In the opening three chapters of Wuthering Heights, Bronte uses numerous techniqes to generate a sense of mystery and suspense; including gothic devices and tension escalation leading to relief. In chapter threee where paranormal activities arise, the tension accumulates and a sense of horror is created. This contributes to the disorderly abode of Wuthering Heights. Bronte mentions the weather consistently to represent the dysfunction and secrecy that the household has maintained for years. Lockwood’s oblivion to the situation supplies more mystery and suspense because it puzzles the reader as we are not always certain of whether his assumptions are accurate.
In chapter one, we are introduced to our narrator, Mr Lockwood and his Landlord Mr Heathcliff. The opening instantly creates mystery because of Heathcliff’s hostile response- “his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat…” to a friendly tenant Mr.Lockwood whose “heart warmed towards him” As a misanthropist would, Lockwood likes the fact that he lives in an area “so completely removed from the stir of society” but Heathcliff is “more exaggeratedly reserved” than Lockwood. This creates mystery and suspense because it puzzles the reader and makes us wonder why Heathcliff is so reserved and unsociable which leaves us with the not yet resolved question: Why is Heathcliff the way he is?
When Lockwood enters Wuthering Heights for the first time, he immediately finds himself surrounded by unpleasantness and violence. Although he feels unwanted and is treated with sheer hostility, his curiousity is aroused when he is in the company of such outlandish characters; therefore decides to stay and inspect. Joseph, who looks at Lockwood with a “sourly” face, the attacking of the dogs and Heathcliff, the “surly” owner of Wuthering Heights, are Lockwood’s initial impressions which combine to create the dysfunction and the mystery of the household. Lockwood is encouraged to come back again the following day but Heathcliff “evidently wished no repeatition of” Lockwoods intrusion. Heathcliff saw Lockwood’s visit as an ‘intrusion’ His reluctance to allow Lockwood into his home generates mystery and suspense, in the event that Lockwood might discover the hidden truth behind Wuthering Heights.
Chapter two opens with a description of the weather: “misty and cold”, “black frost”, “suffocating snow”, “bitter whirl of wind.” This is to set the sinister mood that swarms in and around Wuthering Heights. The “straggling Gooseberry bushes” that ran along the “bordered causeway”, the “bleak hill top” and the howling of dogs are all examples of phrases that Bronte uses to give an indication of the desolate surroundings of the building. The weather and the odd inhabitants of Wuthering Heights, correlate. As the weather is consistently cold, it gives an inclination of Heathcliff’s villainy and the dysfunctional family. It also shows how intrigued Lockwood was by the house that he (a misanthropist) went to the trouble of “wading through heath and mud” to get there.
When Lockwood arrives, he is greeted by a “vinegar-faced” Joseph. Lockwood seems to be overwhelmed by the disobedient servant and his inability to stay civil without uttering acidic expressions for no apparent reason. His abnormal reaction to commands contradicts our beliefs on how a servant should behave. This shows a sense of dysfunction within the household and builds the mystery behind the fact that Joseph is so bitter and resentful towards not only outsiders such as Lockwood but to those of whom he lives with such as Mrs.Heathcliff. When compared the two characters (Lockwood and Joseph) are symbolic due to the fact that they are so contrastive in terms of intellect and speech. Lockwood’s formal use of English is far more superior to Joseph’s common Yorkshire accent.
As chapter two progresses, Lockwood becomes acquainted with Catherine Heatchliff who appears to be extremely ignorant- “She never opened her mouth” and leant back in her chair remaining “motionless and mute.” Not even bothering to offer Lockwood a seat. She also intimidates Lockwood, starring at him in a cool regardless manner” causing him to be embarrassed. After a few forced grunts, Lockwood got a distinct view of her appearance: “An admirable form” “and the most exquisite little face” “flaxen ringlets” that hung loose on her delicate neck”. Mrs. Heathcliff’s angelic appearance and her foul personality form a contrast as her image is so deceiving judging by her uncivilised manner towards Lockwood. “Take the road you came” “It is brief advice, but as sound as I can give.” These indirect remarks that Mrs. Heathcliff makes, creates mystery and suspense because it shows her reluctance to be part of the residence of Wuthering Heights.
Wuthering Heights appears to be a cold and stern environment. This is seen when no one utters “a word of sociable conversation,” The locality of Wuthering Heights is so bleak and isolated which could suggest the inhabitants are recluses. “I observed no signs of roasting, boiling or baking…” Lockwood’s description of the house suggests a sense of negligence and abandonment. Although the house is lived in, it is not very homely or welcoming. It seems to be filled with skeletons in the closets and “queer goings on”. “Gaudily painted canisters”, “primitive” structured chairs, “villainous old guns”, the “silver jugs and tankards, towering row after row”. The intricate dï¿½cor that overcrowds the room could suggest the house is tainted with memories, stories and people who have past away.
As an outsider, Lockwood makes several mistakes. First that Mr. and Mrs. Heathcliff are man and wife and secondly, when he assumes Hareton is the son of Heathcliff. Mystery arises when Hareton “grew crimson” from embarrassment after Lockwood surmised he was Mrs. Heatchliff’s husband. Hareton growls as he announces his name in full at the table. His defensive reaction to Lockwood’s mistake creates suspense because it could indicate that he has feelings for Mrs. Heathcliff. Lockwood’s assumptions are ordinarily calculated therefore when he is mistaken this suggests the situation of the family members at Wuthering Heights is so strangely arranged.
During Lockwood’s stay, Joseph passes a comment- “bud goa raight tuh t’divil, like yer mother afore ye!” After Joseph’s remark Mrs. Heathcliff opens a dark book from the shelf and says “I’ll show you how far I’ve come in the black art” This could imply Mrs. Heathcliff has involvements in witchcraft. When Joseph mentions her mother, he implies she was evil as he compares her with the devil. Joseph refers to Mrs. Heathcliff as “wicked” several times which could have some influence in Lockwood’s suspicion of her being a witch- “The little witch put a mock malignity into her beautiful eyes,” This enhances the mystery because it reflects back to the past when her mother was present.
At this point in chapter two, Lockwood is “compelled to stay” and politely offers to sleep on a chair in the room- “-it will not suit me to permit anyone the range of the place while I am off guard!” said Heathcliff, insulting Lockwood and implying he was a thief that could not be trusted. Lockwood is also attacked by the dogs again but this time is laughed at and mocked by Heathcliff and Hareton. This inhospitable treatment for Lockwood could suggest that the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights are so unused to guests, therefore do not know how to “receive them” as Heathcliff pointed out in chapter one. This contributes to the mystery and suspense.
Towards the end of chapter two, Zillah “the stout housewife” says: “I wonder what you’ll have again next! Are we going to murder folk on our very door-stones?” This statement (directed to Hareton) creates mystery by stimulating the reader’s imagination of previous occurrences that could have taken place on their doorstep in the past. The way in which Zillah talked about murder was as though it was nothing out of the ordinary. This adds to the mystery and once again, suggests a sense of disorder within the household.
Chapter three opens in tension when Lockwood is escorted to the enchanted room, tainted with memories of Cathy which he describes to be “dilapidated”. Tension escalates when Lockwood senses Catherine’s presence- “…as vivid as spectres- the air swarmed with Catherine’s;” The haunting of Cathy creates additional mystery by causing the reader to wonder why she has returned to Wuthering Heights. Is she there to express her love for Heathcliff? Or apoloise for not marrying him and making their love official while she was alive?
Lockwood discovers one of Catherine’s journals from her childhood. Her diary gives us a brief insight of Heathcliff’s and Cathy’s love for one another and her abusive brother, Hindley- “Hindley is a detestable substitute- his conduct to Heathcliff is atrocious” “poor Heathcliff!” Heathcliff was obviously mistreated and abused as a child which could be the reason for the bitter, cruel man he turned out to be.
After Lockwood’s chaotic nightmare, the tension is relieved when “the branch of a fir- tree” that touches his lattice “merely” but escalates again when Lockwood’s “finger’s closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand!” and the “melancholy voice” that sobbed “Let me in-let me in!” This is either where the supernatural takes place or Lockwood is still entrenched in his nightmare (based on the reader’s outlook). Heathcliff barges into the room and his face grows “as white as the wall behind him”. Heathcliff’s startled reaction suggests that he is aware of that particular room being haunted by Cathy’s spirit.
Towards the end of chapter three, Bronte uses nature to create the mood that surrounds Lockwood’s new home, Thrushcross Grange- “first gleam of dawn.” “Loosing myself among the trees,” and “free” “still” air. Bronte also repeats the weather technique- “cold as impalpable ice.” “Sinking up to the neck in snow,” The tension throughout the majority of chapter three is relieved as it ends on a calm, subtle and positive note- “cheerful fire and smoking coffee”.
Beyond chapter three, the mystery and suspense morph into violence/horror as Nelly Dean tells the true background story that involves horrific occurrences. For original Victorian readers, the content of the novel was more shocking to present day readers. The references to religion, details of inhumanity, cruelty and hatred and the jokes Heathcliff makes about his dead wife were seen as outrageous, sickening and were almost unheard of during that era. It did also help develop Heathcliff’s unpleasant character. Heathcliff’s powerful feelings for Cathy were seen as he dug up her corpse and kissed it. Bronte does this to show how extreme their love was.
In conclusion, mystery and suspense is successfully projected in the first three chapters. Using a character (Lockwood) who is in the same position as the reader (on the outside looking in), creates suspense as we are not certain of the facts therefore can only base our interpretations on Lockwood’s observations. Lockwood’s discoveries and observations help us to recognise the dysfunction and disorder that lies within Wuthering Heights. The opening chapters form the base of the story because it gives an insight on Heathcliff’s hostile reputation, Mrs. Heathcliff’s ignorance and the haunted presence of her mother, Catherine. The diary from Cathy’s childhood briefly reveals the reason for Heahtcliff’s insolent character. Gothic devices are used successfully to generate the horror in chapter three when Lockwood experiences paranormal activity. The weather sets the mood throughout the three chapters and overall, mystery and suspense surrounds the derelict scenery of Wuthering Heights and its outrageous inhabitants.
Personally, I thought Wuthering Heights was extremely gripping yet, shocking. I was impressed by the fact that the story was realistic as research shows it was based on the author’s personal life. The main characters- Heathcliff and Catherine never declared their passionate love for one another. They married others for security and reputation. This set up was so common during the Victorian era. It featured a variety of genres- romance, comedy, horror and a tragedy. This caused me to feel a mixture of emotions- amused, shocked, horrified, frightened and overwhelmed.