A discussion of the use of twinning or pairing in Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights"
|Question: In many ways, Wuthering Heights structures itself around matched, contrasting pairs of themes and of characters. What are some of these pairs, and what role do they play in the book?
There are many different pairs used throughout "Wuthering Heights": the two houses, two families with largely identical family trees, two generations, and indeed the two separate halves of the novel, divided by Catherine's death. However, arguably the most important use of twinning or pairing in Wuthering Heights is in the various brother/sister relationships, formed in childhood. From the moment Heathcliff becomes settled at the Heights, these pairs are established. The first of these, and the least central to the story, consists of Hindley and Ellen. Ellen’s mother was Hindley’s wet-nurse, so they share the bond of mother’s milk. This appears to have been the basis of a lifelong connection, illustrated by Ellen’s reference to Hindley as her “foster brother” and her notable sorrow at his death. The second pairing, and that which drives the novel, is that of Catherine and Heathcliff. While their bond does include elements which go far beyond a “normal” brother-sister relationship, it is also largely non-sexual, and it should be noted that during their childhoods (prior to the introduction of the Lintons) they were siblings and playfellows before anything else. The third brother/sister pair is comprised of Edgar and Isabella Linton.
An interesting point is that all three of these pairs are physically divided during the course of the novel, but that the connections established during childhood continue to flourish despite these separations. Hindley and Ellen are split first when he is sent to college, and later due to her employment at the Grange and his isolation and degeneration at the Heights. Their connection, however, remains strong, as evinced by Nelly’s especial grief at his death. Catherine and Heathcliff are separated primarily following her friendship with the Lintons, after which he mysteriously disappears for a period of three years. Even after Heathcliff returns, this separation has been compounded by her marriage to Edgar and subsequent removal to the Grange. Despite the undeniable and permanent effect this will have on all of the characters as the plot unfolds, the bond between Heathcliff and Catherine remains undamaged, described by Cathy as “the eternal rocks beneath.” Finally, Edgar and Isabella become separated due to her marriage to Heathcliff. Although Edgar at first seems relentlessly cold and unforgiving of Isabella, their unshakable childhood bond eventually leads him to resume contact with her; following her death, he even attempts to attain guardianship over her son in order to protect him from Heathcliff.
Although the twinning of Ellen and Hindley has an essentially minor role to play, the other two pairs are central to the plotline. A key element here is the obvious contrast between the two: the passionate and yet absolutely fundamental bond between Heathcliff and Catherine (who grew up together, but are not actually siblings) and the conventional brother/sister relationship between Edgar and Isabella. This contrast is revealed immediately upon the reader’s introduction to the Lintons. Heathcliff and Catherine have been wandering over the moors and stumble across Thrushcross Grange. Upon peering in through one of the windows, they witness the Linton children having a petty disagreement and throwing considerable tantrums. Heathcliff tells Ellen that he and Cathy were both shocked at their childish behaviour (“we laughed outright at the petted things; we did despise them!”) and amazed at the opulence of the Grange; he describes it as “beautiful – a splendid place” and lingers on an admiring description of its design. The window serves to divide the rich, luxurious and spoiled existence of the Linton pair from that of Heathcliff and Cathy, who belong to the rough, untamed Heights and are fundamentally and intrinsically attached to the wildness of the moors.
The contrast between the pairs continues to be illustrated through several themes. The Heights and the Grange are repeatedly contrasted throughout the novel, reminding us of the very different worlds of their inhabitants. Wuthering Heights is depicted as an intense, untamed dwelling, strongly identified with the moors it stands on, while Thrushcross Grange is refined, sophisticated, and somewhat constrained by social convention. Even the names of the respective houses hint at these qualities. These basic differences have irrevocably defined the characters of those who grew up on the two properties. This is emphasised through Isabella’s absolute misery at Wuthering Heights, and Catherine’s ultimate demise at Thrushcross Grange. Although Isabella’s desolation is largely owing to Heathcliff’s rough treatment of her, it is also evident that she is innately incompatible with the wild, undomesticated setting of the Heights and the rough, almost feral nature of its inhabitants. This has a damaging effect on her character. Meanwhile, even at her most poorly, Catherine feels trapped at the Grange, in a world she cannot belong to. In her delirium, she imagines that she can see the Heights from her window, and expresses her longing to be outside roaming the moors. She even refers to her death as a release from the “shattered prison” she feels she is in, and exclaims that when she dies she will be “incomparably above and beyond” the shackles of the Grange, implying that her spirit will return to the “glorious world” of the moors where she truly belongs.
The recurring theme of blood is also used to emphasise the differences between the pairs. The Lintons are continually referred to as “milk-blooded” and “cool-blooded”, implying that they have essentially weak, insipid personalities. This affliction leads Catherine and Heathcliff, as hot-blooded, passionate characters, to ultimately consider themselves innately superior to the Lintons. The scene in which Edgar hits Heathcliff is a prime example of this. Cathy and Heathcliff repeatedly sneer at Edgar’s weak nature, referring to him as a lamb and later a “sucking leveret.” Catherine adds that Heathcliff would be as likely to strike him “as the king would march his army against a colony of mice,” revealing an admiration for Heathcliff and an underlying scorn for Edgar. The pair continue to goad him until he is eventually moved to strike his rival. His blow is described as one which “would have levelled a slighter man,” but Heathcliff’s strength remains painfully obvious next to Edgar’s attempt to assert himself. The weak, “milky” Linton blood is also seen as a sign that he and Isabella lack in emotional depth and intensity in comparison to the extremely demonstrative and dramatic tendencies of those who grew up at the Heights. Cathy, for example, screams at Edgar “Your cold blood cannot be worked into a fever: your veins are full of icewater; but mine are boiling, and the sight of such chilliness makes them dance,” while Heathcliff later boasts to Nelly that Edgar “with all the powers of his puny being” could not love as much in eighty years as he could in a day.
Essentially the contrast between the Catherine/Heathcliff pair and the Lintons is what drives the plot towards the marriages of Edgar and Catherine, and Isabella and Heathcliff, leading to Heathcliff’s revenge. It is said that opposites attract, and in the world of Wuthering Heights this would appear to be true, albeit in a significantly more complicated way. Despite being more than a little “afraid and ashamed” of her passionate temperament, Edgar is fascinated by Catherine’s spirited character because it is so markedly different to his own. Meanwhile, she loves him because he is “handsome, young, cheerful and rich,” and because the world he comes from is alluringly sophisticated, refined, and completely different to that of the Heights. However, she feels from the beginning that there is something unbalanced about their relationship: that she and Heathcliff share similar souls (“he’s more myself than I am”) and that Edgar’s is as different as a beautiful but passive moonbeam is from the stark intensity of lightning. Although Heathcliff has developed such hatred for the Lintons that he is unable to regard Isabella with anything other than derision, she is inescapably drawn to his forceful nature. He suggests to Nelly that she is attracted to his sheer brutality, which is unlike anything she has experienced previously, and implies that she may in fact draw some sick satisfaction from being abused by him.
Ultimately, these marriages are doomed to failure. The differences in temperament which formed the bases for initial attractions simply prove too great to allow lasting relationships, and the pairs are irrestistibly drawn back together. Isabella’s escape and subsequent exile make it impossible for her to be physically close to her brother again, but their bond overcomes the damage she caused their relationship when she married Heathcliff. The Lintons establish a regular correspondence and remain in contact until Isabella’s death. The bond between Catherine and Heathcliff is obviously more complicated, as it includes elements of a brother/sister relationship as well as those of a romantic attachment, and it is implied throughout the novel that they are in fact two halves of one whole. This intricate relationship is such that no one outside the pair can truly understand what they mean to each other, and this is what inevitably leads Catherine to become distant from Edgar. After she dies, Edgar continues to visit her grave, although it can be assumed that this is largely due to “common humanity, and a sense of duty.” While ghosts are referred to throughout the book, there is no indication that Catherine’s, if it exists, is in any way concerned with Edgar. It is evident, however, that her spirit gravitates towards Heathcliff. In the end, the pair are truly reunited, in two ways, by Heathcliff’s death; their spirits return to wandering across the moors together, and their bodies share a grave. Heathcliff plans for their decaying bodies to become as one, and that anyone opening the grave will be unable to tell which is which. This is yet another reminder that Cathy and Heathcliff are one and the same (as Catherine tells Nelly, “he’s more myself than I am,”) they share a soul, and hence a bond that goes beyond any other relationship in the novel.
The twinning used in Wuthering Heights plays several roles. It is used, through several themes, to illustrate the unconquerable differences between the two worlds of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, and those between their inhabitants. These contrasts are central in the development of the plotline. However, it is the bonding between the pairs, particularly that of Catherine and Heathcliff, that is arguably the most powerful aspect of the entire novel, as it is the driving force behind almost every action, every emotion, and indeed every thought – “Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always on my mind!” Without these relationships, Wuthering Heights would not be the powerful and passionate masterpiece that it is.