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Wuthering Heights - Just a Window?


Often times our surroundings, or rather our perception of our surroundings, reflect directly upon our personal growth. Symbols and motifs in literature, therefore, hold much more significance than the mere physical presence they hold within the story. The evolution of symbols and their ever-changing usage throughout a novel can show much more about a character than one might suspect at first glance. By evaluating the change in symbols, we may be able to determine the characters beginning desire and compare it to his end book desire, thereby evaluating the characters growth and his shift in perception of reality. This concept becomes much clearer in application than it does in explanation, for example, take a door. If a character unlocks a door, goes through it, and slams it without looking back, this may actually be the author’s recondite attempt at influencing the way the reader understands and interprets the text. The character may actually be turning his back on a certain set of principles, embracing a new set, and rejecting the people who still embrace the old. Further interpretation can show that perhaps the character is embracing change in general while the people behind the door are scared of change, too obdurate in their keeping to tradition. But perhaps this is reading a little bit too much into the text, after all, presuming that we can fully comprehend the intentions and motives of an author is as arrogant as it is impossible. But even if these symbols are not used on purpose, they are used sub-consciously and thus still reflect upon a characters ever changing perception of reality, thereby giving us a somewhat accurate assessment of character growth. Thus symbols must be understood in order to grasp the complexity and depth of literature. It is with this in mind, that Bronte’s Wuthering Heights becomes an enigma in and of itself. In order to solve this puzzle and make all the pieces fit, we must first interpret and understand the usage of window imagery. Thus in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, window imagery is vital to a deep and complete understanding of the novel itself.

In Wuthering Heights, the interpretation of window imagery causes sudden and quite innovative realization of how Bronte wanted the reader to interpret her words. Windows are transparent, providing a person only with the means by which to see the outside. Windows, like dreams, can cause bitterness simply by making one yearn for what one cannot have. Baring in mind what the cryptic symbol represents, we must look upon the elder Catherine in a new light. Nearing the beginning of the story, the elder Catherine and Heathcliff come upon Thrushcross Grange, and wanting to explore this new presence, they “crept through a broken hedge… and planted [themselves]… under the drawing-room window… and [they] saw—ah! It was beautiful—a splendid place carpeted with crimson… Edgar and his sister had it entirely to themselves; shouldn’t they have been happy? [Catherine and Heathcliff] should have thought [themselves] in heaven!” (38). Upon spying the two siblings crying and screaming over minor and insignificant possessions, Catherine and Heathcliff thought that this life style would be a heaven on earth. For Catherine, this vision through the window left her desiring more, instilling a bitterness and sense of inadequacy. Yet even as Catherine comes close to mimicking the scene in the window, her efforts are in vain, for such an existence for her is nothing more than a lie, a dream in which Catherine would be playing as an actor. This can be confirmed by comparing what Catherine sees through a window as a child to what she sees through the window as an adult. In her delirious state prior to death, she fancies that “[she would] be [herself] again among the heather on the hills” (98). But at this point in the story, the peace of nature and the stability of Heatcliff elude her, and because she is truly delirious, her true dream so to speak is revealed. She bids Nelly to “open the window again wide” (98), but Nelly is afraid of Cathy dying a death due to cold. Catherine rebukes her by claiming that Nelly “won’t give [Catherine] a chance at life” (98). But this dream, of running free and wild through the moors, is just that, but a dream. Catherine is no longer a child in age, but in maturity she has stopped growing as soon as Heathcliff left. Because of the window symbolism, it becomes clear that Catherine is just acting as a Linton, and that she can never be more than a child in terms of understanding and responsibility. Because of her duplicity she is delirious, losing all sense of true self. This insanity is further established by Edgar telling Ellen to “Shut the window” (99), when he learns that Catherine is ill. By shutting the window, Catherine’s mind returns as she delivers a condescending and hurtful speech to Linton, but “By a spring from the window… [her soul will be on [the] hilltop” (100). This means that Catherine’s innate childish, free, and wild like traits, all of the defining innate personality traits that make up the true Cathy, are forever lost in a false dream, a lie. The true Cathy is only attainable by death, by jumping through the window.

Through window imagery we learn of a true Cathy that differs greatly and significantly from a Catherine Linton. We also learn of a personal growth and change in perception that Cathy undergoes as she goes from Cathy to Catherine and back to Cathy, this last change being too late to help herself. Windows show what we yearn for, but are unable to reach. They are cruel and deceptive in that they tempt us, but also insightful and resourceful in evaluating our desires, our personal growth, and ourselves.



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