Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Structure of the Heights that Wuther

            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 Cited
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Dover, 1996. Print.


  1. Well done Casey. I specifically like your points about Nelly being an unreliable narrator. There were many times throughout the novel where Nelly states she was simply a bystander watching events unfold, but clearly she had a large impact over situations and even had the ability to change their outcomes. One example is when Edgar forces Catherine to choose between himself and Heathcliff. As a result, Catherine locks herself away in her room for three days. Edgar, feeling guilty for his actions, asks Nelly what the best thing to do in their current situation is and Nelly responds stating Edgar simple needs to let Catherine have her space until she feels better. However, Catherine later asks Nelly why Edgar has not come to see how she is doing making the tension between the two even worse. In conclusion, Nelly unintentionally places her own beliefs in situations multiple times throughout to book causing relationships to change and forces the reader to re-evaluate Nelly's credibility as a narrator.
    However, if Nelly’s role must be re-evaluated, then Lockwood’s role must be as well since Lockwood records Nelly’s stories in his journal and makes his own commentary on different situations. Plus, Isabella’s credibility is questionable too. Since Isabella married Heathcliff and found him to be a different man than she once imagined him to be, it is clear Isabella is going to be angry at Heathcliff for not being the man she originally thought he was. When Isabella recounts her own stories about Heathcliff, her descriptions and feelings towards him are going to be exaggerated due to the treatment Heathcliff had for her. At the same time however, Catherine describes Heathcliff to be the second part of her soul and that without Heathcliff, Catherine will never truly be happy. As a result, every character is going to have a different perspective on any given situation due to their past engagements with one another making the reader reconsider every angle presented.

  2. You brought up some very interesting points in your post, Casey. I agree that Bronte uses unreliable narrators, like Nelly Dean, who are clearly biased. It made me think in what other ways is Nelly biased and why. Throughout Nelly's recollection of the past, she describes the second Catherine as strikingly beautiful and amiable. Why would Nelly be inclined to describe her this way? Out of the goodness of her heart? That is possible, but consider who she is telling her story to: Lockwood; Also consider when she is telling the story: when Catherine is under the control of the abusive Heathcliff. It is likely that she is trying to show Catherine off to him so that he might consider the possibility of marriage. One time in the novel, Nelly even says that Lockwood might love Catherine had he known her earlier and he agrees it might've been possible. A marriage like this would have saved Catherine from Heathcliff, so it makes sense why she would want to entertain the idea of them falling in love. Factors and biases like these are very important to consider when analyzing Wuthering Heights.

  3. Nice post Casey. I like how explore the truth of the narrator in Wuthering Heights. You argued that Emily Bronte presents multiple perspectives of the same event to enable readers to choose which perspective they agree with. However, it is also possible that Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights with multiple points of view in order to explore the traits of the characters in her story. We can assess the personalities of the narrators from the way in which they present their stories. Sure, we should be dubious of Nelly's authority when she falsely tells Linton that Heathcliff would be very fond of him. But this does not mean that Nelly is an entirely untruthful character. Instead, it is her compassion for Linton that steers her away from the truth. Rather than siding with a specific 'truth', we can evaluate the biases of narrators like Lockwood and Nelly to discover their personalities. We do not have to read Wuthering Heights looking for truth in itself, but explore the ways in which characters manipulate the truth to learn more about their dispositions and states of mind.