The Dysfunctional Family in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
Creating a haven from the cruel outside world, families ideally provide protection and support for each of their members. In Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, however, bitterness grows between the Earnshaws and the Lintons. Within these two families, siblings rival for power and parents fail to fulfill their roles as caregivers. The intertwining relationships of the Earnshaws and the Lintons are marked by physical abuse, degradation, and emotional negligence. These reduce each of the family members’ life to a lonely and meaningless journey though the cold and misty moors.
Unforgiving as the moors that surround them, the Earnshaws and the Lintons often resort to physical violence when interacting with one another. When Lockwood first visits the protagonist Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights, he tries to caress one of Heathcliff’s dogs but is met with angry snarls. Heathcliff, seeing this, kicks the dog and informs his visitor: “You’d better let the dog alone. She’s not accustomed to be spoiled – not kept for a pet”(12). Like Heathcliff’s dog, no one in the Earnshaw or the Linton family is accustomed to affection. Nelly, the servant who has worked for the Earnshaws and the Lintons for many years, is considered to be a part of these two families. She has grown so accustomed to her master Hindley Earnshaw’s physical violence that she is unfazed when he sticks a knife between her teeth. Hindley tries to use physical violence as a means of re-establishing his power within his household, for he has lost his stranglehold on it when he spiralled into depression over his wife Frances’ death. An alcoholic and a gambler, Hindley is unsuccessful in obtaining his son Hareton’s affection: “Wisht, dry thy eyes – there’s a joy; kiss me. What! It won’t? Kiss me, Hareton! Damn thee, kiss me!” (76). Hareton is thus reduced to an inhuman “it.” It is not surprising, then, that Hareton is afraid of his father, but Hindley is angered because this reminds him of his failure as a father. Declaring that Hareton should be “cropped” like a fierce dog, Hindley drops his son over the railing of a staircase when the latter shrinks away from him. He is unperturbed when Nelly exclaims: “He hates you – they all hate you – that’s the truth! A happy family you have, and a pretty state you’re come to!” (77). Hindley does not seem to comprehend that physical abuse leads not to love but to fear and hatred – and ultimately, alienation from his family.
Edgar Linton, normally gentle, also uses physical violence when he fights with Heathcliff over Catherine Earnshaw, now his wife Catherine Linton. Like Hindley, Edgar does not realize that violence cannot produce love. His fight with Heathcliff results in Catherine’s insanity and her eventual death. Catherine, too, is not flawless. When Nelly, under Hindley’s orders, chaperones Edgar’s visit with Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine is furious and strikes Nelly. When her...