Hareton and Romantic Hope

Though the semester has only really just begun, class discussions have already gone into great depth about a number of topics, one such topic being the role of hope in Romantic literature. As a result of these class conversations, I have started to view hope as a near necessary element of Romantic literature, though, now that I have begun to critically engage with Wuthering Heights, this view has certainly been challenged, particularly by the character of Hareton Earnshaw. It can be argued that Hareton Earnshaw exists without hope due to the tragic circumstances of his upbringing. His mother died in childbirth and his father dealt with alcoholism and ultimately died indebted to Heathcliff, who in turn raised Hareton without nurturing him in any sense. Indeed, Hareton is afforded no education, no socialization, and, perhaps most upsettingly, no love or affection. While these aspects may lead some to assume that Hareton exists without hope, I can see a parallel between the experiences of Hareton throughout the beginning of Wuthering Heights and the apparent hopelessness latent within Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “England in 1819,” a poem that, in fact, bears a great deal of hope for its readers. The neglect that Hareton experiences throughout the novel mirrors the way in which the people of England were treated by their rulers, as is portrayed by Shelley in his poem. Shelley’s poem depicts a glorious phantom being born from the neglect the people have suffered. Such a phantom seems to be promising some kind of revolution, or perhaps retribution. In that same vein, there is a certain tension that readers can perceive regarding the character of Hareton, one that suggests that despite his neglect, there is a glimmer of hope for him after all. For while Nelly perceives him to be a poor and uneducated servant to Heathcliff, she, and her young charge, Catherine, afford Hareton a great deal of attention and consideration. Thus, despite the neglect that Hareton has felt while in Heathcliff’s care, Nelly’s attention to and occasional praise of his person suggests that perhaps Hareton will, like a glorious phantom, rise above the way Heathcliff has treated him and regain what his father lost.

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