Social Sensitivity

The basic plot of Wuthering Heights may seem to be a timeless love story, but the Characters and situations reflect many of the real social problems of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Women of the time were denied equal economic opportunity, and when Hindley disinherits Cathy Earnshaw, she feels compelled to choose Edgar over Heathcliff in order to secure her material survival. Similarly, Isabella is at Heathcliff’s mercy partly because she has no economic security. Heathcliff’s character, too, is better understood when one realizes that a young man with no family and no money had few options but to outwit those who did have established social status. Even Lockwood’s condescending attitude toward his country hosts points up a social problem that became more acute as industrialization lured more people into the cities; during this social transition, communication and understanding between inhabitants of differing social milieus, economic classes, or educational levels became increasingly difficult. Hindley’s early treatment of Heathcliff and the initial relationship between young Catherine and Hareton are variations on this theme of class conflict.

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