Critical Essays The Narrative Structure


Although Lockwood and Nelly serve as the obvious narrators, others are interspersed throughout the novel — Heathcliff, Isabella, Cathy, even Zillah — who narrate a chapter or two, providing insight into both character and plot development. Catherine does not speak directly to the readers (except in quoted dialogue), but through her diary, she narrates important aspects of the childhood she and Heathcliff shared on the moors and the treatment they received at the hands of Joseph and Hindley. All of the voices weave together to provide a choral narrative. Initially, they speak to Lockwood, answering his inquiries, but they speak to readers, also, providing multiple views of the tangled lives of the inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights.

Brontë appears to present objective observers, in an attempt to allow the story to speak for itself. Objective observations by outsiders would presumably not be tainted by having a direct involvement; unfortunately, a closer examination of these two seemingly objective narrators reveals their bias.

For example, Lockwood's narrative enables readers to begin the story when most of the action is already completed. Although the main story is being told in flashback, having Lockwood interact with Heathcliff and the others at Wuthering Heights immediately displaces his objectivity. What he records in his diary is not just what he is being told by Nelly but his memories and interpretation of Nelly's tale. Likewise, Nelly's narrative directly involves the reader and engages them in the action. While reporting the past, she is able to foreshadow future events, which builds suspense, thereby engaging readers even more. But her involvement is problematic because she is hypocritical in her actions: sometimes choosing Edgar over Heathcliff (and vice versa), and at times working with Cathy while at other times betraying Cathy's confidence. Nonetheless, she is quite an engaging storyteller, so readers readily forgive her shortcomings.

Ultimately, both Lockwood and Nelly are merely facilitators, enabling readers to enter the world of Wuthering Heights. All readers know more than any one narrator, and therefore are empowered as they read.

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