Sunday, 2 June 2013

A2 English Literature: Narrators in Wuthering Heights

I think it's possible (but what do I know) that a section a question on Wuthering Heights could ask about the importance of narrators in the novel. Considering we've got two narrators, whose styles differ dramatically, there's a decent amount of stuff to talk about. Are the narrators reliable? Are they observers or participators? Do they tell us about the context of the time the novel was written? Do they omit/speculate/judge?

In a way, the narrative structure of Wuthering Heights is somewhat similar to the narrative structure of Frankenstein. The whole story is told by Lockwood, whose narrative includes Nelly's embedded narrative. In turn, Nelly's narrative itself contains smaller embedded narratives, some of which take epistolary form (such as Isabella's letter).

Lockwood is, universally, seen to be a bit of a wally. He's your typical city gentleman, and the fact that he is totally out of place in the uncivilised and untempered world of Wuthering Heights says something about civility and how it doesn't necessarily apply to Wuthering Heights. Lockwood is very set in his ways (it's all in the name. 'Lock' implies that he is something of a closed system. A 'wood' is usually well maintained and basic - compare the latter to 'heath' in Heathcliff's name) and appears to be quite self-centred.

Lockwood's narration is presented as something of a diary, and starts at the very end of the story, which is not only confusing for the reader but confusing for him too. So we learn about the story through Lockwood; if we feel confused, at least we're not as confused as him. He misjudges things so often that it becomes embarrassing for him and for us to read.

Lockwood refers to himself as a misanthropist, but it appears as though he openly desires attention and companionship, similarly to how Walton desires companionship in Frankenstein. It is also interesting to note that Lockwood has fled his previous residence because his own love story is a failed one. He was interested in a girl he used to know until she returned his affections with a slightly flirtatious look, to which he "shrunk icily into myself, like a snail", leading to the sudden departure of the girl and her mother.

So Lockwood, who modestly calls himself "tolerably attractive", is single and appears to be interested in Cathy. The fact that his romantic interests are coupled alongside his incidents with the "heap of dead rabbits", "possessed swine" and "villainous old guns" is interesting to say the least. Is Lockwood focusing on what's really important?

Lockwood's judgement is also quite flawed. He calls Heathcliff a "capital fellow" in chapter one, yet a chapter later he says, "I no longer felt inclined to call Heathcliff a capital fellow." Perhaps Lockwood is too easy to judge and make decisions. This is coupled with his cripplingly awkward social skills and awareness. Considering Lockwood is a typical gentleman of the city, his presentation is somewhat farcical and juxtaposes what we would expect. Perhaps Brontë is praising the natural countryside and what goes along with it - is she subtly damning city life? He notes feeling "out of place", which he really didn't need to spell out for us.

Not only does Lockwood appear intrusive in entering Wuthering Heights and discussing personal affairs, he even picks up the late Catherine's diary and starts reading it. This suggests that he is not simply an observational narrator, because if he hadn't taken such an action we wouldn't start to understand the story until much later. By relating the embedded narrative of Catherine's diary to us, the readers, we are given an insight into a character's life that Lockwood couldn't possibly be a part of.

Then we get an incredibly gothic image while Lockwood is having a dream (or is he? It's never revealed) and he sees Catherine's "spectre" arrive at the window. Here we have Lockwood, the city gentleman, on the inside while the ghastly spectre is on the outside. Perhaps Lockwood represents rationality here. Either way, it's quite shocking when he tells us how he "pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bed-clothes". What the hell, Lockwood? What's that all about? It may be interesting to argue that Wuthering Heights is inherently a violent place - Lockwood has been there long enough and is starting to adapt to the ways of the house?

Lockwood's style as a narrator can be a little hard to unravel at times. Because he is oh-so-well-educated, he is quite verbose in his narration. His sentences are long-winded, often comprising of several clauses and featuring hyphens and semicolons all over the place. Yet although Lockwood's writing style is sophisticated, it doesn't mean that he's as well-suited to the 'real world' that he has been immersed into.

In contrast, Ellen Dean is a housekeeper, and describes herself as a "steady, reasonable kind of body". We go from hearing from a high-flying city guy to a lowly servant at Thrushcross Grange, and it is through Nelly that we learn of most of the novel's events. Nelly is both an observer and an active participator in the novel's events, and is closely linked to many characters. She is Isabella's correspondent, Heathcliff's carer and, at one point, a maternal figure to Cathy. She is far more involved with the people than Lockwood, since she remembers it all and relives the story to him - and us - as though it had happened just the other day. Lockwood actually refers to her as a "very fair narrator".

However, because Nelly is so deeply involved in so many of the characters, her judgement (while usually fair) changes, which could be used to support the argument that she is an unreliable narrator. She sways between supporting Heathcliff and Edgar in their major conflict, and both approves and disapproves of Cathy's actions when she enters a 'relationship' with Linton. Sometimes her disapproval leads to various plot changes - she is the one who burns Cathy's letters from Linton, for example. She is the one who makes the important decisions for Cathy when Edgar falls ill. She is like a firm but fair mother figure, whose moral stance is, like anyone's, never quite in one place. She is biased in some respects, but that's what we're given so we just have to take it at face value.

Nelly's style of narration employs more dialogue than Lockwood's, and we get the feeling that she's truly bringing the characters to life as best she can - props to her for nailing Joseph's accent. Conversely, Lockwood appears to include pivotal dialogue but it always seems a little stale, mainly because it all relates back to him and his long-winded sentences.

The use of narrators in the novel allows for two perspectives - one from an outsider, the other from an insider. The dramatic difference in the two narrative styles suggests just how 'alien' the world of Wuthering Heights must be when one is not originally part of it.

Furthermore, the fact that there is no third-person omniscient narrator means that there are certain things that we never learn. We never learn how Heathcliff got all of his money, for example, or what it was he did in his mysterious three-year absence. But perhaps it's better that way.

1 comment:

  1. Nelly's narrative itself contains smaller embedded narratives, some of which take epistolary form.On the other hand, see here the Lockwood seems to incorporate crucial exchange yet it generally appears somewhat stale, fundamentally in light of the fact that everything relates back to him and his indulgent sentences.I adore your blog. Outstanding write-up. It is extremely genuine, folks really should learn how to learn previous to they'll learn.Thank you.