Wuthering Heights is essentially a story about a girl who has to decide between her heart and her head. Catherine grew up with Heathcliff, who is so much like Catherine there are multiple times in the novel where they yell that the other is a part of themselves. Catherine famously declares she “is Heathcliff.” She says “whatever souls are made of [Heathcliff’s] and [hers] are the same.” In addition, when Catherine dies, Heathcliff tells Nelly, “I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul.” It’s all romantic and makes the reader—perhaps a bit guiltily—swoon.
Catherine’s love, her heart, is clearly for Heathcliff. The author repeatedly describes Catherine and Heathcliff as wild and savage. In fact, Heathcliff is so uncivilized the reader (and the characters) never really know where he came from. Catherine and Heathcliff enjoy rambling about the moor, a wild and uncivilized expanse. Bronte frequently uses the word “savages” to describe the pair. Nelly describes Catherine as a “wild, hatless little savage jumping into the house.” However, after staying at Thrushcross Grange, Catherine changed in appearance into a refined character. Chapter 7, during her return to Wuthering Heights, describes her as “dignified” on horseback and wearing a habit.
Thus began the divide between the two characters. From this point forward, Catherine behaves more civilly, especially around Edgar and Isabella. However, both she and Heathcliff still have their savage nature. When Heathcliff pursues Isabella for revenge, Catherine states, “I like her too well, my dear Heathcliff, to let you absolutely seize and devour her up” like an animal. In fact, the same page describes him as an “evil beast.”
Catherine, too, maintains her savagery. When she takes ill because of her separation from Heathcliff, she throws fits, thrashing her limbs and gnashing her teeth. Her health seems to only improve when Nelly opens the window to the moor, the symbolic and literal wild. She begs, “Do let me feel it—it comes straight down the moor—do let me have one breath!” She laments her choice to be with Edgar, to be civilized, crying, “I wish I were out of doors! I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free; and laughing at injuries, not maddening under them! Why am I so changed?” Being away from Heathcliff, choosing civilization over her natural, savage state, eventually kills Catherine. They bury her beside the moor.
Catherine’s head, her extremely selfish character, is what causes her to be with Edgar. I sometimes wonder if the author killed her off so soon because she is rather unlikeable. When Edgar visits Catherine at Wuthering Heights, he catches her being cruel to Nelly. When he leaves, Catherine says, “I won’t be miserable for you!” as though her biggest concern is that of injury to her pride. She claims she will not allow herself to be sad for anyone but herself. They only make up because of Edgar’s emotional weakness. He comes right back to her, and Nelly states they were closer than ever. Only Edgar can admit fault, although Catherine was in the wrong, feeding into Catherine’s pride.
When Catherine comes to Nelly, telling her that Edgar proposed to her, she tells Nelly, “I shall be proud of having such a husband.” She loves Heathcliff and tells Nelly so, but her pride keeps her from allowing herself to have a life with him. She knows she belongs with Heathcliff and not with Edgar. However, she says, it would “degrade [her] to marry Heathcliff now.” Therefore, she marries Edgar, though she tells Nelly, “I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy.” She admits she has “no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven.”
Bronte sets this clear love triangle up among Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar, seemingly commenting on the dangers of marrying for the wrong reasons—for status and pride, rather than for love, and the destructiveness of an immature, unchanging love. Later in the novel, young Cathy serves as a foil for her mother, marrying Hareton for love rather than status, despite Heathcliff’s initial forced marriage of young Cathy and Linton. Young Cathy and Hareton’s love is more mature, willing to grow and adapt to make each other better. This is a stark contrast to Catherine’s love triangle of constant struggle between her head and her heart. Young Cathy proves that both can happily coexist and thrive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ashley Yarbrough is a writer, mother, teacher, gardener, and many other things. She writes about it all here. Feel free to take a look!