Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the significance of an individual’s attempt to live unconstrained by convention or circumstance.
The Liberation from Circumstance’s Constraint
The identity one is born with influences the manner in which they are treated. However, if possessing traits that puts an individual outside of the status quo of a society, or impeaches on these societal values, one may find themselves the target of prejudice. In the face of such prejudice, an individual would desire an escape from their circumstances to better their life’s quality and fulfill the previously limited aspirations in their life. This holds true in Emily Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights, as the character of Heathcliff Earnshaw finds restrictions in his life, due to the fact that he was originally born poor before adoption, and his skin tone is darker than the other characters. Due to his circumstances, Heathcliff disappears for a number of years, only to return with an accumulated fortune to his name and thus an improvement in the character’s situation. In the novel, Bronte demonstrates through Heathcliff the concept that when in the face of prejudice that limits one quality of life, an individual may seek to improve his circumstances as to fulfill the desires he otherwise would not have been able to achieve. This is exemplified through the character’s acquisition of wealth in order to improve his social status, prove himself worthy of his beloved, Catherine Earnshaw, and to seek revenge on the two households set in the book.
Social status dictates the quality of life one will have – whether that be poor or refined – yet it can be difficult to improve lest one’s circumstances allow for it. Such was the case for Heathcliff, whom for majority of his young life, knew no poverty in the household of Wuthering Heights. However, when his half-brother, Hindley, took up the mantle as owner, Heathcliff was forced to become a worker and slave away all day, drastically changing his circumstances. It was not until his fleeing from the house and return with a fortune that quality improved. Because of the mistreatment Heathcliff faced simply due to the facts that his family was not related by blood, and his skin was dark, reminiscent of a “gypsy,” he was driven to seek out better circumstances for himself. In these circumstances, wealth would be the crucial factor that would grant him freedom to do as he wanted, and pursue his own aspirations, therefore, living unconstrained. The career as a worker would limit his potential for a happy life. This is significant because during the time period this novel is set in, the 18th century, the key to living a comfortable life would be the social status one obtained or was born into. Heathcliff was not born into the Earnshaw family, thus the wealth and house belonged to the son of the previous owner. As Heathcliff had darker skin and was not a “real Earnshaw,” Hindley did not hesitate to make Heathcliff a lower class than he previously was, restricting the potential for the achievement of his desires. One’s affluence and financial stability are perceived to be key factors in determining the quality of life one will lead, even in modern society; large amounts of wealth supposedly bring happiness, and minimal amounts decrease it. Thus, in the circumstance that one is not in possession of wealth – such as Heathcliff during this point in the novel – it is only when said circumstances are improved or reprimanded that quality of life may improve; furthermore, allowing the pursuit of aspirations. As money was claimed and a name made for himself, Heathcliff was able to successfully improve his quality of life, and create an enjoyable lifestyle for himself; however, social status would not be enough to sate his desire to break his constraints of circumstance.
The circumstances own possesses that are out of their control may be off putting to others, and have a negative influence on the relationship between persons. One of the more obvious reasons Heathcliff amasses his fortune was to impress the woman whom he had fallen in love with: Catherine Earnshaw. What motivates Heathcliff to leave is not only social status, but the need to impress Catherine and win her over, as she stated to a confidant that she would not marry Heathcliff due to his circumstance of being poor. Once again, the restriction from his financial situation, which in turn stems from prejudice, is constraining the desires he feels, thus denying any pursuit. Heathcliff becomes wealthy because he believes the way to break out from his otherwise unchangeable circumstances is to appeal to what Catherine wants of him, therefore, he shall also achieve what he wants. The devotion felt for Catherine – enough to defy the place he was given in the world – is significant, as Heathcliff defies his own circumstances, neglecting the way nature has made him, and breaking the shackles that were otherwise out of his control. In order to lead a sustainable and fulfilling relationship, the circumstances one lives with must allow for an successful lifestyle; this was the perspective of 18th century civilization. Heathcliff’s circumstances of being darker and no longer wealthy, thus creating prejudice, further created an issue for his desire of a romantic relationship with Catherine. It was not until he was no longer unconstrained by the significant circumstance of being poor that the opportunity for his desire became possible. Love is perceived to be a factor in bettering the quality of life one has, and by obtaining it, Heathcliff would have been able to improve his own, and perhaps find resolution in the fact that his circumstances were now null and void. However, this was not the case, as the state of affairs he defied did not bring about the exact result of love he had hoped for; another unseen circumstance constrained Heathcliff, and one that would be difficult to overcome.
If one does not have qualities that make them appealing to the society they belong in, they may be not able to achieve high amounts of success in life. Heathcliff, a man of darker skin and not of family blood, was doomed from the start when in the face of competition such as Edgar Linton. Catherine Earnshaw ignored Heathcliff’s love as her desire was ultimately set on increasing her social status, and a man such as Heathcliff would not be able to grant this aspiration. Instead, the rival from the neighboring household, Thrushcross Grange, named Edgar Linton would supply Catherine’s yearning with the possibility of achievement, as he was strong, handsome, rich, and white skinned. As a white man, Edgar automatically has a higher social status than Heathcliff ever will, as the time era favors those of pale white skin. Heathcliff adopts feeling of revenge for Edgar, and strives to win back the woman he had broken the status quo for. The quality of life he had aspired to achieve is put into jeopardy, and the constraint that he will never win Catherine is heavily exemplified when the contrast between Edgar and himself is shown. Once again the circumstances Heathcliff has limits him, and the wealth he has gained may not be enough to defy them. The prejudice present in the story acts as a constraint on the pursuit of desire, as the circumstance of race and ethnicity can not be changed, nor manner in which that society viewed the status quo. These circumstances provide a constant pressure that is only implied, however having a drastic impact on the circumstances of Heathcliff. The accumulation of wealth had the ability to repudiate the circumstances he faced, granting him the ability to pursue his aspirations, despite competition with one that is more desirable in the perspective of the society. Heathcliff is able to surpass the collective identity and their obligatory circumstances and raise his personal identity, increasing his own quality of life. However, Catherine’s death brought about a change in Heathcliff, as love and revenge was strictly shifted to only the latter. Perhaps there was one positive circumstance he possessed, and that was the fact that Catherine and Heathcliff grew up together, and he was the one to originally win her heart; unfortunately, he was too blind to see it. In his quest for revenge, and subsequently power, Heathcliff finds a way to defy his circumstances and prove himself a better man not constrained by his skin, family ties, or financial disposition.
Wuthering Heights proves that in order to fulfill aspirations and goals when prejudice is present in their lives, an individual must ameliorate their circumstances, lest they be unable to accomplish these desires. Emily Bronte’s character of Heathcliff overcomes adversity that was created from his circumstances – his skin tone, adoption into his family, and original financial instability – and in turn breaks the constraints that would otherwise degrade his quality of life. By improving his own social status with wealth, he creates a better life for himself, where laborious work and the challenges of the poor are virtually nonexistent. By improving his circumstances, he therefore partially gains the ability to win the heart of Catherine Earnshaw, his lover. Finally, when this love is no longer obtainable and revenge is desired, Heathcliff’s new found circumstance allow him to pursue his final and ultimately fatal wish. Prejudice is present in the lives of almost all people; to some it may be avoidable, yet to others it may require a change in order to overcome. A change in one’s own personal identity may be impossible, yet a change to the lifestyle one pursues may lead to liberation from the constraint that prejudice places on one’s life.