Wuthering Heights

by: Emily Brontë

Social Class

1

He pulled me under the chandelier, and Mrs. Linton placed her spectacles on her nose and raised her hands in horror…‘Frightful thing! Put him in the cellar, papa. He’s exactly like the son of the fortune-teller that stole my tame pheasant’ . . . ‘A wicked boy, at all events,’ remarked the old lady, ‘and quite unfit for a decent house! Did you notice his language, Linton?’

Nelly Dean recounts what Heathcliff told her about how the Lintons treated him when he and Catherine were caught trespassing. The Lintons immediately looked down on Heathcliff because he was not of their social class. Without even giving Heathcliff a chance, they judged him and cast him aside. Meanwhile, they recognized their neighbor Catherine and welcomed and cared for her despite her complicity in the crime. This event explains the beginnings of Heathcliff’s hatred towards the Lintons and highlights his sudden awareness of his social class separation from Catherine.

2

Catherine had kept up her acquaintance with the Lintons . . . and she had no temptation to show her rough side in their company, and had the sense to be ashamed of being rude where she experienced such invariable courtesy, she imposed unwittingly on the old lady and gentlemen . . . gained the admiration of Isabella, and the heart and soul of her brother: acquisitions that flattered her from the first—she was full of ambition—and led her to adopt a double character without exactly intending to deceive any one.

Nelly explains to Mr. Lockwood how Catherine conformed to the Lintons’ higher class expectations while living with them for five weeks. Nelly describes how Catherine developed something of a split personality in order to gain the admiration of the Lintons while also fitting in with Heathcliff and her family at Wuthering Heights. Catherine has ambition and knows that moving into a higher social class will improve her life.

3

‘And he’ll never be able to emerge from his bathos of coarseness and ignorance. I’ve got him faster than his scoundrel of a father secured me. . . Don’t you think Hindley would be proud of his son…almost as proud as I am of mine. But there’s this difference; one is gold put to the use of paving-stones, and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver. Mine has nothing valuable about it; yet I shall have the merit of making it go as far as such poor stuff can go. His had first-rate qualities, and they are lost: rendered worse than unavailing.’

Heathcliff describes to Nelly his control over Hareton and Linton’s social class. Heathcliff explains how he has taught Hareton, who was born a gentleman, to act lower in class. Whereas he plans to bring Linton, his son, to a higher class by forcing a marriage with young Catherine. Heathcliff manipulates the social standings of Hareton and Linton as part of his plans for revenge. Heathcliff resents the poor treatment he received as an orphan without social connections and recognizes the power of social class.