The story of Wuthering Heights provides us with the idea of class ambiguity through a selection of characters that do not belong to one specific social class and whose status changes throughout the novel, which is contrary to the main idea that in Victorian England a person was born into one social class and usually stayed there for the rest of their lives. The main example of the changing social class in the novel is Heathcliff. Heathcliff was born a poor orphan but his social class improved when he was taken into Earnshaw’s family. However, he is frequently shunned because of his poor roots and his lack of background.
He is then degraded by Hindley after Earnshaw’s death when he is forced to become a common labourer but he once again raises his social standing when he returns years later as a wealthy gentleman. His social position is responsible for many of Catherine Earnshaw’s decisions which influence their lives and the lives of those around them and ultimately become their destruction.
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After Catherine’s stay at Thrushcross Grange during which she experiences a higher class of life, she desires the importance, security and status that comes with that life.
This can be seen in her reasons for loving Edgar, one of which is ‘And he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband’. Due to Heathchliff’s social status at that time, Cathy would not even consider marrying him: ‘If the wicked man had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff, now… ’ Hareton and Cathy Linton are also characters who are affected by Heathcliff and social class.
Hareton was born into the middle class, being an Earnshaw and the heir to Wuthering Heights; however, he loses this status and becomes a labourer with no education due to Heathcliff’s treatment of him and his securing of the property prior to Hindley’s death. Cathy Earnshaw is also born into a upper class life at Thrushcross Grange, constantly having attention and always getting the things that she wants. She is then transformed into a servant due to Heathcliff’s trickery in obtaining her rightful fortune by securing the marriage between his dying on Linton and her when Cathy’s father Edgar is also dying. Heathcliff’s death provides relief for both of them as it signifies that Hareton becomes the owner of Wuthering Heights and Cathy gets back her home, Thrushcross Grange. Cathy Linton also demonstrates the relationship between the classes through her treatment of Hareton when they first meet. Once she finds out that he is a servant she is very quick to judge and act the ‘lady’: ‘But Ellen,’ cried she, staring, fixed in astonishment. ‘‘How dare he speak so to me?
Mustn’t he be made to do as I ask him? You wicked creature, I shall tell papa what you said- Now then! ’’ and ‘‘Papa is gone to fetch my cousin from London-my cousin is a gentleman’s son-That my-’ she stopped, and wept outright; upset at the bare notion of relationship with such a clown’. Emily Bronte also uses Mr Lockwood as a symbol of social class in the Victorian era. He represents the upper class and the way he behave and acts lets us distinguish the higher social classes from the upper and lower classes in the country.
We are made to stereotype that class through Mr Lockwood: dining at five, thinking very logically and without much imagination (‘and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth’) and having a very high self-importance (‘I knew, through experience, that I was tolerably attractive’). In Wuthering Heights, social class and the uncertainty of which class many of the characters belong to is used to develop the plot of the story. The main example of this is Heathcliff’s struggle with social class, which causes much of the turmoil for the other characters in the book.