weeks to heal, and when she returned from the Lintons, she was well mannered and nicely dressed, which annoyed Heathcliff. Here the reader sees an encounter between nature and culture. Bronte uses characterization to distinguish Heathcliff as a man of nature, and Edgar, who was a man of culture. According to the novel, Edgar Linton from Thrushcross Grange was, according to Nelly Dean, [Edgar Linton] lacks spirit, but he is kind, honorable, and trustful. (p. 21). But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his [Edgar] abode and style of living. He is darked-skinned gypsy in aspect Thrushcross Grange was a land that symbolized culture, and was the home to Edgar Linton. The delicate spiritless Lintons in their crimson-carpeted drawing-room are radically severed from the labor which sustains them. (Eagleton, 1975). Brontes use of characterization to differ between the two characters results in Catherines fatal mistake of marrying Edgar. This is fatal because she [Catherine] is rejecting the man with whome she can be herself for one who will, gently but inexorably, require her to suppress herself. (Rogers, 1991).

Just as the seasons in nature change, Heathcliff does as well. Bronte uses tone to distinguish the conflict of nature and culture. Heathcliff goes from being a brute and heartless laborer to a wealthy and sophisticated man. Before Heathcliff was motivated to change, on page 86, Catherine tells Nelly, I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn't have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Catherine admits to Nelly that she loves Heathcliff but cannot think of marrying him because he has been degraded by Hindley. Heathcliff overhears this conversation, and he vanished from Wuthering Heights. When Heathcliff returned from his three year disappearance, he immediately set about seeking revenge on all who have wronged him.

His first campaign for cause was to cheat his way to gaining control over Wuthering Heights by taking it from Hindley. "I'm trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back. I don't care how long I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do!" (54, Heathcliff). Having come into a vast and mysterious wealth, he deviously lends money to the drunken Hindley, knowing that Hindley will increase his debts and fall into deeper despondency (Rogers, 1991). When Hindley dies, Heathcliff inherits the land.

His next gimmick involved him strategically fixing himself in line to inherit Thrushcross Grange by marrying Isabella Linton, whom he treats very cruelly. At first, Isabella was not aware of Heathcliffs intentions on trying to get revenge on her brother, so she neglected what Catherine tried telling her. Hes a fierce pitiless, wolfish man (pg 109). Suddenly Catherine turns from being arrogant and betraying to a jealous and helpless person, as she blames Heathcliff for her unhappiness. Heathcliff responds in his defense by saying, Misery and degradation and death and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart - you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. He might spare himself the trouble,' said Heathcliff: 'I could do as well without his approbation. And as to you, Catherine, I have a mind to speak a few words now, while we are at it. I want you to be aware that I KNOW you have treated me infernally - infernally! Do you hear? And if you flatter yourself that I don't perceive it, you are a fool; and if you think I can be consoled by sweet words, you are an idiot: and if you fancy I'll suffer unrevenged, I'll convince you of the contrary, in a very little while! Meantime, thank you for telling me your sister-in-law's secret: I swear I'll make the most of it. And stand you aside!' (Chapter 11).

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