In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte uses the presence of light to create a distinction between the emotions displayed that are intended by nature and the sentiments that are displayed as a pretense to cover true emotions. Light that occurs in the environment, sunlight and firelight, shine when the emotions that are being shown are what nature planned. True emotions cannot be changed or guided just as the light from Nature is outside human control. Whereas when artificial light, generated by gas, is present the sentiments shown are those contrary to the urges of nature and more in accordance with the dictates of society at the time.
Many of the main events that occur within the two houses reflect the difference between simulated emotions and artificial light, and true light and heart-felt sentiments. Within Thrushcross Grange, a symbol of success in the society of the day, the magnificent gas candelabra bathes the house in man-made light. In Wuthering Heights, a less lavish home, the house is entirely lit by natural fire. It is in Wuthering Heights that Catherine is able to profess her love for Heathcliff. This is juxtaposed to when Catherine is staying at Thrushcross Grange and displays an imitation of love for Edgar which is not sincere. Catherine is not the only character whose real emotions are revealed in the presence of natural light.
Nelly also reveals an emotion that she truly feels but cannot openly display. Emotions that come from the heart are revealed when the lighting is natural to emphasize the connection with Nature and goodness. Light from the sun and fire are derived from the powers of Nature just as Nature controls emotions felt by humans. Catherine and Nelly know that they should not love Heathcliff and Hindley, respectively, but the powers of nature are greater than human command. By presenting the true emotions in natural light, the reader is drawn into the warmth and beauty of true love. The wildness and dangerous side of fire also remind us that emotions are powerful and humans can lose control over them.
Catherine is seated by the fireside when she utters the most heartfelt words of the novel, "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" (9. 82). The firelight is pure just as the words of Catherine are constant and heartfelt. Later, when Catherine betrays her emotions, it is in the presence of artificial light at Thrushcross Grange that she shows false emotions. Catherine is not the only character to make a revelation in natural light and then spend the rest of the novel displaying another emotion.
Nelly, while walking under the sun says, "[t]he sun shone yellow on its gray head, reminding me of summer; and I cannot say why, but all at once, a gush of child's sensations flowed into my heart. Hindley and I held it a favorite spot twenty years before" (11. 107). Only once does Nelly disclose that she saw Hindley as more than a friend, and it is during a walk under the most wholesome form of light, the sun. Catherine and Nelly exhibit the emotions planned by Nature when the natural light of the world is present. Emotions displayed by artificial light are often false emotions but ones which mimic the expectations of a controlling society and by the politics of marriage at the time.
The presence of simulated light in the form of gas displays humans altering nature for their own ends, just as when the characters are under gas lighting and betray their natural, true emotions. Thrushcross Grange is described as having "a shower of glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the center, and shimmering with little soft tapers" (6. 48). The chandelier that hangs prominently in Thrushcross Grange is an example of artificial light that mirrors the false emotions that are displayed within the house. The beauty and perfection of the man-made chandelier give the impression that the life within Thrushcross Grange is ideal, but Catherine and Heathcliff, who see the chandelier from outside the house, see how the magnificence is only an illusion and really Isabella and Edgar are fighting bitterly over a dog. Catherine does not fight with Edgar over a dog when in Thrushcross Grange, but, surrounded by artificial light, she acts the charade of loving Edgar.
Catherine betrays the desire of Nature as her heart belongs to Heathcliff but she pretends to love Edgar, a more suitable match according to the mores of the time. Sunlight and firelight represent Nature and the revelation of unaltered emotions; the artificial light of gas corresponds to the taming of emotions for the sake of a more controlled world. Nature holds the ultimate power, and although Catherine does not want to love Heathcliff she cannot help herself. Humans have no control over the light cast on the earth under the control of Nature, so by presenting true emotions with natural light Emily Bronte is able to convey to the reader the truth in the emotions felt by the characters.
The chandelier in Thrushcross Grange casts an artificial light that parallels the non-natural emotions that are displayed. Catherine is the most poignant example of a character that shows untrue and unnatural emotions within Thrushcross Grange, but the emotions displayed are those that society imposed upon her. Conversely, under the natural light of Wuthering Height the characters are able to reveal their true emotions. The most pure form of light is sunlight and characters are also able to expose their sensations unchanged as directed by Nature under the sun. Works Cited Bronte, Emily.
"Wuthering Heights." 1847. London: Penguin Group. 1995.