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Passage Analysis of Catherine's Obsession with Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights

Updated on February 25, 2014
Top Withens, the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.
Top Withens, the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. | Source

Chapter 12: “Open the window again wide… I never will!” (91-92).

In Chapter 12 of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Catherine locks herself in her room and is very sick. She interacts with Nelly, her servant and close friend, who is looking after her. Catherine’s delirium provides the reader with insight into her true personality and foreshadows tragedy.

Catherine is locked in her room at Thrushcross Grange, where she is sick. She wants to open a window, but Nelly doesn’t want her to because she fears it will make her mistress even sicker. However, Catherine has “delirious strength” and overpowers Nelly. Catherine looks out the window into complete darkness but claims to see candles burning in Wuthering Heights. Thinking about Wuthering Heights, she reminisces on her childhood journeys with Heathcliff and believes that she is speaking directly to Heathcliff, even though he is not there.

Catherine’s sickness is both physical and mental. Nelly is afraid that Catherine may catch a cold from the open window, thereby exacerbating her ailment. Catherine’s physical and mental symptoms are directly related, and as one gets worse, so does the other. This causes Catherine to unjustly yell at Nelly, her long time friend and confidant, which displays Catherine’s self-centered side. She clearly feels that she can take well-meaning Nelly for granted. Catherine’s sickness also triggers a hallucination in which she sees non-existent lights and talks to Heathcliff, who is not present. Her fantasy also reveals a longing for her past, such as when she believes that her old servant is waiting up for her to come home to Wuthering Heights: “[Joseph’s] waiting till I come home that he may lock the gate.” Catherine fondly remembers the adventures that she and Heathcliff took as children. She asks Heathcliff to take another adventure with her: “Heathcliff, if I dare you now, will you venture?” This dialogue with an imaginary Heathcliff exposes her obsession with him. Catherine even says that she cannot rest until Heathcliff is with her, which shows the magnitude of her dependence upon him. In addition to Catherine, parts of Nelly’s character are also revealed in this scene. Nelly clearly shows compassion for Catherine, as she is trying to help her mistress and make her well again. Nelly even results to using force in order to save Catherine from her own stubborn will, but she ultimately fails. This shows that Nelly’s sensibility and tough love cannot overcome Catherine’s impulsive recklessness.

The weather in this novel plays a key role in setting the mood of the story, and this passage is no exception. The window immediately evokes images of cold air and darkness, both of which are reminiscent of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights. When Catherine opens the window, “frosty air [cuts] about her shoulders as keen as a knife.” The chilly air represents apathy and violence, while the darkness signifies mysteriousness: “Everything beneath lay in misty darkness.” Nelly’s inability to see lights at Wuthering Heights symbolizes her failure to see any redeeming qualities in Heathcliff; on the other hand, Catherine’s assertion that she sees lights in her old house denotes that she indeed is attracted to Heathcliff and that she sees in him something which others do not. The window through which they look also serves as a metaphorical devise, as a window to Catherine’s past. It is the last connection Catherine has left with Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff, and her carefree childhood, since she is now married to Edgar Linton and lives at Thrushcross Grange. She has not taken well to this change, and will eventually die in this house in which she does not belong, married to a man whom she does not love. This scene foreshadows Catherine’s death through the imagery with phrases such as “death of cold.” Catherine also mentions graves and burials, declaring that she will never truly rest, even after death, until she is with Heathcliff. Catherine’s refusal to be at peace without Heathcliff also explains the appearance of her ghost at the beginning of the novel. She kept her determined promise: “I won’t rest till you are with me. I never will!” which supports her bold, passionate stubbornness and her need to be with Heathcliff.

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