Discuss the ways in which Bronte portrays childhood in the opening of Wuthering Heights
Where most of the other literature of the era shows childhood as a time of innocence and enjoyment, Bronte portrays childhood as a time of difficult, uncontrollable passion and confusion to be overcome by growing into adulthood.
Heathcliff has an especially difficult childhood, as he enters the Earnshaw family as an orphan from a much lower class, meaning he has a lot to adjust to. Bronte doesnt reveal where Heathcliff has come from, however through his characteristics we can guess that he perhaps had a difficult and violent start to life.
This is shown through his violent nature and attitude towards Hindley, and he doesnt seem scared or fazed by the way Hindley treats or speaks to him. For example and down he fell, but staggered up immediately and he would stand Hindley's blows without winking or shedding a tear, reflects how much stronger and tougher Heathcliff is in comparison to Hindley who has led a sheltered life.
Although Hindleys treatment of Heathcliff is horrible, it can be understood why, as a child, he behaved this way, because Heathcliff came in as a threat to his legacy, and his rude behaviour was a way of self-preservation and a natural instinct as a child, not liking a new arrival, especially of such a different class.
Heathcliffs appearance is also said to reflect that of a Roma or gypsy, described as a dirty, ragged, black haired child perhaps relating to his solitary, reserved nature, as he feels he doesnt belong.
The difference between the behaviour of Catherine and Hindley in comparison to that of Heathcliff is always evident. For example when the children all have measles Nelly says Cathy and her brother harassed me terribly, he was as uncomplaining as a lamb; though hardness, not gentleness, made him give little trouble. .This could show that he is appreciative of the opportunity and life he has been given by Mr. Earnshaw, however Nellys comment of though hardness, not gentleness, made him give little trouble implies that he is just not effected by pain, and he prefers to keep himself to himself, apart from when his love with Cathy begins.
Bronte presents childhood as a prominent contributing factor in the development of the characters. Because Heathcliff has grown up with Cathys strong, almost obsessive love, he finds the concept of living without it impossible, shown through his anguish when Cathy is at the Lintons for five weeks, Heathcliff says I intended shattering their great glass panes to a million of fragments, unless they let her out. This indicates his dependency on her, and begins to explain why his behaviour becomes so cruel later in the novel as he cant live without her.
Catherine never seems to leave her childhood, as Bronte portrays her as a petulant, stubborn character throughout the course of the book. Mr. Earnshaw always favours Heathcliff, and although Hindley is obnoxious, as he is the heir to the estate, he is merely sent off to school, whereas Catherine is ignored and unnoticed as Mr Earnshaws daughter. This can be shown through petting him up far above Cathy, who was too mischievous and wayward for a favourite.
Catherine has been accustomed to the finer things in life, and this is reflected later in the story where she has the struggle as to who she will marry, as Linton offers what she is used to and what she wants, but she loves Heathcliff. She takes to Heathcliff a lot easier than Hindley does, and they come to develop a strong friendship which later develops into love.
Catherine seems to be very conceited throughout her childhood, and this is a contributing factor to her immaturity as she grows up. Cathy likes to be the centre of attention, and will kick up a fuss if she doesnt get her way. She could be described as having a very strong attitude. This can be shown through when she learnt the master had lost her whip in attending the stranger, showed her humour by grinning and spitting at the stupid little thing displaying her petulance and arrogance.
Upon meeting Heathcliff, Catherine is thrown into turmoil of emotional chaos, even from a very young age. A combination of Heathcliffs influence and feeling rejected from her father encourages Catherine to rebel, and she becomes even more of a free spirit, roaming the moors with Heathcliff. Her childhood goes from a fairly peaceful innocent affair to a passionate frenzy of love and companionship spurred on by the ferocious love between Catherine and Heathcliff.
In conclusion, Heathcliff, Hindley, and Catherine, all had childhoods that were not perceived as normal at the time. They were all very affected by Heathcliffs arrival in the family, and these factors continued to affect their lives further into the story.