Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wuthering Heights: The Heat in the Kitchen

Whether the action is taking place at Wuthering Heights or Thrushcross Grange, the most dramatic scenes that change the course of the story and alter the passionate relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine occur in the kitchen as told by Ellen Dean to Mr. Lockwood, the current tenant at Thrushcross Grange. Not only is the kitchen an important setting for displays of emotional outbursts and revelations, but the fire is always mentioned and always present in one form or another.

Possibly the most famous scene in the novel is when Catherine, unaware that Heathcliff is in the room, reveals to Ellen her engagement to Edgar Linton. After Heathcliff quietly exits in humiliation and heartbreak after hearing Catherine say it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff, she goes on to describe her deep and infinite love for Heathcliff as compared to her, mostly, superficial love of Edgar's status and money. The fire is strong with light and warmth until Catherine realizes that Heathcliff overheard the first part of her speech and has run off into the oncoming storm that strikes the kitchen roof causing bricks to fall from the chimney into the fire. Heck, yeah! Catherine, cold and soaked from standing exposed in the storm as she desperately called and searched for Heathcliff, insists on lying corpse-like by the dying fire until morning.

Fast forward three years to another "fiery" kitchen scene that alters the path of the story when Catherine pits Heathcliff against her now husband, Edgar, in the kitchen at Thrushcross Grange. Edgar is appalled at Ellen's news that Heathcliff had just forced a liplock on his sister, Isabella, in the garden and rushes to the kitchen where Heathcliff is being scolded by Catherine over the same incident. Edgar accuses Catherine of allowing Heathcliff to behave so abominably and she's insulted by Edgar's accusation. As Edgar gives Ellen the nod to get him some backup to have Heathcliff removed from the property, Catherine shoves Ellen out of the way, locks the door and throws the key into the fire forcing her husband to confront Heathcliff man-to-man.

The fire rages as Catherine and Heathcliff taunt Edgar over his physical display of fear and cowardice until Edgar unexpectedly punches Heathcliff in the throat! Once again, we see Heathcliff exit the kitchen in a rage, breaking the lock with a fireplace implement leaving Catherine in a raging fiery state herself as she races to the parlor, intent on punishing both of her men for the anguish and upset they've caused her. A spoiled nineteen year old Catherine now rants in some of the most beautiful prose ever written that her life is now ruined!

And just like Jesus in his tomb, three days pass before the story comes back to life with Catherine's realization that she can no longer remain in her half-dead, zombie-like existence, Heathcliff's revenge and Edgar's worse nightmare come to life.

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