Cathy’s ‘I am Heathcliff!’ Speech: An Analysis

Cathy’s ‘I am Heathcliff!’ speech, is probably the most iconic declaration of love in literature. It is so long that it should probably be classed as a series of speeches. I certainly found it powerful and overwhelming, which leads me to believe that at the heart of ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a story about a love that is so pure, and so strong, that it transcends the boundaries of the physical world. Surely that is the purest form of love? It is difficult to pinpoint a specific piece to analyse, as the conversation between Cathy and Nelly goes on for seven pages. Let us see what Cathy says exactly:

‘… My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty strange: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable; and – …’ [1]

There is a lot to unpack here. The first few lines concerning Heathcliff’s miseries imply that Cathy feels so connected to Heathcliff, that his suffering automatically means her suffering. They feel the same, they suffer the same. ‘My great thought in living is himself’ is quite a complex statement, and when I first read the novel, I really had to think about it. It almost does not make grammatical sense, especially the use of the word ‘himself.’ It would make more sense to use the word ‘him,’ but the inclusion of the word ‘self’ emphasises the fact that Cathy is thinking about Heathcliff’s whole, entire person. Cathy’s thoughts just concern Heathcliff, she is so in love with him that no other thought enters her mind. She does not contemplate one aspect of him, but him in his entirety. It seems that she cannot view Heathcliff in a negative way, she views him as one whole, and that whole that she sees is good.

She goes on to say that her home is Heathcliff, and if he were not here, then she would be totally lost and abandoned. The violence of the words ‘perished’ and ‘annihilated’ emphasise Cathy’s passion and love for Heathcliff, as well as the general melodrama of the novel. Cathy compares her love for Edgar to the ‘foliage in the woods,’ and her love for Heathcliff to the ‘eternal rocks beneath.’ Foliage obviously dies in the winter, implying that Cathy’s love for Edgar will not last, and will change pretty fast. Winter here represents the turbulent and difficult times in marriage, and essentially, when the going gets tough, Cathy knows that her and Edgar will break down… and spoiler… they do. The rocks beneath emphasises how stabilising Heathcliff is to Cathy, and how he grounds and attaches her to the physical world, and how he also grounds her in herself, as he is part of her. As these rocks are ‘eternal,’ the connection between Cathy and Heathcliff will never die, even when they themselves perish. Cathy, or rather Brontë, definitely knows how to use imagery.

Cathy’s ability to shape-shift into Edgar Linton’s ideal woman is a classic trait of the Gothic heroine. Cathy actively betrays herself to conform to societal ideals. She kind of works as a femme fatale, as she captivates both Heathcliff and Edgar, as they fall in love with her, and this draws everyone into madness and despair. I would not say she is a typical femme fatale, as usually femme fatale’s act with intent. Cathy does not intend to make everybody’s lives a stressful misery, so she is kind of a femme fatale by accident. In general though, Cathy is not one archetype or character, she is multiple things, as demonstrated by her differing identities of Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Heathcliff and Catherine Linton.

It is almost like Cathy does not know how to talk about it without going on and on. She finally realises how to sum up the last seven pages, with the exclamation ‘I am Heathcliff!’ The fact that ‘am’ is in italics emphasises the shock and melodrama of Cathy’s realisation. This sentiment sums it all up in one. Even a discussion about separating from Heathcliff causes Cathy so much distress that her speech ends, and she trails off. ‘Impracticable’ emphasises the impossible nature of it, that Heathcliff and Cathy cannot be separated. It is a physical impossibility. It literally cannot happen. Of course, it does later on in the novel, and it is Heathcliff’s grief and rage that drives all the action for the remainder of the novel. So even though Cathy is only around for half of the novel, her impact is huge. Without her, really there would be no novel.

Thanks for reading!

[1] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, (London: Wordsworth Classics), p. 59.

Published by harpalkhambay

I am an English Literature and History graduate, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

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