Emily Bronte structures Wuthering Heights as a frame narrative that chronologically uses flashbacks to highlight the stories, and perspectives, of the multiple narrators. Bronte creates a story about the stories of the multiple unreliable narrators, who each have different points of view, in order to enable readers to enter the world of Wuthering Heights by engaging them with many different flawed perspectives. In a way, Emily Bronte allows her readers to create their own story of the events that took place at Wuthering Heights; since Bronte uses multiple unreliable narrators to create multiple different perspectives, readers can immerse themselves in her Gothic world by choosing their own preferred view of the characters’ actions through placing trust in select narrators.
As a frame narrative, Wuthering Heights contains a main narrative that sets the stage for a more important second narrative. While the more important second narrative is Nelly’s stories to Lockwood regarding the past troubles of Wuthering Heights, the main narrative is actually Lockwood’s recounting of Nelly’s story and the present state of affairs between Wuthering Heights and The Grange. Bronte places emphasis on the past through a set of extended flashbacks that reveal the nature of the characters. Furthermore, by using flashbacks to examine and emphasize the past, Bronte allows the reader to construct their own interpretation of the story since each flashback relates a different and equally unreliable perspective on the events, which causes the reader to choose between certain interpretations. Both Nelly and Lockwood are unreliable narrators; Nelly frequently lies to other characters in order to ease the pain of the truth, and Lockwood frequently misinterprets or misunderstands parts of the story. For example, in order to get Linton to stay with his abusive father, Nelly must lie to him by observing that, “[Linton] was finally got off with several delusive assurances that his absence should be short; that Mr. Edgar and Cathy would visit him; and other promises, equally ill-founded, which I invented and reiterated, at intervals throughout the way” (Bronte 205). Since Nelly distorts the truth to Linton and other characters in order to ease their anger with her, her own story is called into question as there are most likely motivations for her to distort the view of characters like Catherine and Heathcliff. Bronte’s use of unreliable narrators allow her to draw readers in by involving them in the process of deciding on and cross-checking narrators’ stories.
Bronte constructs the contrasting views of narrators such that readers must choose which narrator to believe when narrators’ stories contrast. For instance, Lockwood visits Catherine after Nelly describes her beauty, but when he sees Catherine for the first time he observes, “[Catherine] does not seem so amiable… as Mrs. Dean would persuade me to believe. She’s a beauty, it is true; but not an angel” (Bronte 299). Such contrasting observations are placed throughout Wuthering Heights as a result of the Bronte creating multiple characters who are polar opposites of each other, like Heathcliff and Edgar or Catherine and Isabella. Bronte’s emphasis on contrast in her unreliable narrators’ views further emphasizes the battle between civilization and wild nature in Wuthering Heights. Furthermore, unreliable narration creates the biases against the lower classes that Heathcliff embodies. Since Heathcliff is a poor beggar who rises to seek vengeance and destruction on his neighbors as he becomes a gentleman, most of Nelly’s and Edgar’s view of Heathcliff rise out of fear of his power, which represents the fear many upper class Englishmen had of the rising power of the lower classes during the early 1800s. By structuring Wuthering Heights as a frame narrative that uses flashbacks, Bronte creates a world of contrast where readers instinctively choose a side to be more sympathetic towards after every page.
Works CitedBronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Dover, 1996. Print.