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Social Status

By , West Chester, PA
The novel Wuthering Heights takes place in nineteenth century England, a time where social class held utmost importance and the characters in this novel were no exception to that standard. The effects of the extreme importance placed on social status on the characters is seen throughout the novel. These social pressures effected the character’s sense of self, and more importantly, their relationships and love. Heathcliff had the most trouble fitting into the prim and proper standards of the English high class society when he arrived at Wuthering Heights. Many of the family members shared negative opinions of him except Catherine, who herself once belonged to the lower class. The relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine ended on the basis of the negative views of Heathcliff and his lack of high social class. In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte illustrates how Heathcliff and Catherine are effected by the importance of social status.

Moreover, the effects of social class had the greatest impact on the two main characters in the novel, Heathcliff and Catherine. Heathcliff appeared poor and unkept but when Catherine saw him, she knew she loved him. But there was also Edgar, a handsome and wealthy man who Catherine also experienced feelings for. When choosing which man she would marry it became clear that the high social class of Edgar outweighed her true passion for Heathcliff. “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know I love him” (Bronte, 82). When asked why Catherine loved Edgar she explained it was because he was handsome, young, cheerful, and wealthy. “I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband” (Bronte, 80). Catherine was concerned about her reputation among the other women she knew, although Nelly knew that, in reality, Catherine’s true passion and love lied with Heathcliff. Nelly questioned Catherine on her acceptance of Edgar’s marriage proposal because she saw that Catherine wanted to marry him for all the wrong reasons. Catherine knew this as well but fear kept her from admitting to herself that she loved someone who could possibly ruin her social class and reputation. “My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath- a source of little visible delight, but necessary” (Bronte, 84). Even Catherine herself recognized her true love was Heathcliff saying that while he may not be handsome and socially acceptable, she needed Heathcliff. Catherine’s impression of Heathcliff came not only from herself but from the opinions of the strong minded people around her.

Furthermore, Catherine was not the only one who held high social standards, especially when it came to Heathcliff. From the moment that Mr. Earnshaw arrived back to Wuthering Heights Heathcliff was not greeted with open arms, ”Hindley hated him, and to say the truth, I [Nelly] did the same” (Bronte, 42). Hindley’s strong opinions on Heathcliff influenced Catherine. The impression that Heathcliff made was that when he first walked into Wuthering Heights looking disheveled, the first sign of a person in England with low social class. Everyone at Wuthering Heights saw Heathcliff as a “dirty, ragged, black haired child” and a “gipsy brat” (Bronte, 41). Because of these conceptions that the English had during this time, almost all of the family members at Wuthering Heights wanted nothing to do with Heathcliff.

Accordingly, Catherine also tried to convince her sister-in-law, Isabella, not to marry Heathcliff. She feared the same thing for Isabella that she did herself, she did not want her to lessen her reputation by marrying Heathcliff. She called him “a half-civilized ferocity” and yet again mentioned how he would degrade her (Bronte, 96). Edgar, Isabella’s brother also very much despised the idea of her marrying Heathcliff. Edgar did not want someone of Heathcliff’s status to have the rights to the land and the fortune of Wuthering Heights and the Thrushcross Grange. He did not believe someone such as Heathcliff deserved so much and thought Heathcliff only wanted status and wealth. All of this hatred towards Heathcliff stems from the views all of the characters share about the importance of social class and keeping a good reputation. Neither Catherine nor Edgar cared that Isabella actually loved Heathcliff. The social importance effected Heathcliff that his relationship with Isabella stemmed from revenge. Heathcliff wanted to exact revenge on Edgar and Catherine for their marriage, since Catherine chose Edgar over him. Heathcliff knew that by having relations with Edgar’s sister he could obtain his revenge. Heathcliff knew of the hatred towards him caused by his social class.

Therefore, the major theme that runs through the novel Wuthering Heights, is the effect of social classes in nineteenth century England. The social standards of the characters create havoc in the lives and the relationships. The relationship most effected by these views of social classes is that of Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s. If not for the skewed view of social importance Catherine would have married Heathcliff over Edgar. Catherine had a passion for Heathcliff but in the end was negatively impacted by the strong, narrow-minded opinions of Hindley and the others at Wuthering Heights. Another relationship involving Heathcliff was also looked down upon due to his low social class. The main character, Heathcliff, has the negative conceptions of social importance impact him the most throughout this novel.




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