Catherine Earnshaw is a Complex Character
To say that Catherine Earnshaw is a complex character would be an understatement. Torn between love and status, Catherine must make a decision on whether she’ll marry Heathcliff, the man she loves, and build a fortune together, or marry Edgar Linton and place herself in the upper echelon of classes to fulfill some crude desire within herself. She chose the latter, a choice that seemed, in a way, harmful to everyone else, as well as herself.
Let’s begin with submissiveness. Catherine’s never been one to abide by the rules, at least not completely and that begins to work against her when she marries Edgar Linton. When Catherine refuses to be submissive to Edgar her health begins to wosen almost immediately. For example, after Catherine finished pressing Heathcliff for kissing Isabella Linton even though he doesn’t love her, a brief spat transpires between Edgar and Heathcliff, as a result, Edgar tells Catherine she must choose between being “friends” with Heathcliff and “loving” him (Edgar). She marches up to her room in an act of defiance and almost immediately has a fit of coughing, indicating her bad health. It’s clear that Catherine doesn’t really fit into submissiveness virtue, it’s arguably the least applicable to her.
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Next is the virtue of piety. Catherine is no apostle but at the same time she’s as religious as any other woman in Wuthering Heights. Religion wasn’t a major theme in the book, I genuinely believe that piety, despite the weight it holds in the cult of domesticity, is the least regarded of the four virtues, explaining why it’s so neglected in the book. There are no big religious scenes, there’s no big religious experience, there’s seemingly nothing.
Piety is plays its role like blinking, the action. I say blinking because most people can go days, weeks, months, or even years without thinking of blinking but at the same time it’s one of the most frequently occurring things in our lives, it subtly fades into the background because of the lack of thought put into it. Piety, much like blinking, is a disregarded part of life in Wuthering Heights, it just happens when it does and no one has much of a problem with it, Catherine being a part of “no one”.
Now we talk purity. The only form of non relative interaction Catherine had was playing in the moors with Heathcliff when she was younger. Besides that, the only man Catherine’s been close with is Edgar, her husband. Purity, like piety, was just another part of everyday life for Catherine, not much thought was put into to it. Purity was never blatantly tackled inside Wuthering Heights, however, it could have been a major plot point. Heathcliff spent a tremendous amount of time with Heathcliff and their love for one another was no secret.
The story already bases Edgar’s animosity towards Heathcliff in the fact that Heathcliff is the man that Catherine loves. He could’ve been depicted as someone with an inferiority complex and as a result, everytime he and Catherine argued he’d make a cruel comment about her purity or go as far as accusing her of having relations with Heathcliff. This would have altered his personality by shifting him away from the typical “gentleman” role. This would’ve changed the story by making Catherine’s decision of Edgar over Heathcliff seem more ludacris because it’s one thing to choose money over love but to go and choose an abusive relationship over genuine love.
Finally we arrive and domesticity. To be domestic is to be all about home and family, it’s a defining trait in women regarded as homemakers. This is the trait that Catherine lacked the most, being a domestic woman was the same as being a prisoner to her, she was regarded as a free spirit and for good reason, even as a child she would rather be out and about, exploring and playing, rather than being cooped up inside.
Domesticity was poison to Catherine’s nature, for example, there’s a scene when Catherine is seemingly in a fit of hysteria, she wants to get out the house and goes straight for the window. She was in a weakened state when this happened, when she opened the window and the moor air embraced her, she gained unexplainable strength. It took the strength of Edgar and the maid to put Catherine back in the bed, but not without a struggle. This symbolizes outside as freedom from domesticity.
The cult of domesticity wasn’t necessarily argued for or against in the book. I see it as all depictions of the cult of domesticity within Wuthering Heights are reflections of situations in real life for Emily Bronte, because in the romantic era, the cult of domesticity was very normalized, it was the social standard so it only makes sense for such a critical part of life to make a consistent appearance.