Wuthering Heights

First Act: Throughout the First Act, we are shown Heathcliff’s devotion to his Lie (that he needs Cathy), as they grow up together, sheltering each other from the cruel world around them. As far as it goes, it would seem that Heathcliff does need Cathy and that there’s nothing wrong with that. But we also get a front row seat to Cathy’s violently selfish and unpredictable behavior. Even Cathy herself begins to disdain Heathcliff’s devotion after she gets a taste of a more refined world while convalescing with their neighbors the Lintons. She begins to accept Edward Linton’s romantic advances, not because she loves him, but because she wants to be rich and refined. Even though she adores Heathcliff and defends him against her brother and others, she treats him abominably and readers come to understand that Heathcliff would be much better off if only he could break his eerie bond with her.

First Plot Point: After Cathy accepts her neighbor Edgar Linton’s marriage proposal, Heathcliff overhears her telling the news to the maid. Cathy admits she doesn’t love Edgar—that, indeed, she would be miserable even in heaven if Heathcliff were not there—but that she can’t degrade herself to marry Heathcliff because he is so “low.” Heathcliff silently leaves, determined to make something of himself so he can return to marry Cathy. His decision is an entirely positive one. He wants to rise above his circumstances, leave behind the tyranny of Cathy’s brother Hindley, and claim Cathy’s hand as an equal. But readers also sense the darkness that threatens in his actions—especially since Cathy shows no sign of changing her mind about marrying Edgar.

First Half of the Second Act: Years later, Heathcliff returns as a gentlemen, only to discover that Cathy has already married Edgar Linton. Feeling betrayed, he fights to overcome his love for her and embrace the Truth that he’s better off without her. Still he clings to her, even though part of him hates her for being untrue to both him and herself. His dark nature comes swarming out as he begins enacting his vengeance against Hindley (by encouraging his gambling and drinking) and against Edgar (by marrying his sister Isabella).

Midpoint: When Cathy dies in childbirth after a long illness, Heathcliff is offered a moment of grace; with Cathy now forcibly removed from his life, he is given the opportunity to accept the Truth that he’s better off without her. But he not only throws aside the Truth, he embraces a new and more horrible Lie: he would rather have Cathy’s ghost haunt him and drive him insane than give her up.

Second Half of the Second Act: After Cathy’s death, Heathcliff lashes out in anger, punishing everyone who had anything to do with keeping him away from her. He coerces his adopted brother Hindley into drunken gambling that allows Heathcliff to gain the deed to Wuthering Heights—and then he allows Hindley to drink himself to death. He shows no care for his own pregnant wife—Isabella Linton—and lets her flee to another town. He raises Hindley’s son Hareton in as abject degradation as he himself was raised. And, as the years go by, he plots to marry his sickly son Linton to Edgar and Cathy’s daughter Catherine, so that he can gain control of a dying Edgar’s property as well.

Third Plot Point: Heathcliff kidnaps Edgar and Cathy’s teenage daughter Catherine and refuses to let her return to her dying father unless she marries Heathcliff’s son Linton. She finally complies and rushes home to her father just in time to watch him die. Heathcliff has achieved his great end—as many tragic protagonists do—by completing his vengeance. He has destroyed Edgar: his enemy is dead, and Heathcliff now holds title to all his property. But his victory has brought him no closer to peace—or to his true goal of being with Cathy.

Third Act: After the completion of his vengeance against Edgar, Heathcliff sinks deeper and deeper into despair. He is broken, and he can’t find the strength to rise above his continuing obsessive need to be with Cathy. He even goes so far as to dig up her long-rotted corpse, and he does find momentary peace in the belief that it will be his soul—and not Edgar’s—that will be reunited with her in death. After his own son’s death, he drifts through life, torturing Catherine and Hindley’s son Hareton and contemplating Cathy’s ghost, who he believes has finally returned to haunt him. The only possible remaining route to his goal is death itself.

Climax: As Catherine and Hareton begin to fall in love, Heathcliff is troubled by how closely their relationship mirrors his own youthful past with Cathy. His belief that Cathy is haunting him grows stronger and stronger, and he finds a measure of manic happiness in her supposed presence. His health declines rapidly thanks to his nightly walks in the moors, until one morning Hareton finds him dead. He has gone at last to be with Cathy, in the only possible way they could ever be together–by embracing the Lie more fully in the end than even at the beginning.

Resolution: Without Heathcliff’s dark presence to poison their lives, Catherine and Hareton begin at last to bring love and happiness back into the corrupted atmosphere of Wuthering Heights. The book closes on an entirely hopeful note, promising the end of suffering. There’s even a hint of hope for Heathcliff, as the old manservant insists he can see his master’s ghost walking the moors with Cathy. The narrator, however, gives his own spin on a hopeful end for Heathcliff, believing that in death, at least, he will find rest.

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