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Is It Love or Hate, Is It Fire or Ice? A Confrontation Between Heathcliff and Cathy.

Updated on July 12, 2010

Excerpt Discussion from Bronte's Wuthering Heights' library scene where the imprisoned Cathy is forced to return to Heathcliff after her father, Linton's, death

The scene takes place in the fire-lit and moon-lit library of Thrushcross Grange the day after Edgar Linton's funeral. Heathcliff has come to take Catherine back to Wuthering Heights. Catherine, grieved, scornful and vengeful, exits the room to collect her belongings after Heathcliff's threatening response to her taunts about his loveless existence.

I find it compelling that Catherine mirrors Heathcliff’s own tendency to rejoice over others' grievances in her response to him. Her assuming the attitude of fighting fire with fire as a survival technique under extreme pressure resonates with me as a common and timeless human response.

Catherine’s response contributes to an ironic temperament reversal in this passage. Catherine, who we knew (prior to her experiences at the hands of Heathcliff) to be a spirited and jovial innocent is hardened and dreary and expresses her sadistic pleasure at Heathcliff's loneliness and lovelessness. Heathcliff, who is characteristically hard and heartless at the onset of this passage, gradually becomes jovial and excitable in Catherine’s absence, evident when Nelly remarks that she notices his near-smile, and when he later exclaims, "I'll tell you what I did yesterday!"

In this passage there is an effective contrasted use of hot and cold terminology, imagery and feelings on which I would like to expound. The coolest of words and feelings are expressed in the warmest manner, while the warmest of words and feelings are expressed in the coolest manner. In the first part of the passage, Heathcliff responds to both Catherine’s heated scorns about his cold and loveless existence as well as Nelly’s plea to live at Wuthering Heights with cold words and sentiments said in a heated manner.

In the second part of the passage, after Catherine departs the room, Heathcliff “cools down” as his own thoughts and actions take a warmer turn. He now beholds his surroundings, they come into focus as if for the first time. His mood changes as he surveys the pictures and claims one of the deceased Cathy for himself. He turns “abruptly to the fire.” The mood left by is fiery display of coldness to the young Catherine ‘cools off’ gradually as he warmly reflects on Cathy.

Noticeably, as the mood changes from cold to warm, the words used in the scene change from warm or lively to cold or dead. This effectively though complexly juxtaposes heat to cold and fury to tranquillity. Heathcliff begins to speak of his own tranquillity and uses cold terminology in a warm way, physically referring to "my cheek frozen against hers" at Cathy's gravesite in a touching and heart-warming manner. He refers to seeing Cathy’s cold skeleton warmly as, “when I saw her face again.” Staring at the fire, Heathcliff warmly yearns for and prophetically alludes to his impending death, beginning "Yesternight, I was tranquil..."

After Edgar's death, Heathcliff has finally completed his plot of revenge against the Earnshaws and Lintons. He has secured both properties in the inevitable event of his son Linton's death. It is perhaps now that he can put his vengeful plans to rest, put himself to rest. I feel that is why Heathcliff can now look into the fire, smile, talk of Cathy and things to come, alluding to his own death and the joining of himself to her in the "afterlife." Revenge was the only thing keeping Heathcliff alive, and with Edgar gone and Catherine married to Linton, Heathcliff's climax is near at hand. He expresses, at the end of this passage, his desire to dissolve with Cathy into nothingness, into the unknown.

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