Sunday, 2 June 2013

A2 English Literature: Education and Texts in Wuthering Heights

Throughout Wuthering Heights, texts are referenced frequently - they may serve as part of the narrative structure, they may be an important plot device and, more often than not, they link to power and oppression.

In the opening chapters, we, like Lockwood, don't really know what's going on. He keeps mistaking people for people's wives and daughters and it's all getting a bit awkward. So when he retires to bed, and stumbles upon Catherine's diary, which he refers to as "a Testament". Although this suggests that Catherine has written her diary in the blank margins of several books (which was typical at the time of writing, since paper was so expensive), it could also have symbolic meaning. By having Catherine's story written in Holy Scripture, what are we told about her 'story'? Are she and Heathcliff Adam and Eve, who "are going to rebel" against the natural order of things?

More importantly, though, the diary serves as a narrative device that lets us a) overcome some of the confusion of the preceding scenes and b) give us insight into Catherine's character.

The Bible is also associated with Joseph and Heathcliff. The association with Joseph is easy - he's your typical God-fearing character who appears bitter and callous throughout the entirety of the novel. At one point, Heathcliff's dogs are referred to as "possessed swine". This is a direct quotation from the Bible, and highlights Heathcliff as a demonic figure. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that throughout the novel, Joseph is subservient to Heathcliff. Considering Heathcliff is associated with the devil, what does this say about Joseph? Is he the devil's accomplice, even though he appears to represent religion?

When Heathcliff and Isabella get married, we are given insight into Isabella's life through her letters to Nelly. This epistolary technique allows for many things. Firstly, it gives us insight into Isabella's isolated nature; the fact that she writes to Nelly, a servant, noting "the only choice left me is you", shows that she really has hit rock-bottom as a 'respectable lady', since she is having to write to a servant.

It also gives us an insight into Isabella's life without Nelly having to be present in the action itself. Also, Isabella gives us some great language that can be used for describing Heathcliff: "Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?" As well as some great language about the setting of Wuthering Heights: "an ancient castle", "a dingy, untidy hole" and "I remained in the dark."

Then, later on in the novel, we understand the 'passion' between Cathy and Linton when we learn that they have been sending letters to one another. The use of letters here is interesting in two ways. Firstly, it suggests that Heathcliff is at least partially dictating Linton's letters ("touches, here and there, which I thought were borrowed from a more experienced source" - or you could argue that this refers to literature and not Heathcliff), which suggests that texts and power go hand in hand with Heathcliff. Secondly, it gives Nelly an active role in the novel - she becomes a participator as opposed to an observer when she burns the letters in the fire.

Cathy uses texts and education for power when she secretly leaves Thrushcross Grange to visit Wuthering Heights. She notes that "I gave Michael books and pictures to prepare Minny every evening" as well as "he offered, if I would lend him books out of the library, to do what I wished". By using books to more or less bribe her way into getting what she wants, Cathy is effectively using literacy/education as power. Also in this chapter, Nelly asks Cathy to read her a book to make her feel better since she is ill. This suggests that books may have a different sort of power - a power that is replenishing and restorative.

When we are introduced into the quiet, sulky Hareton Earnshaw, we are alerted of the fact that he cannot read. Considering Heathcliff is 'caring' (I use the word loosely) for Hareton, this is down to him. Yet the fact that Hareton is deprived of education is what appears to give Heathcliff power. Once again, Heathcliff uses the restriction of education/texts to take power from others. This is reversed when Cathy leaves books for Hareton - she remedies Heathcliff's mistreatment.

I'm sure there are other examples of education and texts being used, but I've just discussed the ones that came into my mind. I can imagine a section a question focusing on texts/education/literacy in the exam, too, since there's so much to talk about. Hope it helps! 

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