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In literature madness is a commonly used characterization, in the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, it is one of the most prevalent and important pieces of the novel. The way madness is woven into her novel has helped it into its long-standing praise and recognition in the world of literature. In this essay, I am going to argue that in Wuthering Heights, race and class are very influential factors in Heathcliff’s discrimination and thus his descent into madness and revenge. Class is greatly represented in the novel through the dialect and importance of education, and race is seen through descriptions of Heathcliff and the period of Bronte’s life and the time the novel was written and takes place. The effect on Heathcliff is what creates his madness adding to the work as a whole.

Class is one of the most prevailing themes in Wuthering Heights, it is very clearly shown through the dialogue between characters. The dialogue is often used to draw contrast between the differences in class between characters,

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“The association of social class and mannerism of dialect is so prominent in Emily Bronte’s narrative. One of the notable highlights of this is the incident where Lockwood questions Mrs. Dean’s absence of manners that are reflective of her social class considering that Mrs. Dean herself does not speak with a dialect that is reflective of her native origins” (Mohammed “Speech”, 490).

Bronte acknowledges her use of different language in the novel with Lockwood questioning Mrs. Dean’s manners and dialect. While Mrs. Dean is from a place that is typical of high-standing people Lockwood can tell that she is not of a higher class due to the way she speaks. This shows how important a role speech plays in Wuthering Heights.

The housekeeper Joseph is the most visible example of the way Bronte uses language to display class and roles in the novel “Emily Brontë chooses non-standard spelling to elucidate Joseph‘s lack of education. Some words are merely misspelled” (Mohammed “Class”, 337). Joseph is a very elderly servant who works at Wuthering Heights, his speech is the most unique as it often involves broken up and cut-off words, Bronte uses his distinct language to portray his lower class standing as a servant.

Heathcliff also has a poor dialect at the beginning of the novel. “‘I shall be as dirty as I please: and I like to be dirty, and I will be dirty’” (Bronte, 41). While his speech is not as drastic as Joseph’s it is more expressive and crude than the high-class people he is in the presence of. This gives away Heathcliff’s low social class and factors into his rough treatment from Linton and Hindley “shoved him back with a sudden thrust and angrily bade Joseph ‘keep the fellow out of the room” (Bronte, 43). Heathcliff experiences direct oppression from the upper class due to his social standing which is revealed in many different ways including dialect.

Education is also an important factor in determining the standing of someone in the novel. A notable reference to education is when Hindley deprives Heathcliff of his education after their father’s death, “Thirsting for revenge over his father’s pet child, Heathcliff, the first thing Hindley does after Mr. Earnshaw’s death is to “depriv[e] [Heathcliff] of the instructions of the curate, and insist that he should labor out of doors instead; compelling him to do so as hard as any other lad on the farm” (Brontë 52)” (Ivaniš, 29). Hindley’s form of revenge against Heathcliff is to deprive him of his education and subject him to manual labor, which is typical of the lower class. He aims to strip Heathcliff of his status as a form of punishment against him. Education was vital to the upper class as it was typically only available to them. It also influenced the speech and conduct of people, so the upper class was able to read more acclaimed literature and similarly display themselves.

In a similar manner, when Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights he enacts his revenge by stripping Hidley’s son, Hareton, of his education: “ As Kettle discuses Heathcliff ‘systematically degrades Hareton Earnshaw to servility and illiteracy’ (38). Hindley Earnshaw dies, and the gradual process of degrading his son Hareton in class and education begins” (Ivaniš, 31). The importance of an education in regards to being a gentleman and of high stature is something that Heathcliff knows the importance of. Due to his depravity of education in his childhood, he takes away Hareton’s as well to strip him of his status and bring him to the level of servitude.

Classism in Wuthering Heights may be very straightforward, but the racial undertones of Heathcliff are easy to pass by. Heathcliff is described throughout the novel by different characters as “dark-skinned” and when he is first introduced to his adoptive family he is not welcomed at all, “I was frightened, and Mrs. Earnshaw was ready to fling it out of doors: she did fly up, asking how he could bring that gypsy brat into the house when they had their brains to feed and fend for” (Bronte, 29). He seems to leave the family frightened and with the use of the word “gypsy,” it is easily suspected that his darker skin is because he is of a different race. Also, the way they describe him can be connected back to the Victorian era “ The description Nelly gives of Heathcliff being “a sullen, patient child; hardened, perhaps, to ill-treatment” (Brontë 52) is according to von Sneidern a description of a child growing up as a slave and a description often used by Victorians to describe Africans (von Sneidern 176)” (Larsson, 11). While Heathcliff may not be African it is important to note that his skin tone being darker plays a large role in his treatment throughout the novel.

About racial inequality in the novel, the life of Emily Bronte is an important factor. When Bronte was writing Wuthering Heights, slavery had only recently ended in Britain and was still being continued in many other countries making it a controversial and prominent talk of the period:

“Susan Meyer, in her Imperialism at Home, is struck by both Charlotte and Emily Brontë’s repeated allusions to bondage and slavery in their novels, and wonders, why would the Brontës write novels ‘permeated with the imagery of slavery, suggesting the possibility of a slave uprising in 1846 after the emancipation of the British slaves had already taken place?’ (Meyer 71)” (Althubaiti, 2).

However, Bronte may have been trying to make a serious critique of slavery and how the now-freed slaves were being treated where she lived, “Emily Brontë is making a serious and implicit critique of British slavery and British imperialism not only at home but abroad and throughout the colonies, including their presence in America” (Althubati, 2).” Just because slavery had ended in Britain does not mean that racial discrimination had ended, or that slavery was ended worldwide. With race being such a prominent political and social factor in Bronte’s life the descriptions of Heathcliff coupled with his treatment, becomes a much deeper topic.

While Britain’s enslaved peoples had just been freed, it is also important to note how the Industrial Revolution had taken place just before the novel was written. An important part of the 1800s and a very influential figure in the social and economic lives of people at the time, the Industrial Revolution was a key influence in Bronte’s work and ideas,

“While Wuthering Heights was written in the 1840s, its fictional events take place in the very early 1800s amid the Industrial Revolution. Normative societal structures in England were being overturned. As historian Harold Perkin describes, England transitioned from a vertically integrated society in which upper and lower classes felt bound to each other, to a horizontally stratified society in which individuals felt more allied to their class than to others (Perkin)” (Caywood, 3).

Social class is also a popular political point during Emily Bronte’s life, showing how the themes of race and class tie into the social and political environment of the period.

Bronte’s Personal life also greatly influenced her way of thinking, she was ahead of her time but was not able to outwardly express her thoughts due to her being a woman in the 1800s.

However, her life of travel allowed her to gain new ideas in the political world,

“During her life, Emily traveled to many places and witnessed socio-political upheavals from a very close distance which had a great effect on her mind. Living in a patriarchal society, she didn’t have an avenue for the unaffected expression of her rebellious thoughts, which were the direct outcome of her observation of a society infested with many ills and diseases” (Uddin, 81).

She might have buried these themes in her novel as an expression of her ideologies that she could not outwardly express. Also due to her father’s position and where she lived, she may have been witness to many of the rebellions taking place, “The Brontë family saw strikes and lock-outs in Haworth too, in which the Reverend Patrick Brontë, Emily’s father and the local clergyman, was inevitably involved” (Uddin, 81). Also, Bronte was not a shut-in as many people think she was, she was thoroughly exposed to many different places and was able to get a steady grasp on the world around her:

“It is also not completely true that Emily was confined within the boundary walls of her parsonage, rather she visited Leeds, Bradford, Keighley, and Halifax and even spent a short time in Brussels, Belgium. Thus, the turbulent world of the 19th century was candidly exposed to her eyes” (Uddin, 81).

Bronte was exposed to the world around her and was able to see the social and cultural inequalities experienced by those around her and chose to weave it into her works of literature with great subtlety.

In addition to the role of race and class, the narration is also a key point in how Heathcliff is portrayed, the novel is dual narrated “Brontë uses the literary technique of a dual narrative – a form of narrative that incorporates two different perspectives from two different individuals at varying points in time” (Bensoussan, 1). Both Mr. Lockwood and Nelly Dean, the housekeeper, narrate the story, in the form of first-person narration. They are each the same type of narrators: “Both narrators are dramatized narrator (in Wayne Booth’s term), and a homodiegetic narrator (in Genette’s term) … both narrators and characters as opposed consecutively to an undramatized or a heterodiegetic narrator” (Ezzaoua, 42). However, Nelly Dean is present in the story herself more so than Lockwood. However, it is important to know that Nelly is not an omniscient narrator; there are events she is not present for and certain things she could not know and could only infer in her narration “However, Nelly does narrate the story in a third person point of view. The opinions and thoughts of all the characters are in the story, but they are simply what Nelly thinks they felt in that very moment” (Exxaoua, 48). Also, Nelly is considered an unreliable narrator, due to her involvement in the story which would cause personal bias. So, the treatment Heathcliff receives could have been worse than what is written due to Nelly’s possible own personal bias against him and her position as a non-omniscient narrator,

The factors of Heathcliff’s mistreatment of both his race and his status as a low-class person at the beginning of the novel help lead to his fall into madness. His discrimination due to race can have emotional damage to his mind, racial discrimination has proven to have negative effects on the victim’s psychology,

“As a consequence, racial discrimination affects mental health. In The Role of Racial Identity in Perceived Racial Discrimination, researchers state that social psychological research has shown that negative treatment and experiences can have adverse consequences for mental health. (Sellers and Shelton 1081), the quotation means racial discrimination is something bad because it causes mental health … If individual’s mental health is injured so that it affects mental psychology” (Sastra, 25).

Heathcliff’s discrimination can injure his mental health and therefore lead to a maddened state. In addition, the physical abuse he sustained as a child “Hindley threw it, hitting him on the breast and down he fell” (Bronte, 31). Hindley often physically abused Heathcliff or ordered someone to do so when Heathcliff displeased him in any way. Physical abuse is now known to have negative side effects especially when someone is on the receiving end of it as a child,

“Adolescents who are victims of physical abuse have high rates of depression, conduct disorder, drug abuse, and cigarette smoking … Victims of physical abuse in childhood are at risk for developing a variety of behavioral problems including conduct disorders, physically aggressive behaviors, depression, poor academic performance, and decreased cognitive functioning” (Christian, 3).

Heathcliff could be described as having “aggressive behavior” when he is older and “mad.” The madness could just be a side effect of the copious amounts of abuse he experienced as a child, presenting itself in the form of his strange psychosis.

The childhood abuse endured by Heathcliff is not the only factor in his mental illness, losing Cathrine also played a large role. After Catherine’s death, Heathcliff begins spiraling down a darker path and acts on more revenge plots,

“Catherine’s death is a turning point for Heathcliff, solidifying not only his plan for revenge but also his mental downward spiral” (Mehltretter, 48). Heathcliff truly dissolves into his madness and poor mental state “The anti-hero Heathcliff, like the depressed and self-destructive Branwell, oscillates between desiring and spurning such madness, craving the restlessness of lunacy when generated by his dead lover’s haunting spirit and later spurning such mental disorder when triggered by the irritating presence of young Cathy” (Marchbanks, 62).

Heathcliff is extremely mentally ill and he takes it out on others along with himself, he drives himself deeper into madness and begins to reach a state which he cannot be recovered from and in his final days becomes the complete victim of his mental illness. In his last days alive it is not completely clear what happens but Heathcliff seems to be haunted by Cathrine’s ghost.

“During the final days of his life, Heathcliff grows even more mentally unstable. Restless, he wanders about the grounds in an unnaturally merry state, though still lashing out in bad temper at anyone who attempts to speak to him. Although not explicitly stated, the text strongly implies that he is haunted by visions of Catherine’s ghost, … These visions drive him mad and render him unable to sleep or eat, eventually leading to his death” (Mehltretter, 49).

Heathcliff’s madness prevents him from eating or sleeping anymore, and he soon dies. While some speculate that he committed suicide the text makes it seem as if he was truly under some sort of illness or haunting;

“As Heathcliff tells Nelly, “It is not my fault that I cannot eat or rest… I assure you it is through no settled designs. I’ll do both, as soon as I possibly can. But you might as well bid a man struggling in the water rest within arms’ length of the shore! I must reach it first, and then I’ll rest” (321-22) … Nelly avoids telling him about his refusal to eat or Mehltretter 50 drink, for she is convinced that “he did not abstain on purpose: it was the consequence of his strange illness, not the cause” (324). In other words, she does not believe he brought his fate upon himself and does not want him to be judged as having committed suicide” (Mehltretter, 50).

Heathcliff and Nelly are both under the impression that he did not choose to go without food or rest and that it was involuntary, which seems to be the case. However, this is still the result of Heathcliff’s poor mental state and his overall maddened state with the revival of his memories of Cathrine.

The way Heathcliff is treated in the novel Wuthering Heights, due to his social status and racial background affects his mental state as a whole. The way he talks, coupled with his childhood education rendered him lower class. In addition, the color of his skin was dark and he was not ethnically from Victorian Britain. The period in which Wuthering Heights was written makes all these factors to young Heathcliff much more drastic, Bronte had recently witnessed the freeing of enslaved people in Britain as well as the industrial revolution. This inspired an act of social justice in her, the way Heathcliff is treated for his lower class and race is Bronte’s social commentary on the world around her. The treatment endured as a child by Heathcliff eventually leads to mental illness within him. As his mental illness continues to grow, the love of his life, Cathline, dies plummeting him fully into madness. Eventually, he is seemingly haunted by Cathy’s ghost and is unable to eat or rest and dies. The sequence of events in Wuthering Heights shows how the roles of class and race in the setting of the novel are what drive Heathcliff into his madness and thus his death.

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