Paradox

Wuthering Heights

by

Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights: Paradox 1 key example

Definition of Paradox
A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel of truth or reason. Oscar Wilde's famous declaration that "Life is... read full definition
A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel of truth or reason. Oscar... read full definition
A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel... read full definition
Chapter 9
Explanation and Analysis—Heaven and Hell:

The novel uses the motif of the afterlife in different ways to symbolize nearness or distance from one's beloved. Heaven can either be a place where one is a stranger because one's beloved isn't there, or it can even be identified with the beloved herself. Paradoxically, then, heaven can be hellish, while hell (or the loss of heaven) can be a joy.

In Chapter 5, after Mr. Earnshaw dies, Nelly overhears young Heathcliff and Catherine comforting each other: "no parson in the world ever pictured Heaven so beautifully as they did, in their innocent talk." At this point, the idea of heaven is conventional—it's a beautiful afterlife, and this is a consolation to the bereaved. The innocence dissipates, though, as the two grow older and develop romantic feelings for each other.

In Chapter 9, an older Catherine tells Nelly of a dream she had about being in heaven and hating it there, because she was separated from Heathcliff on earth:

"I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out, into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy [...] I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven."

Linton is associated with the goodness of heaven—a goodness Catherine has "no business" claiming and ultimately doesn't want. Most people would be joyful in heaven, but in her dream, Catherine despairs, suggesting that she's wicked and unworthy of staying there (hence the angels' anger). The reason Catherine weeps is that Heathcliff is on earth, and Catherine wants to be earthbound with her beloved, even if it means being "flung out." Here, the motif underscores the strength of romantic passion. It suggests that marrying Edgar Linton would actually be good for Catherine, but she would rather have an illicit passion than a safe, conventional love.

The motif recurs in Chapter 34, when Heathcliff is approaching death. Watching Cathy and Hareton's burgeoning romance, Heathcliff feels tormented by Catherine's spirit, but as he gives up on revenge, the torment becomes a joy to him:

Last night, I was on the threshold of hell. To-day, I am within sight of my heaven—I have my eyes on it—hardly three feet to sever me!

"My heaven" is, of course, Catherine herself—and Heathcliff believes he has to die to be with her again. On the other hand, hell is being stuck in life with nothing but tormenting reminders of Catherine (like Hareton and Cathy). In the context of love and passion, then, the afterlife has more to do with the proximity of one's beloved than with traditional conceptions of good and evil.

Chapter 34
Explanation and Analysis—Heaven and Hell:

The novel uses the motif of the afterlife in different ways to symbolize nearness or distance from one's beloved. Heaven can either be a place where one is a stranger because one's beloved isn't there, or it can even be identified with the beloved herself. Paradoxically, then, heaven can be hellish, while hell (or the loss of heaven) can be a joy.

In Chapter 5, after Mr. Earnshaw dies, Nelly overhears young Heathcliff and Catherine comforting each other: "no parson in the world ever pictured Heaven so beautifully as they did, in their innocent talk." At this point, the idea of heaven is conventional—it's a beautiful afterlife, and this is a consolation to the bereaved. The innocence dissipates, though, as the two grow older and develop romantic feelings for each other.

In Chapter 9, an older Catherine tells Nelly of a dream she had about being in heaven and hating it there, because she was separated from Heathcliff on earth:

"I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out, into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy [...] I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven."

Linton is associated with the goodness of heaven—a goodness Catherine has "no business" claiming and ultimately doesn't want. Most people would be joyful in heaven, but in her dream, Catherine despairs, suggesting that she's wicked and unworthy of staying there (hence the angels' anger). The reason Catherine weeps is that Heathcliff is on earth, and Catherine wants to be earthbound with her beloved, even if it means being "flung out." Here, the motif underscores the strength of romantic passion. It suggests that marrying Edgar Linton would actually be good for Catherine, but she would rather have an illicit passion than a safe, conventional love.

The motif recurs in Chapter 34, when Heathcliff is approaching death. Watching Cathy and Hareton's burgeoning romance, Heathcliff feels tormented by Catherine's spirit, but as he gives up on revenge, the torment becomes a joy to him:

Last night, I was on the threshold of hell. To-day, I am within sight of my heaven—I have my eyes on it—hardly three feet to sever me!

"My heaven" is, of course, Catherine herself—and Heathcliff believes he has to die to be with her again. On the other hand, hell is being stuck in life with nothing but tormenting reminders of Catherine (like Hareton and Cathy). In the context of love and passion, then, the afterlife has more to do with the proximity of one's beloved than with traditional conceptions of good and evil.

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