March 6th, 2015
Close Reading of “Separation” in Wuthering Heights
Throughout the novel Wuthering Heights by Bronte, many seemingly simple words are used in contexts that give that particular word a whole new meaning and connotation. After searching through the Concordance software with a variety of words that I thought were particularly unique or interesting in the scope of the novel, I settled on the word “separation”. Given the unique relationship situations within the novel, specifically with Heathcliff, Cathy and Isabella. Although in a broader scope, the idea of “separation” can be extended outside of mere relationships and marriage, but also death.
When the Concordance software hit on the word, “separation”, there were seven instances where the word was used in the novel. In all seven cases, the word seems to be used quite deliberately. Although many synonyms such as “parted”, “division” or “severance” could have been used, Bronte specifically used “separation”. The first instance of this word come in line 2084. “As soon as you become Mrs. Linton, he loses friend, and love, and all! Have you considered how you’ll bear the separation, and how he’ll bear to be quite deserted in the world? Because, Miss Catherine —- ‘He quite deserted! we separated!’ she exclaimed, with an accent of indignation. ‘Who is to separate us, pray? They’ll meet the fate of Milo! Not as long as I live, Ellen: for no mortal creature. Every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing before I could consent to forsake Heathcliff.”
In this quote, we can observe the use of “separation” being used to describe the relationship surrounding Catherine and Heathcliff. More specifically, how Catherine will cope with loosing Heathcliff as a friend and lover if she marries into the Linton’s.
The next major use of “separation” comes in line 3962 when Heathcliff is on somewhat of a rant, describing the tension between Catherine and himself within their relationship. “I have avoided, up to this period, giving her the slightest right to claim a separation; and, what’s more, she’d thank nobody for dividing us. If she desired to go, she might: the nuisance of her presence outweighs the gratification to be derived from tormenting her!’ ‘Mr. Heathcliff,’ said I, ‘this is the talk of a madman; your wife, most likely, is convinced you are mad; and, for that reason, she has borne with you hitherto: but now that you say she may go, she’ll doubtless avail herself of the permission. You are not so bewitched, ma’am, are you, as to remain with him of your own accord?'”
The next instance where “separation” is used in the novel isn’t seen for nearly 2,000 lines. The word finally appears again in line 6054; once again, describing the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. “Cathy! I’ll not disguise but you might kill him if you were wild and reckless, and cherished a foolish, fanciful affection for the son of a person who would be glad to have him in his grave; and allowed him to discover that you fretted over the separation he has judged it expedient to make.’ ‘I fret about nothing on earth except papa’s illness,’ answered my companion. ‘I care for nothing in comparison with papa. And I’ll never — never — oh, never, while I have my senses, do an act or say a word to vex him.” In this quote, we can see that Catherine’s father hates Heathcliff to the point of wishing him dead. The specific use of “separation” in this quote details how Catherine feels about her father’s prescription to stay separated from Heathcliff.
What is most curious about “separation”, is that in every instance it is used, it is explicitly describing some aspect of Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship; whether it is how others view Heathcliff, or how Catherine and him interact. Although this is not a prolific reoccurring word in the novel, it does play a very heavy role in describing the entire dynamic of the relationship. Would a synonym have worked for “separation” instead of using it in all seven instances? I don’t believe so. Take, for example “division”. If we were to replace each instance of “separation” with “division” the connotation of each instance would be much different.
As a reader, I see “division” as a firm partition of what was originally one entity. Since the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is so dynamic and motile, using such a firm word really wouldn’t do their situation justice. “Separation”, however, has much more freedom to it. Entities can become separated over and over but still join back together, whether these entities are human or even inanimate. In this case though, it is the constant change in Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship that makes “separation” the most appropriate word to use in all seven of these instances.
Overall, we can see that in each of the seven instances that “separation” appears as a word it plays an incredibly important role in the description of each specific situation. It denotes dynamics, fluidness, and motility; all of which are elements to Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship. And although the word only appears seven times in the entire novel, I would argue that this is a motif for the entire story of Wuthering Heights.