The Effects of Social Class
The societal structure of the Victorian Era may have inspired many authors to write classic novels such as Emily Bronte?s Wuthering Heights. The time that Bronte grew up in was much different than the times of today. Wuthering Heights was a love story that related to the ways of life that people lived. During the Victorian Era, people?s rights, duties, social standings, jobs, and education were predetermined by their class. These classes consisted of working class, middle class, and upper class. People of working class were considered to be at the very bottom of the social scale and usually had very large families, little food, and shacks for their housing. The middle class usually consisted of farmers. These people could often afford things (like hired hands around the farm), they had food on the table, and they dressed much better than those of working class. The upper class people were rich. They had servants around their homes, dressed very well, enjoyed a leisurely life, and were extremely well educated. During the Victorian Era it was difficult to move from a lower class to a higher class and if you were born in a working class you married and had friends of the same class. This also applied to the middle and the upper classes of the Era. Social class influenced the actions of characters and outcomes of situations pertaining to love, education, and power in Wuthering Heights.
In order for love and friendships to be accepted in Wuthering Heights, the characters? lovers and friends had to be from the same class. Hindley did not love Heathcliff as a brother because he thought of him as a ?gypsy beggar.? He was jealous and angry that his father would bring someone from a lower class to live with their family, so Hindley treated Heathcliff with much disdain. When Hindley said to Heathcliff, ?Take my colt, gypsy, then!?(Pg. 43) he was treating his new brother as a servant because he was originally from a lower class. Mrs. Earnshaw shared Hindley?s discontent when she said to Nelly, ??how could he fashion to bring that gypsy brat into the house?What he meant to do with it, and weather he were mad??(Pg. 41); she was also upset that Mr. Earnshaw brought Heathcliff off the streets to live in their house as their new son. Despite her love for Heathcliff, Catherine married Edgar Linton because he provided her with a first class life. When Catherine told Nelly, ?And he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest women of the neighbourhood, and I?ll shall be proud of having such a husband.?(Pg. 80), and when she said, ?It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him?but because he?s more myself than I am.?(Pg. 82), she meant that she wanted to live an upper class life, so she had to marry Edgar. This was the reason that Heathcliff could not know that she loved him. At the same time Isabella Linton wanted to marry Heathcliff because she loved him, but Mrs. Linton did not approve because Heathcliff used to be from a lower class. When Mrs. Linton said to Isabella, ?But I?ll not believe this idiocy! It is impossible that you can covet the admiration of Heatcliff-that you can consider him an agreeable person!?(Pg. 102) she was mad at Isabella because she wanted to marry Heathcliff (a person from a lower class). When Isabella told her mother, ?I love him more than you ever loved Edgar??(Pg. 103) she was telling her mother that her love for Heathcliff was stronger than her mother?s love of her own son.
Education was one of the most important aspects of social class because it affected a person?s class designation. Hareton did not look, talk, or have the manners that a higher class person did. This was due to his lack of education. Mr. Lockwood was confused when he first met Hareton because he never knew if he should have treated him with the respect of the upper class or lower. When Mr. Lockwood said, ?I began to doubt weather he were a servant or not: his dress and speech were embrowned like those of a common laboured??(Pg. 17) he was also confused about Hareton?s labeled class. However, when Hareton said to Mr. Lockwood, ?My name is Hareton Earnshaw?and I?d counsel you to respect it!?(Pg. 19) Mr. Lockwood had the impression that Hareton was from higher-class standards. Heathcliff?s questionable class also bothered Hindley. When Nelly said, ?He drove him from their company to the servants, deprived him of the instructions of the curate, and insisted that he should labour out of doors??(Pg. 49) she spoke of Hindley?s fear that Heathcliff might undeservedly live the life of a higher class gentleman. This fear caused Hindley to end Heathcliff?s education and force him to become a servant. Edgar Linton made fun of Hareton in hopes that Cathy would agree and shun her cousin. When Edgar said to Cathy, ?Have you noticed, Cathy his frightful Yorkshire pronunciation??(Pg. 212) he was telling Cathy that Hareton?s accent was a result of his poor education; this also indicated that he was not fully from a higher class. Without the help of education most people would not talk or read at the upper class standard, and this disadvantage meant a great loss of power.
Belonging to a higher social class gave individuals more power over money, property, servants, and who they were to marry. Edgar Linton disapproved of Heathcliff and Isabella because he was scared that Heathcliff might take over the Grange. When Edgar told Mr. Linton, ??and the possible fact that his property, in default of heirs male, might pass into such a one?s power, her has sense to comprehend Heathcliff?s disposition??(Pg. 101) it became evident that he did not want Heathcliff to marry Isabella and gain power over the Grange. Heathcliff wanted Linton to marry Cathy because the inheritance of everything was to Isabella and young Linton is the Heir. This was shown when Heathcliff said, ?My design is a honest a possible?That the two cousins may fall in love and get married?his property would go to me; but to prevent disputes, I desire their union, and I am resolved to bring it about.?(Pg.207) When Heathcliff became a gentleman, he instantly had power over the servants that he once worked with. After being forbidden from seeing Catherine, he threatened Nelly by saying, ?In that case I?ll take measures to secure you, Woman! You shall not leave Wuthering Heights till tomorrow morning.?(Pg. 151) If Heathcliff was still a commoner, he would not have been able to threaten her as he did.
The factors that affected love, education, and power, in Wuthering Heights related to social class. Hindley did not love Heathcliff as a brother because he was born to a lower class. The reasons that Heathcliff was originally from a lower class, made Catherine not want to marry him and Mrs. Linton not want Isabella to marry him. In the Victorian Era it was considered taboo if one loved a person from a lower class; this was why education was such an important element of social class. Education gave a person a better chance of becoming successful, therefore giving them the means to rise to an upper class. Educations were terminated in Wuthering Heights so that people did not have a chance to become wealthy. If they did not have an education they would not belong to a higher class and, therefore, they could not love freely or possess any power. Power was such an integral part of social hierarchy because belonging to the upper class gave automatic power over love, money, land, and people. Those with power were free to live their lives however they wished to and were free to do as they pleased. Times have changed dramatically over the past two hundred years. The structure of today?s society has given all people the ability to love freely and have equal opportunities for education and jobs. In the modern world people have proven to attain success out of any class and have the power to achieve anything they want.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Penguin, 1959.