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Outside(rs) and Inside(rs). Belonging and Alienation in Emily Brontë’s "Wuthering Heights"

von Sandra Miller (Autor)

Essay 2004 8 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur



Man-made barriers such as windows, doorways and fences, and the harsh nature of the Yorkshire moors are presented as physical boundaries that delineate the state of being ‘inside’ or ‘outside’, which is indicative of the characters’ status: whether they inhabit their respective environments as either ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’. Symbolically, these thresholds between ‘culture’ and ‘nature’ separate different ways of life. The people and the landscape in which they live are set in stark contrast: conventional gentile civilisation against the actions of the elements, the forces of the natural world. Brontë applies boundaries to show the conflicting states of attraction and repulsion that make up the drama – the story of two families caught in a feud. The main characters are caught in a struggle either to overcome their alienation in a particular setting or to escape from a forced inclusion: the child Heathcliff suffers from being excluded from the Earnshaw family as an unwelcomed outsider; as an adult, he will spend his life taking revenge on the ones that once mistreated and deprived him of his position. Isabella Linton rushes into a miserable marriage with Heathcliff and becomes his prisoner at the Heights until she manages to escape. Cathy Earnshaw is much closer to Heathcliff than to her brother Hindley; they are soulmates, inseparable and tied by a spiritual bond that transcends time and place. Their relationship is tempestuous but exclusive. When Cathy accepts Edgars' proposal, she chooses the cultured life and thereby voluntarily removes herself from the influence of her family and Heathcliff. Once inside the Grange, she soon realizes that she has lost her freedom as well as her place at the Heights.

Nelly Dean and Mr. Lockwood are both characters that appear outside the story as narrators of events, but they also take their part of it as characters within the narration. This literary device has the effect that it at once draws the reader into the story and, at the same time, it distances the author. Holderness explains that “Wuthering Heights has a peculiar narrative method, in which there is no first-person narrator, yet every word is spoken by a character in the story, and the author remains withdrawn” (Holderness 5).

The reader remains an outsider who has to trust the two inside narrators and their perception of events. Nelly's role as housekeeper both at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange makes her accounts appear to be accurate, but she never misses a chance to add her own moral judgements on others. The novel is an allegorical tale in which the world is portrayed in a “contrast between exposure and enclosure, the world within and the world outside” (Goodridge 61). In the context of the novel, the world elsewhere is insignificant; it concentrates on the small area of two locations and two families. The two sets of forces are represented in the Earnshaw family at Wuthering Heights and in the Linton family at Thrushcross Grange. Melodrama evolves and tensions arise from the extended use of binary oppositions represented by the Earnshaws and their ‘children of storm’ – Cathy and Hindley – and the Lintons with their ‘children of calm’ – Edgar and Isabella – (Cecil in Peterson 297). Conflicts emerge when people attempt to leave or enter either of the two places, thereby crossing the boundaries from one set of values to another. The symbolic value of thresholds such as fences, gates, doors and windows is used to signify the physical and spiritual transition that the characters make in Wuthering Heights.

The main narrators of the story are Mr. Lockwood, a stranger from cosmopolitan London, who knows neither locations nor families, and Nelly Dean, a housekeeper, who is familiar with both locations and both families. Lockwood is an outsider from the alien world beyond the moors, who observes, but cannot fully understand the enigma of this provincial enclave. Lockwood’s narration provides, for the reader, a window into the story. He confirms the truth of what Nelly, the major narrator, relates. This makes it possible for outsiders to understand the nature and context of the Heights. Nelly, raised at the Heights, and later a servant at the Grange, retrospectively creates the narrative-within-a-narrative in the story. Nelly’s peripheral role as a domestic permits her to transcend locations and keep in contact with people in both families. Wherever she resides, she gains inside views and her observations make her voice a central force within the narration. Her testimony makes the reader believe in the events, her story-telling seems “as real, as convincing and as natural as possible” (Holderness 4).

The Grange, surrounded by a wall as a frontier between civilization and the wild nature, is sheltered in a valley. It is a benign, sumptuous and cultured home with a gate that keeps the occupants safe from harm. The ordered nature of the estate reflects the character of Edgar and Isabella Linton, and of their parents, the insiders of the Grange. They are gentle, civilized, indoor people, but weakened by refined culture. Bulldogs, kept outside the house but inside the wall, protect the family and keep strangers at bay. Edgar takes Cathy inside the Grange by marrying her, but mentally she will remain at the Heights. In contrast, for the occupants of Wuthering Heights, the house stands exposed but strong against the bleak and harsh nature of the Yorkshire moors. It is a primitive, inhospitable place where anarchy and hostility is the norm, and strangers – outsiders – are not welcome: “The family excludes everything foreign to itself as being unnatural. It guarantees ontological stability through limitation and closure” (Jackson 129). The gate keeps people out and the moors intensify the isolation of this distinct world-within-a-world where dogs are kept inside the house as guard-dogs. In this case, the hostile nature of the Yorkshire moors mirrors the roughness of the Earnshaw family members, especially under Heathcliff’s domination. The insiders of Wuthering Heights, strong passionate individuals, are able to survive the harsh outdoor conditions. Although both families are comparable in social status, the two houses are distinguished and separated by cultural values, a moral and philosophical chasm, later to be overcome only by Catherine and Hareton, the next generation.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
506 KB
Institution / Hochschule
James Cook University – James Cook University
inside outside insiders outsiders Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights alienation boundaries inclusion exclusion culture set against nature


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    Sandra Miller (Autor)


Titel: Outside(rs) and Inside(rs). Belonging and Alienation in Emily Brontë’s "Wuthering Heights"