would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know
how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but
because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made
of, his and mine are the same, and [Edgar’s] is as different as
a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.
Catherine’s speech to Nelly about her
acceptance of Edgar’s proposal, in Chapter IX, forms the turning-point
of the plot. It is at this point that Heathcliff leaves Wuthering
Heights, after he has overheard Catherine say that it would “degrade”
her to marry him. Although the action of Wuthering Heights takes
place so far from the bustle of society, where most of Brontë’s
contemporaries set their scenes, social ambition motivates many
of the actions of these characters, however isolated among the moors.
Catherine’s decision to marry Edgar Linton out of a desire to be
“the greatest woman of the neighbourhood” exemplifies the effect
of social considerations on the characters’ actions.
In Catherine’s paradoxical statement that Heathcliff is
“more myself than I am,” readers can see how the relation between
Catherine and Heathcliff often transcends a dynamic of desire and becomes
one of unity. Heterosexual love is often, in literature, described
in terms of complementary opposites—like moonbeam and lightning,
or frost and fire—but the love between Catherine and Heathcliff
opposes this convention. Catherine says not, “I love Heathcliff,”
but, “I am Heathcliff.” In following the relationship through
to its painful end, the novel ultimately may attest to the destructiveness
of a love that denies difference.