Death pervades the atmosphere of Wuthering Heights, where dead bodies, graves and ghosts are a common sight. Emily Bronte evinces a fascination with death, but death as Bronte sees it, does not represent the end of all existence. As C Day Lewis suggests, this interest in death in her writings conveys “a struggle towards a life, a mode of living, beyond death. ” (372) Such an interest is death would, necessarily be an integral part in explaining the nature of the relationship between the two protagonists of the novel.
Clifford Collins describes Heathcliff and Cathy’s love as a “life-force relationship” (310), and further says that as it is an “ideal” one, the relationship “does not exist in life” (310). Indeed their ideal love relationship does not exist in life, because, as the novel clearly indicates, it is one which can exist only in death. The three major factors that contribute to Heathcliff and Catherine’s inability to unite in life are: the society they live in, their ‘un-readiness’ to unite, and the fact that they both see themselves in the other.
Society is the main factor that refuses to let Heathcliff and Catherine unite in life. Catherine is especially aware of this fact, and she dies first—in her search of union with her beloved. Even though she feels she is wrong, (she tells Nelly, “in my soul, and in my heart, I’m convinced I’m wrong” (IX, 71)), she agrees to marry Edgar Linton. She says that it will “degrade” her to marry Heathcliff, and that they would be “beggars” if she did so. May Sinclair says that she marries Edgar “for a little finer living” (262).
Nancy Armstrong is of the opinion that she “forgo[es] her desire for Heathcliff” to get “economic power”. (368) Whatever the reason, one thing is clear—Catherine realizes that society will not allow her and Heathcliff to unite in life. Although she naively believes she can have a relationship with Heathcliff despite her marriage to Edgar, she later comes to realize that her decision to marry Edgar had been a wrong one. This is because she is split in trying to satisfy society and herself, and that society will not let her continue her relationship with Heathcliff.
“If I’ve done wrong,” Catherine says to Heathcliff in their last meeting, “I’m dying for it. ” (XV, 135, emphasis mine). She dies in order to rectify her mistake. It does seem a mistake on Catherine’s part to marry Edgar, but in truth, it is necessary for her union with Heathcliff. Both Cathy and Heathcliff must be ready before they can be united, and for that, they must die. For Cathy, her ‘readiness comes when she admits her “mistake” in marrying Edgar Linton, and can admit her love to Heathcliff. Before this, she has only spoken of her love for Heathcliff, to Nelly.
When Heathcliff returns after his long absence, she greets him joyously, but not once does she declare her love to him; she calls herself his “friend” to Isabella (X, 90). She dies after she does speak of her love to him. She tells Nelly, “I shall love mine [i. e. Heathcliff] yet; and take him with me—he’s in my soul. ” (XV, 134) To ‘take him’ with her is her heart’s desire, so she may be united to him then. Heathcliff’s readiness comes when he too, has gone through his share of difficulties. Sadaf Alam notes that, though he often wills for his death, it does not come till he is ready for it.
Also, he himself does not starve himself—it is simply that Catherine and death have both made themselves manifest to him, and he is unable to eat. (47-49) He has lost control, because death is ready to unite him to Catherine. United with Catherine he must be, with the one who is his “soul”, just as Catherine ‘is’ Heathcliff, an “existence beyond” herself. As Carol Jacobs points out, Heathcliff “provides a path of mediation to Cathy’s self that at the same time marks the impossibility of coincidence with that self. ” (360) They both think that they are the other, but that is humanly impossible, in this life at least.
In order to truly unite and become one, they must die. Thus Heathcliff’s desire for his corpse to mingle with Catherine’s become clear—he is seeking true unity, in death. When it become clear that Catherine and Heathcliff’s love cannot find fulfillment in life, many things become easier to understand—such as why both lovers seek to torment, and thus to destroy the other, and also why they both desire death. Their lives were defined by their love for each other, and, indeed, their lives were spent in attaining their desire.For Heathcliff and Cathy, this can only hold true: “Till death do us unite”.
Alam, Sadaf. “Death and Identity in Emily Bronte. ” Diss. University of Karachi, 2005. Armstrong, Nancy. “Bronte In and Out of Her Time. ” Wuthering Heights: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Criticism. Ed. William M. Sale Jr. and Richard J. Dunn. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 1990. 365-377. Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights: An Authoritative Text with Essays in Criticism. Ed. William M Sale Jr. New York: Norton, 1963. Collins, Clifford. “Theme and Conventions in Wuthering Heights.
” Wuthering Heights: An Authoritative Text with Essays in Criticism. Ed. William M Sale Jr. New York: Norton, 1963. 309-318. Jacobs, Carol. “At the Threshold of Interpretation. ” Wuthering Heights: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Criticism. Ed. William M. Sale Jr. and Richard J. Dunn. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 1990. 353-365. Lewis, C Day. “Emily Bronte and Freedom. ” Wuthering Heights: An Authoritative Text with Essays in Criticism. Ed. William M Sale Jr. New York: Norton, 1963. 361-378 Sinclair, May. The Three Brontes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1912.