Lockwood versus the Reader in the World of Wuthering Heights

Academic, Literary Analysis

Dunlap High School

Instructor: Kristen Strom

Lockwood versus the Reader in the World of Wuthering Heights

            Many novels and short stories contain a narrator that is also a character of that work of literature. Sometimes, such narrators play no significant role in the plot of the work, and people often may question the significance of the narrator’s role as a character. Emily Brontë’s only novel, Wuthering Heights, is an example of such work. Mr. Lockwood plays both a role as a narrator and as an actor, but does not affect the plot of the book significantly; yet Brontë does have a purpose for including Mr. Lockwood in her novel. Brontë in Wuthering Heights characterizes the narrator, Mr. Lockwood, with a human nature resembling that of a passionate reader. She does this to show that once a person becomes well attached to a novel, he or she usually falls into the temptation of wanting to become a part of that novel and, consequently, must work to resist these impractical temptations.

Mr. Lockwood is the outermost narrator of Wuthering Heights. In the very beginning of the novel, Lockwood is a new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, and he visits his landlord, Mr. Heathcliff, who lives at Wuthering Heights. His observations of Wuthering Heights and of Mr. Heathcliff fascinate him, and his fascination only grows after the unexpected stay on his second visit to Wuthering Heights. On his second visit, Lockwood is compelled to stay for the night—after some mistreatments from two beastly dogs and Mr. Heathcliff—during which he encounters a diary, carvings, and even a nightmare of a past residence of the house, Catherine. Upon his return to Thrushcross Grange, he asks with great curiosity his housekeeper, Nelly, to tell him the full history of Wuthering Heights and the people living there. From that point on, Nelly tells takes over the narrative of Wuthering Heights and provides Lockwood and, hence, the reader with the main plot of the novel. It is important to note that there are, however, narratives from other characters within Nelly’s narration, and Lockwood does conclude the novel after Nelly completes her narrative. Nevertheless, Brontë does have a reason for including Lockwood in novel even though he has no real effect on the main plot of the novel.

Brontë allows Mr. Lockwood to take on qualities that are in common with that of the reader; that is, Mr. Lockwood is an outsider to the setting of the novel, and so is the reader. The entire novel is set in two houses, WutheringHeights and Thrushcross Grange, with the moors separating them two miles apart. The settings, characters, and events of the novel are so complex, that a sudden introduction of it to the reader holds a high chance of getting the reader confused. In effect, Brontë introduces to the reader the novel through Lockwood. In the beginning of the novel, in which Lockwood visits Heathcliff, he makes continuous observations as he encounters the moors and the gruesome WutheringHeights. This helps the reader get familiar with the settings and characters of WutheringHeights. An excerpt from an essay describes this reasoning

The difficulty facing the author at the beginning if the novel was to find a method by which the reader could be introduced into the household of the Heights, so that its characters and its ambience could be understood. The purpose of Brontë’s narrative is to draw the reader into a position where he can only judge its events from within. Lockwood presents the normal outsider or the reader, by drawing him into the penetralium the reader is cleverly introduced to the realities of this hostile and bewildering environment. (“The Narrative” NP)

The excerpt above is explaining that it is difficult to find a way to introduce to the reader the world within the novel so that the readers can clearly grasp and even judge the characters and the plot of Wuthering Heights. It goes on further by mentioning that Lockwood introduction to Wuthering Heights and its surrounding is a sound method for achieving this. Like the reader, Lockwood is unfamiliar to the world of Wuthering Heights, and, as a result, his observations on the settings and characters corresponds to that of the reader should the reader have been in Lockwood’s place. The reader learns with Lockwood, and the things that gain Lockwood’s interest in WutheringHeights and its inhabitants, logically gains the reader’s interest. With a seamless introduction to the novel, both Lockwood and the reader are ready grasp Nelly’s story.

The reader needing Lockwood to understand the novel’s settings and characters is mainly due to the isolation of the settings and characters. Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, completely isolated from the outside world, are separated by the moors, with no roads connecting to town. The characters that reside in these houses, both in past and present, have no real connection to anyone other than the people living there. In fact, nearly all interactions between the character—including marriage—happen within the family of these two house, and all major events throughout the novel occur within the families, without any outsiders getting involved in any way. An analysis on the novel acknowledges this isolation: “Set on the mysterious and gloomy Yorkshire moors in the nineteenth century, WutheringHeights gives the illusion of lonesome isolation as a stranger, Mr. Lockwood, attempts to narrate a tale he is very far removed from” (“Wuthering” NP). As mentioned in the quote above, the details within the settings that Brontë illustrates create the feeling of separation from the outside world. This isolation limits the Nelly’s narrative within the two houses and the moors. Because of this, the reader can view Nelly’s narrative as a finished book and Lockwood as a silent reader.

Lockwood is a good representation of an attentive reader deeply attached to a novel. Lockwood begins to listen to Nelly from chapter four as Nelly pours out the history of the houses and its inhabitants. Nelly has no hard time recalling the events and quotes from character decades ago. On the other hand, Lockwood is patiently taking in Nelly’s words for hours in the days during his stay at Thrushcross Grange, just like the reader does when reading an immense book. John P. Farrell from the University of Texas at Austin describes how Nelly and Lockwood are indeed representation of a book and a reader respectively:

Nelly is not telling the story: she is, in effect, writing it. Lockwood is not listening to the story: he is, in effect, reading it… gives us the seamless structure of writing. Nelly never probes, or searches into the multiple mysteries of the story she delivers. It comes rolling out of her with the linear coherence of the already written. Nor does she ever use the presence of a living listener to gauge her own story. Lockwood, on the other hand, is not listening to the story. He remains in the chained posture of the silent reader, the figure of “mass privacy” that emerged in the new novel-reading public of the nineteenth century. (1)

Farrell argues that Nelly is not considering Lockwood, the listener, when she is telling him the story. Moreover, she does not have to look back hard to recall quotes and fine details of everything that happened in the two houses during her lifetime. He also mentions that Lockwood is actually behaving as a person, detached from the outer world, reading a novel, silently, and alone.

Lockwood is like a zealous reader in that he lets his interest on Nelly’s narrative grow into a great temptation of becoming a part the world of WutheringHeights to some extent. In the beginning of the novel, in which Lockwood visits Mr. Heathcliff, his fascination of Heathcliff strikes his initial interest on learning more about WutheringHeights and its inhabitants. The following excerpt of an analysis describes Lockwood’s growth in interest:

The kind of curiosity aroused by Brontë in Lockwood and therefore in the reader, demands a complete imaginative reliving of the past. It is only through experiencing the events as Lockwood did from Heathcliff’s arrival to that point in time that he can be in a position to understand the complex set of relationships he witnessed in the household of Wuthering Heights, that is why the apparently artificial narrative structure is both necessary and convincing and we accept its conventions without questions (“Wuthering”).

The quote mentions that the interest that Lockwood, and thus the reader, gained brings up the request for Nelly’s narrative, a full explanation. Lockwood has experienced the strange and brutal characteristics of some characters of the novel, and this has aroused his interest. As Nelly reveals more of the story, Lockwood’s interests continue to grow; he is able to reason all the complexities that have gone on at WutheringHeights. On his second visit to WutheringHeights, Lockwood encounters Cathy Linton whom he finds quite admirable. He describes her as a fine figure of beauty:

An admirable form [referring to Cathy Linton], and the most exquisite little face that I have ever had the pleasure of beholding; small features, very fair; flaxen ringlets, or rather golden, hanging loose on her delicate neck; and eyes, had they been agree-able in expression, that would have been irresistible

Lockwood’s observation of her also raises his interest in her. And like his interest on WutheringHeights grows as Nelly tells him her story, his interest for Cathy develops. Nelly comments on Lockwood’s admiration for Cathy: “but why do you look so lively and interested when I talk about her? and why have you asked me to hang her picture over your fireplace? and why – ?” (“Brontë” 384). Brontë’s addition of this comment clearly shows that Lockwood has some attraction for the young Cathy. As it can be seen, Lockwood becomes, in some degree, more passionate about the characters and the events as Nelly reveals the complex account of WutheringHeights. This behavior can also be seen from a reader who becomes deeply engrossed in a novel and gains great interests in the plot and character of the novel. But the reader must eventually return to reality, and Lockwood is no exception.

Both the reader and Lockwood have to accept, at some point, that they are not a part of the world within the book but are a part of the reality. Upon his request, Nelly reveals to Lockwood the entire history of WutheringHeights and its inhabitants. With full knowledge about the complex account of Wuthering Height, Lockwood becomes more fascinated of it than ever, but he refuses to directly affect the complex story of WutheringHeights or even interact with the characters enough to affect it. John P. Farrell states how Lockwood fails to speak of what he knows:

He never speaks out. Lockwood has been granted radical knowledge during his night in the paneled bed. And yet, even at points in the story that converge uncannily with the revelations to which he has been privy, he never enters the privileged space of face-to-face discourse. He treats Nelly as a book, just as she treats her story as a finalized text (2).

Farrell explains that Lockwood refuses to question the story that Nelly tells him trough the interaction with other characters. He continues by mentioning that Lockwood treats Nelly’s story as a book. Just as the reader cannot question a story by interrogating a book, Lockwood seemingly cannot question Nelly’s narratives by interrogating the characters involved in the narrative. This does not mean that Lockwood—therefore, the reader—does not want to interact with the narrative. In fact, Lockwood feels the need to interact, but he also understands that his reality will not allow it. A clear example of this is Lockwood’s resistance from engaging in a love affair with young Cathy. Lockwood states, “It may be very possible that I should love her; but would she love me? I doubt it too much to venture my tranquillity by running into temptation: and then my home is not here. I’m of the busy world, and to its arms I must return” (Brontë 384) Lockwood feels that it is better that he provides Cathy with the love she needs. However, he realizes that he does not belong to the reality of WutheringHeights and that he must live life in his own reality. Similarly, it is likely that the reader may feel the need to help the characters or the plot of the novel to which he or she now deeply attached. However, like Lockwood, the reader eventually closes the book and returns to his or her own reality; there is no way that the reader can be a part of the novel’s reality. Both the Lockwood and the reader become well attached to the novel and want to play a significant role in the plot, but they soon must return to reality.

Lockwood’s close correspondence to a reader plays the purpose of showing how a reader must learn to come back to his or her own reality from the reality of the work of literature. The isolation in the setting of Wuthering Heights allows Nelly’s narrative to correspond to a finished book, and Lockwood’s role as both a narrator and as a character help the readers dive in to the world of WutheringHeights.


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