Childhood and Nature

One of the most memorable lines in Wuthering Heights for me is Catherine I’s: “I wish I were out of doors! I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free; and laughing at injuries, not maddening under them!…I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills” (Chapter 12, para. 36). Catherine states this line when she’s ill and entreating Nelly to open the window so she could feel the breeze. Catherine connecting “girl” with phrases invoking nature (“out of doors” and “savage”) establishes how nature is connected with childhood within the novel. We spoke about this a few weeks ago in class when we discussed how Catherine, during her first trip to the Grange with Heathcliff, had arrived at the Grange barefoot, symbolizing her connection to nature, but returned to the Heights with gloves, symbolizing how her experience at the Grange had changed her (clothed her) and disconnected her with nature. A similar theme of nature and childhood is shown in the poem “The Cry of the Children.” The speaker tries to urge the children to seek happiness and youth in nature, stating: “Go out, children, from the mine and from the city / Sing out, children, as the little thrushes do / Pluck you handfuls of the meadow-cowslips pretty.” The children reject the speaker’s words and continue to lament the state of their misery; they state that, because they must work long shifts in the factories, their only care for meadows would be to “drop down in them and sleep.” Much like in Wuthering Heights, the disconnect from nature is shown to symbolize the disappearance of childhood.

Victorian writers might have emphasized the connection between nature and childhood because of the industrial revolution and child labor. This is evident within “The Cry of the Children,” which mentions explicitly “wheels of iron” and “factories, round and round”; however the theme of industrialization is much less explicit in Wuthering Heights. Part of this might be because Wuthering Heights takes place within a more rural setting and with characters of the landed gentry and not the working class. I find it interesting that Bronte manages to include consequences of industrialization (the reduction of childhood) in the novel without directly depicting industrialization.

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