Wuthering Heights was published in 1847, in the 19th century, in England when class was the primary determiner of an individual’s power. People with a social status of upper class had all the power while those in the lower class, the poor, worked for them as servants. Back then, the norm was that People remained in the classes they were born. If your parents were wealthy, you would be rich, and if your parents were poor, you would most likely be poor. It was a different time back then, It was challenging for one to change their social classes.
In Wuthering Heights, Bronte shows that the will to improve one’s status can result in unhappiness and failure. Characters in the story try to elevate their social status, but in most plans, they fail, or they result in loneliness and depression. The characters in the novel have an undying desire for power that hinders or motivates them from changing their social status. As a result of the want to move up in the social class, We’re going to take a closer look at just how greedy and depressed certain characters become in the novel. Owing to his low social status, Emily Bronte shows how Heathcliff is in some way related to Animals. It is obvious through Nelly’s description of Heathcliff’s background and how he became introduced with Cathy, Mrs. Earnshaw, Mr. Earnshaw and Hindley. In the description, Nelly narrates how Mr. Earnshaw travelled to Liverpool and was almost killed. According to Nelly, at the end of the journey, Mr. Earnshaw could be to death. This means that Mr. Earnshaw fought with someone else, which is something a person of his social status would not do. After highlighting the incident, Nelly reveals the “dirty, ragged, black-haired child.”
It’s pretty obvious from the words used in the book that Heathcliff is not a human from a high social class. Mr. Earnshaw says that Mrs. Earnshaw should not “take it as a gift of God; though it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil.’ ”. Mrs. Earnshaw is disappointed and she asks her husband, why he brought the gipsy brat in the house. From the language, it is clear the Heathcliff and Mrs. Earnshaw are of completely different social classes. Although, Bronte does not reveal where Heathcliff comes from, the reader can guess that he is from a poor background. Bronte describes him as “big enough to walk and talk” and “its face looked older than Catherine.” This shows how ill he is treated due to his looks. Furthermore, the language used to describe Heathcliff is normally the words used to describe animals. For instance, after arriving, Nelly describes where Heathcliff stayed. She says, “I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it might be gone on the morrow”.
Nelly uses ‘it’ to describe him, and this dehumanizes Heathcliff, equating him to animals. The language also shows that he is different from the Earnshaws since they wished that he would eve in the morning like a dog in a strange home. Nevertheless, once he is christened, the Earnshaws reference Heathcliff differently. They see him as a person and not as a thing or an animal, and from then on, Heathcliff gained confidence. Heathcliff switches social classes the most, and he is willing to manipulate anyone to get power. In the beginning, he is a nameless orphan in the streets of Liverpool, but Mr. Earnshaw takes him and nurtures him as his own. The adoption elevates Heathcliff’s social class to the aristocratic class since he becomes a country gentleman. Heathcliff can’t seem to fit in the new status and world, but he tries his best, not to disappoint Mr. Earnshaw. Those living in Wuthering Heights ignore him, but since he wishes for power and acceptance, he tries himself regardless of the physical and emotional abuse he receives. Due to these abuses, he decides to elevate his social status. This realization is very easily noticed when Catharine rejects him because he is unable to advance her socially, she says “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now.”
This shows some of his motives and obsession with his desire to move up in social class. Heathcliff feels upset and does everything he can to prove the society wrong and to prove that he is more than what people think. Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights to transform himself into a wealthy man, and he returns to show Catherine that he can be a powerful man in the society. He is eating himself alive by his love for Catherine, and he is overcome by the urge to prove himself to her. Heathcliff’s obsession for Catherine is a result of his manipulative lifestyle in search for status and power since she represents everything he has always wanted, power, wealth and recognition in society. He does anything to get more power even abusing and using those who are close to him. He uses Linton and Isabella to get more land and money since he knows that after he marries Isabella, he will get Linton’s inheritance after Edgar dies. Bronte states, “Her brother, who loved her tenderly, was appalled at this fantastic preference. Leaving aside the degradation of an alliance with a nameless man, and the possible fact that his property, in default of heirs male, might pass into such a one’s power”
He also manipulates Linton, forcing him to marry Catherine Linton after his plans with Isabella abort. Marriage between Linton and Catherine gives him the Thrush cross Grange and Catherin’s inheritance boosting his power in the community. He says, “my son is prospective owner of your place, and I should not wish him to die till I was certain of being his successor.” Heathcliff continually raises his power by manipulating other people. According to Terry Eagleton, literature takes a dive of the relationships between history and literature. Eagleton’s view on Heathcliff is a Marxist view. He feels that Heathcliff was motivated to move up in his social class because of the way the upper social classes have treated him. He also feels that because Heathcliff is poor, it’s perceived to the world as weak and almost as if you’re a bottom feeder compared to others. He states” it is the way those class-relations are experienced, legitimized and perpetuated. More- over, men are not free to choose their social relations; they are con- strained into them by material necessity — by the nature and stage of development of their mode of economic production.”
From further analyzing , Heathcliff is a literary vampire because he sucks the life out of those close to him by manipulating them, just like vampire. Heathcliff can also be described as a vampire by also sucking the life out of the people in his way. We see this by all the people who are affected by Heathcliffs decision to change his social status, they become weak, sick, ill or even for some, addicted. He shows readers what the upper class in the 19th century was all about.
The upper class were known for being manipulative and controlling to the other social classes. This is obvious through Isabella and his son. He manipulates them to acquire wealth form the Linton’s. Also, Heathcliff is not a Marxist hero, he is capitalist villain because he does not want to destroy the social class structure, but instead he wants to control them. He only thinks of revenge and proving the other characters wrong and this turns himself into a monster or a “Vampire”.
Bronte uses Wuthering Heights to teach the reader on power struggle and social structures in the society. In the nineteenth century, people remained in their social settings, and social change was challenging. However as Bronte has shown, anyone who desired a higher status, had to sacrifice a lot, almost their life. In this case Heathcliff’s sanity. Heathcliff begins from the lowest social status as an orphan and even has no name, but he ends up a wealthy man. Nonetheless, to achieve this, he had to compromise his relationships with those close to him such as Linton and Isabella. His desire for power turned him into a monster destroying everyone although he got what he wanted. In the grand scheme of things, Heathcliff reached the social class he was working towards. But in the end, He definitely did not get the last laugh as a result of him dying unhappy trying to reach a higher social status that comes with money and power, which Bronte has expressed is the root of all evil.