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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - Barron's Booknotes
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JOSEPH

Joseph, the servant at Wuthering Heights, is a surly religious
fanatic given to fits of highly articulate, if dialect-ridden, rage.
(See "Glossary" for help in deciphering his speeches.) You can
almost hear him bellow as you read. The question is, How
seriously are you to take all his bluster? There is nothing
amusing about the way Catherine presents him in her diary or
the way Isabella describes his treatment of her, but Lockwood
and Ellen's remarks about him are largely satirical. It may be
that such a ridiculous figure is funny only at a distance.



THE NARRATORS: MR. LOCKWOOD, ELLEN (NELLY)
DEAN

Mr. Lockwood is the only real stranger to the moors.
Presumably, he has had a life more like yours than like
Heathcliff's or Cathy's. He's pleasant, courteous, and educated.
Because of this, you can see him as a representative of
ordinary, or conventional, judgment. Haven't you ever wanted
to be free of everyone, as he does in the beginning of the book?
And haven't you ever behaved as irrationally as he did when he
rejected the young lady as soon as she returned his affections?
So Lockwood's amazed horror at what happens when
Heathcliff takes these natural impulses to their limits is your
amazement and horror, too.

But there is another way to look at him. Since Emily Bronte is
constantly undercutting him, you can see him as cold (his love
problems, unlike Heath stem from the young lady's
returning his feelings), insincere (despite his declared love for
solitude, he craves company and returns to Wuthering Heights
when it's clear he's not wanted), and arrogant (he assumes that
the younger Cathy doesn't fall in love with him because she
can't recognize "a better class of people").

Your perspective on Lockwood is especially important when
you read about his dream. He pulls the icy little hand of Cathy's
ghost across a jagged windowpane until blood soaks the
bedclothes. Certainly this is just as horrifying as anything
Heathcliff does in the book. You can see Lockwood as an
average person caught against his will in the violence of
Wuthering Heights, or you can view him as no better than any
of the other, wilder, characters in the story.

Ellen Dean's tempered, scolding tone is a counterpoint to the
passionate ravings in the story she tells. She's sensible, pious
without being fanatical, full of homespun wisdom, and admits
her faults. She belongs to the moors; her position is never
undercut the way Lockwood's is. Even Heathcliff respects her.

Ellen tries to be fair, and often acts as the "bridge" between the
worlds of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. She's
the one who goes to see the newly married Heathcliffs; she's
the one who takes Linton, and then the younger Cathy, to
Wuthering Heights.

So why shouldn't you take her many opinions at face value?
For one thing, she makes her bias obvious from the beginning,
when she refers to the Lintons as "we." She is a Thrushcross
Grange-type character, so you have to question her judgments
of the Wuthering Heights passions. She is especially hard on
the older Cathy, harder than most readers are.

Her actions often expose her limitations. Like Edgar, she tries
to shelter others from the truth. She may not lie to Lockwood
(and to you), but she lies to those caught up in the events of the
story, especially to Edgar in the second half of the book. Her
motives are good, but are her deceptions necessary or
desirable?

She's also a bit of a tattletale. She tells Edgar that Heathcliff
and Cathy are quarreling over Isabella, and she tells him that
Cathy planned her fit. Both times the results are disastrous.
Again, her motives are good-she wants to prevent greater
violence later-but she only makes things worse. Can hers be a
complete understanding of what's going on?

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