In this essay, I will compare the portrayal of the relationship of Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, a nineteenth century novel by Emily Brontï¿½, with that of ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’, a twentieth century short story by Jane Gardham.
The stories have been written in different time periods and for different audiences. The nineteenth century was the more progressive era in terms of literary advances. It involved the development of romanticism and increased appreciation of the natural world.
Emily Brontï¿½ was born in 1818 and died in 1848 from TB. She was born in Yorkshire, which helps explain her capacity to describe the moors so powerfully and effectively. Brontï¿½ was brought up by her aunt, in a bleak parsonage near Bradford with her two sisters, Anne and Charlotte, and her brother, Branwell. Emily Brontï¿½ had a difficult life, living in harsh conditions. She wrote under the name of Ellis Bell, which demonstrates the difficulty that women experienced when attempting to carry out their lives, freely and independently from men. Brontï¿½’s understanding of the roles of women in her time, leads her to describe Cathy marrying a man whom she does not love, due to the pressure of her society. Her writing seems to have been her only outlet for her passionate and imaginative personality; it was due to her lifestyle that she was unable to fulfil her need for the passionate love that she so successfully wrote about.
I will study Part One of Wuthering Heights and in this section the reader witnesses Cathy and Heathcliff growing up as children, Cathy and Heathcliff’s father, Earnshaw, dying, Cathy’s stay at the Grange (the home to Edgar and Isabella Linton) and Cathy’s acceptance of Edgar’s marriage proposal. In ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’ the main characters, Nancy and Clancy, grow up together as children, drift apart during their teenage and early adult years and at the end of the book, the reader is led to believe that Clancy, having been rejected by Nancy, turns into a bike.
The relationship plot in Wuthering Heights and “The Boy who Turned into a Bike” are strikingly similar; both male characters are gradually excluded from the female’s life due to a change or development in her lifestyle, both couples have aspects to their relationship that resemble that of a brother and sister’s, both females marry another man for materialistic reasons and both relationship’s share, though to different extents, a special, subconscious bond.
At the beginning of both stories, the relationship between the characters is similar to that of a brother and sister.
In Wuthering Heights, Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship involves both parties being considerate and fond of each other.
They are very close:
“…Heathcliff was lying on the floor with his head in her lap.”
Heathcliff and Cathy are both physically and emotionally at ease with one another and their relationship is that of a brother and sister. The reader is instantly made aware of the relationship that Cathy and Heathcliff have, in this short sentence by the description of ‘Heathcliff’s head in her lap.’
Nancy and Clancy’s relationship in ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’ is similar to this.
“So they grew up and went to school together, hand in hand, and waited for each other at the end of school.”
The way that they are described as going to school “hand in hand” portrays the close brother and sister relationship that the two children have. Again, as in Wuthering Heights, the physical closeness of the children is clearly portrayed by their gestures.
In Wuthering Heights, Cathy, having returned from the Grange has become ‘a lady’. Due to Heathcliff being a farm worker, the difference between them is noticeable and their relationship is, at first, tense. The marked difference between the two main characters is perhaps a typical result of the pressures and expectations of the nineteenth century society in which Wuthering Heights takes place and Emily Brontï¿½ herself lived.
“‘[Cathy] I did not mean to laugh at you…It was only that you looked odd…you are so dirty!’ ‘ [Heathcliff] I shall not stand to be laughed at!…I shall be as dirty as I please…'”
Heathcliff is feeling wary of Cathy; she has changed and her lifestyle has become that of a ‘lady’. She is impressed and concerned with materialistic objects such as pretty dresses:
“She gazed concernedly at the dusty fingers…and also at her dress, which she feared had gained no embellishment…”
This makes Heathcliff feel anxious and defensive about himself. The fact that he says, “I shall be as dirty as I please” demonstrates that Heathcliff intended Cathy to know that it is his choice to be dirty. He can see that he is unable to be part of Cathy’s life in the same way that he was when they were children.
In ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’, Clancy is also left behind as the two children grow up.
“Well, childhood passed and Nancy changed. Boys began to hang around. …Clancy hadn’t grown that much.”
In this story, Nancy grows up and begins to develop a social life that Clancy, like Heathcliff, is no longer a part of. He is not able to remain in Nancy’s life to the extent that they he had previously done when they were children. Again, as in Wuthering Heights, Nancy is experiencing the pressure of the society that she lives in. She feels she must be part of the ‘popular’ crowd and is easily led and impressed by materialistic things such as fast cars and drugs:
“…a roofless sports car, bright yellow…as he lit up a joint.”
Clancy is not able to participate with these activities and is gradually alienated from Nancy’s life.
In both relationships, the female party marries a person that she does not truly love.
In Wuthering Heights, Cathy marries Edgar Linton even though she admits to Nelly Dean that her love for Heathcliff is much stronger than her love for Edgar and that she is only marrying Edgar for materialistic and superficial reasons. When asked why she loves Edgar, Cathy is unable to provide substantial reasons,
“…because he is handsome…he is young and cheerful…and, because he loves me.”
All of the above characteristics can easily change and Cathy knows this, describing her love for Edgar as “foliage in the woods.” She understands, however, that her love for Heathcliff is not like this and “…resembles the eternal rocks beneath” It will never change and is solid and secure. The comparison that Cathy makes clearly shows her different feelings. Rocks are very solid with foliage being easily changed by small changes in their surroundings. This comparison can be paralleled with the moors. The rocks form the base of the moors and develop from them; they are the ‘childhood’ of the landscape. Cathy and Heathcliff spend an extensive amount of their childhood playing on the moors and this is where their relationship blossoms and develops. The relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff is based on incredibly strong roots and results in the passionate love that they develop for one another. Cathy’s relationship and love with Edgar Linton, is comparatively new, like the foliage on the moors that changes with the weather.
In ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’ a very similar conversation takes place between Nancy and Clancy, concerning why Nancy loves her future husband. When asked why, she replies,
“He’s strong. He’s nice. He loves me.”
Like Cathy’s reasons in Wuthering Heights, Nancy’s reasons are superficial and can easily change. She is marrying her fiancï¿½ because she is impressed with his money and status. Cathy also wants to improve her position in the society of her time and the only way for her to do this, is to marry someone of a more respected status.
Throughout both stories it is clear to the reader that, although to different extents, the relationships both have strong, subconscious bonds.
In Wuthering Heights Cathy and Heathcliff’s bond is incredibly powerful and continues from childhood even through death. This is demonstrated at the beginning of the book, when he calls out for Cathy:
“Come in!…Cathy, do come…once more! Oh! my heart’s darling. Hear me this time – Catherine, at last!”
This quote demonstrates the passion that Heathcliff feels for Cathy, even though she is dead. It is implied, by this quote, that Cathy is not at rest, due perhaps to unresolved emotions for Heathcliff.
However, it is not just after her death that they have this link. Throughout childhood, it is clear that they share an unusual bond. This is demonstrated by observing how Heathcliff talks about Cathy:
“…dried and combed her beautiful hair…”
The way that Heathcliff subconsciously describes Cathy’s hair as “beautiful” shows his love for her, even as a child. Nancy and Clancy also grow up together and although it is not as strong as the link between Cathy and Heathcliff, it is clear that they have an unusual connection:
“Oh, how he loved his Nancy as she patted and soothed and caressed him.”
The way that Nancy is described as Clancy’s, portrays their relationship to be more than is usually expected. Over time, their relationship remains special:
“He never looked up…and she never looked at him. But both of them knew what the other was up to. ”
The fact that their relationship can survive despite the lack of communication shows the unusual and powerful strength the relationship involves.
Although the stories have all these similarities, I think that the two relationships are, in essence, different.
Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship in Wuthering Heights is one that is remembered alongside Romeo and Juliet and Anthony and Cleopatra as being one of the most passionate and wild romances in literary history. Nancy and Clancy’s relationship, however, is not. There are many reasons for this and they include the overall setting of the novel, the sentence structure, the narration and the use of language.
The setting of Wuthering Heights is the Yorkshire moors, a bleak, yet forceful place to set a tragic romantic novel. As Emily Brontï¿½ had lived on the moors, she was able to create the impression and picture of the moors in a successful and effective way.
“On that bleak hill top the earth was hard with black frost, and the air made me shiver through every limb.”
There are many adjectives that Emily Brontï¿½ uses in the quote above to create the atmospheric setting for Wuthering Heights, such as “bleak”, “hard” and “shiver”. These words successfully encourage the reader to picture the scene; a harsh, unforgiving moor that Brontï¿½ herself, lived. This fact enables her to create a true impression of the moor, an effect that perhaps only a first-hand experience can achieve. The setting is important for Wuthering Heights, as it can be said to mirror the wildness of Heathcliff’s character and the relationship that occurs between himself and Cathy. The moors create a resonant backdrop for the stormy relationship that starts and finishes on them. Heathcliff and Cathy spend a significant amount of their childhood on the moors:
“…it was one of their chief amusements to run away to the moors and remain there all day…”
The genuineness of the mental image of the moors in the reader’s mind enables the relationship to become even more powerful and striking. It seems that without the setting the relationship could not strike the reader with such passion.
‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’ is set on an apparently average, normal street and the reader is given little description of what it looks or feels like. There is limited text to describe the residential street, in which the story is set.
“…lived next door to each other for years and years.”
‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’ does not have a dramatic backdrop and it is perhaps partly because of this, that the portrayal of the relationship does not hit the reader with so much passion or power as Wuthering Heights.
Another noticeable difference between the two stories, is the sentence structure. Wuthering Heights is mainly made up of complex sentences, which is a typical characteristic of nineteenth century writing. The effect of this is one of a slower pace than ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’ where simple sentences are the most frequently used. There are predominantly more semi-colons in Wuthering Heights and these order the events that take place but also keep the story flowing on.
“I tried to jump up; but, could not stir a limb; and so yelled out loud in a frenzy of fright.”
The events described above are divided by the semi-colons, which order the events but enable the plot to continue.
The sentence structure, general grammar and punctuation in ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’ is considerably different to that used in Wuthering Heights. In ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’, the language is quite poetic and less formal with the overall effect being one of a modern story, straying from the conventional literary traditions. The following quote demonstrates the casual, more verbal telling of the story:
“Oh Nancy and Clancy – the trouble to come!”
The use of the words “Oh” and the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence create a significantly less formal language style when compared with Wuthering Heights and it is the use of this style that contributes to the difference in the portrayal of the relationships.
The narration is another difference in the stories that affect the portrayal of the relationships. In Wuthering Heights, the majority of Part One is told from the point of view of Nelly Dean, the servant in Wuthering Heights at the time of Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship. Nelly Dean is recalling parts and phases of Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship. However, Nelly is a slightly biased narrator and often includes her opinions and views when discussing Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship:
“She was much too fond of Heathcliff.”
It is Nelly’s opinion that Cathy is “too fond” of Heathcliff. The word “too” makes the statement an opinion as opposed to the sentence being “she was fond of Heathcliff.” This narration effects the portrayal of the relationship and the reader receives a slightly altered view of Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship.
‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’, however, is written in the 3rd person and due to the omniscient narrator the reader is able to see the overall picture, which perhaps, may not be the case in Wuthering Heights. Due to being a short story, ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’ uses more concise language:
“So silent. No friends. Girls didn’t exist. Hardly drank a drop.”
A substantial amount of detail is given to the reader in a comparatively short space. This can be seen as a device to emphasise quickly and effectively the information that the author is portraying.
To conclude, Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and Nancy and Clancy in ‘The Boy who Turned into a Bike’ are portrayed as fundamentally different relationships, although there are some striking similarities in the way the plot unfolds. The use of setting and language are, I think, the main factors that make Wuthering Heights the more passionate of the two tragic love stories.