The Mistreatment of Children By Familial Figures

While reading the first few chapters of Wuthering Heights, I was drawn to the treatment of Heathcliff by his new “family” throughout his childhood. Everyone except for Catherine and Mr. Earnshaw don’t seem to like him very much. When he is first introduced to the family as an orphan brought home by Mr. Earnshaw, Nelly says that she was scared by him and how dirty he appeared, repeatedly referring to Heathcliff as an ‘it’, as though he were not human. She also recalls how Mrs. Earnshaw was ready to throw him back out onto the streets but Mr. Earnshaw thought that they should take him in. As Heathcliff grows older and Hindley takes over Wuthering Heights after Mr. Earnshaw’s passing, he then shifts into the role of a servant to the family and is no longer being educated. He had been mistreated all throughout his childhood by his “family” and they do not seem to notice that what they are doing to him is wrong because they do not see Heathcliff as being an equal to them.

This brought me to think of the child labor poems that we read last week and the mistreatment that the children in these poems also faced by their family, specifically in “The Chimney Sweeper”. In this poem the child that the poem is speaking of is referred to as “a little black thing”. This is also an example in which a child is dehumanized. The child is asked where their parents have gone, to which they reply that they have left them and gone off to pray. In the next stanza the child explains how they ended up in this situation as a chimney sweeper. It seems as though their parents thought they were happy as a chimney sweeper so they continued having them work, however it has made them miserable and they feel they are on their way to death. The child then describes how the father and mother do not seem to think they have done anything wrong in sending them off to be a chimney sweeper because the State and church have not said that what they are doing is wrong.

In both of these instances children have been mistreated by their families as a result of social standing. In Wuthering Heights, it is as though Heathcliff was never able to leave his place as the poor orphan who had no where else to go, while in “The Chimney Sweeper”, the child is being endangered by his parents in order to help make more money.

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