Human Nature in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”

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In Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, trauma is one of the driving forces of every problem, every character encountered. Furthermore,the human nature of the characters causes them to go to extremes to seek revenge in the event of betrayal on the grounds of love. On the surface, it is seen that Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is the epitome of self-destructive. Although the relationship itself is destructive, there are elements that reveal that pain/trauma caused them to act so passionately. The reality of human nature, as it relates to love, affects the vulnerability of human emotion/trauma by intensifying mankind’s basic need for attention/basic longing for love.

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All humans experience change as they grow up and the environment in which they grow up in directly affects the nature of that person. To fully understand the human nature of a specific person, you must first look at the origins/past of that person. Love is perhaps one of the greatest connections a person could ever feel, the feeling that someone deeply cares for you and understands you and would die for you. What is it about love itself or being loved that easily seduces people? Why is it, sometimes unknowingly, so strived for? Adam Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher and pioneer of political economics, is best known for his classic works: The Theory of Moral Sentiment (unrecognized) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Smith discusses self- interest and irrationality and tells what a good life really is and how to achieve this goal. Smith said, Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love. He desires, not only praise, but praiseworthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be praised by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of praise. The most obvious reason for this heartfelt feeling is that humans are basically hardwired for that type of social connection. Everything that we do, say, and create are all rooted in our biology. There are a number of ways that this desire is fulfilled, for good or not. Russ Roberts, author of How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness, dove deep into Smith’s underappreciated book, uncovering forgotten wisdom of human nature and the many ventures we embark on in life. Roberts said, The first part of Smith’s summary of human desire that people want to be loved seems pretty straightforward, although Smith doesn’t mean loved the way we mean it today, as connected to romance and family. He means it in a fuller sense. He means that we want people to like us, respect us, and care about us. So how are we supposed to accomplish overcoming foolishness/recklessness and embark on the path of happiness? Having a false sense of pride or meaning is incredibly difficult because the desire to be loved or seen as lovely is intensely sewn into our minds. It happens emotionally and quickly not slow and steady.

The term psychological trauma means harm brought from a traumatic event, hindering one’s ability to deal with triggers. Bessel A. van der Kolk, clinician, researcher in the posttraumatic stress field, and author of the 2014 New York Times Science best seller novel, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Treatment of Trauma, helps us understand traumatic stress. Kolk gives a deeper understanding of traumatic stress by detailing how it literally alters the wiring of the brain; specifically in the areas of control, engagement, pleasure, and trust. In van der Kolk’s 1987 research he noted that human responses to trauma are generally constant through different stimuli, where some individuals may experience emotional and social withdrawal, these changes in the body, prevent normal lives and require professional help. Traumatizing events can also produce changes in physiological arousal, cognition, and emotion. However, everyone recovers from traumatic events in different ways, meaning trauma will have a different effect on individuals and their relationships and confidence. In an article published at Hartgrove Hospital, Kathryn Millan states, Traumatic incidents that occur during childhood can become part of a person’s adult attachment style. A person’s attachment style reflects how warm or close that person likes to be in relationships. When children continuously deal with traumatic experiences, the nature of those experiences can change the way that they handle or pursue relationships as adults as well as whether or not they will be open or distant.

In Emily Bronte’s novel, Mr. Earnshaw brought Heathcliff, an orphan, to live at Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff forms an unbreakable love/obsession with Earnshaw’s daughter, Catherine. In the event of Mr. Earnshaw’s death, his son Hindley abuses Heathcliff and only treats him as a mere servant. Catherine then marries Edgar Linton instead of Heathcliff, because of her desire for social status, even though she love Heathcliff. Humiliated, this causes him to spend almost all of the rest of his life seeking revenge. Wuthering Heights gives readers a clear look into what it was like to live as an orphan in a victorian society. Sympathy from the readers is generally shown toward Heathcliff because he is seen only as a victim of Hindley’s abuse when he was a child. Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff affected his social and emotion relationship with Catherine, elucidated Bronte’s theme of victimization by turning the victimized into the victimizer. This is shown by the reaction of Heathcliff when Catherine married someone else. Although Catherine’s marriage was the tipping point of Heathcliff, throughout the novel it is shown that the way he acts and reacted has alway been in the background/his nature. Heathcliff growls, he doesn’t speak, and he grins or sneers but he doesn’t smile. Also, Bronte’s use of words such as diabolical further the readers view on the character. Heathcliff never spoke up about Hindley’s abuse, advancing his inability to hold stable relationships or react in a positive way, all of Heathcliff emotions are both heightened and inverted because of all the trauma that was caused by Hindley, not allowing for any genuine feeling.

Human nature if affected by the environment in which a person grows up. Heathcliff was an orphan who was taken in by people he didn’t know and at the start of his arrival were not fond of him. When Mr. Earnshaw died his situation went from bad to worse as Hindley began abusing him and treating him as a servant, ultimately doing mental, emotional and physical damage to Heathcliff. Multiple studies have shown that childhood environment and childhood trauma can alter the brain’s wiring affecting future relationships and human interactions. The environment affects human nature which intensifies human emotion, which is could ultimately become nonexistent when paired with years worth of trauma. This could eventually lead a person down a path of self-destruction, especially in relationships, as shown by Heathcliff’s plot for revenge.

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Human Nature in Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights". (2019, Dec 12). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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