POINT OF VIEW IN WUTHERING HEIGHTS
Any serious discussion of Wuthering Heights must consider the
complex point of view that Brontë chose. Lockwood tells the entire
story, but except for his experiences as the renter of Thrushcross
Grange and his response to Nelly and the inhabitants of Wuthering
Heights, he repeats what Nellie tells him;
occasionally she is narrating what others have told her, e.g.,
Isabella's experiences at Wuthering Heights or the servant Zillah's
of events. Consequently, at times we are three steps removed from
events. Contrary to what might be expected with such narrative distance
from events, we do not feel emotionally distant from the characters or
events. Indeed, most readers are swept along by the impetuosity and
tempestuous behavior of Heathcliff and Catherine, even if occasionally
confused by the time shifts and the duplication of names. Brontë's
ability to sweep the reader while distancing the narration reveals her
mastery of her material and her genius as a writer.
To decide why she chose this narrative approach and how
it is, you must determine what Lockwood and Nelly contribute to the
kind of people are they? what values do they represent? how reliable
they or, alternately, under what conditions are they reliable? As you
the novel, consider the following possibilities:
Nelly–as main narrator, as participant, and as precipitator of
key events–requires more attention than Lockwood.
- Lockwood and Nelly are opposites in almost every way.
(1) Lockwood is a sophisticated, educated, affluent gentleman; he is an
outsider, a city man. Nelly is a shrewd, self-educated servant; a local
Yorkshirewoman, she has never traveled beyond the Wuthering
Heights-Thrushcross Grange-Gimmerton area. Nelly, thus, belongs to
Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange in a way that the outsider
Lockwood (or Heathcliff either) never does. (2) Lockwood's illness
with her good health. (3) Just as the narrative is divided between a
male and a female narrator, so throughout the book the major characters
are balanced male and female, including the servants Joseph and Nelly
and Zillah. This balancing of male and female and the lovers seeking
suggests that at a psychological level the Jungian
animus and anima are struggling for integration in one personality.
- Does Lockwood represent the point of view of the
ordinary reader (that is, us). If so, do his reactions invalidate our
everyday assumptions and judgments? This reading assumes that his
reactions are insensitive and unintelligent. Or do he and Nelly serve
as a bridge from our usual reality to the chaotic reality of Wuthering
Heights? By enabling us to identify with normal responses and socially
acceptable values, do they help make the fantastic behavior believable
if not understandable?
- Does the sentimental Lockwood contrast with the
pragmatic Nelly? It has been suggested that the original purpose of the
novel was the
education and edification of Lockwood in the nature of passion-love,
of course the novel completely outgrew this limited aim.
There are two more questions that can be raised about the reliability
of Lockwood and Nelly. The first is, did Lockwood change any of
story? This is, it seems to me, a futile question. I see no way we can
this question, for there are no internal or external conversations or
which would enable us to assess his narrative integrity. The same
would apply to Nellie, if we wonder whether she deliberately lied to
or remembered events incorrectly. However, it is entirely another
if we ask whether Nellie or Lockwood misunderstood or misinterpreted
the conversations and actions that each narrates. In this case, we can
the narrator's interpretation of characters and events with the
conversations and behavior of the characters, consider the values the
narrator holds and those held or expressed by the characters and their
behavior, and also look at the pattern of the novel in its entirety for
clues in order to evaluate the narrator's reliability.
- To what extent do we accept Nelly's point of view? Is
her conventionality necessarily wrong or limited? Is it a valid point
of view, though one perhaps which cannot understand or accommodate the
wild behavior she encounters? Does she represent normalcy? Is she a
norm against which to judge the behavior
of the other characters? How much does she contribute, whether
unintentionally, semi-consciously, or deliberately, to the disasters
which engulf her employers? To what extent is Nelly admirable? Is she
superior to the other servants, as she suggests, or is she deluded by
- Is Nelly's alliance or identification with any one
character, one family, or one set of values consistent, or does she
switch sides, depending on circumstances and her emotional response?
Does she sympathize with the children she raised or helped to raise, a
group consisting of Heathcliff, Catherine, Hareton, and Cathy? If
Nelly's loyalties do keep shifting, does this fact reflect the
difficulty of making moral judgments in this novel?
- Is her interpretation of some characters or kinds of
events more reliable than of others? Is she, for instance, more
authoritative when she speaks of more conventional or ordinary events
or behavior than of the extreme, often outrageous behavior of
Heathcliff or Catherine? Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick notes that
Heathcliff talks about himself to Nelly with honesty and openness, she
persists on seeing him as a secretive, alienated, diabolical schemer.
Is Sedgwick's insight valid? If so, what does it reveal about Nelly?
Another question might be, why do so many people confide in or turn to
Brontë: Table of Contents
October 13, 2011