Consistently throughout Wuthering Heights, the self-indulgent, mercenary tendencies of human nature can be identified in characters such as Catherine, Hindley, Linton, and Heathcliff. These self-aiming qualities result in these characters through past transgressions, mistreatments, illnesses, and cases of simply being spoiled. Further exploration of these characters reveals that they may not be wholly at fault for their selfish behaviors and may simply be victims of past offenses.
In “Altruism and Selfishness”, Roger Scruton simply defines: “A selfish act is one directed at the self” (39). While the selfish acts committed throughout Wuthering Heights are in themselves fascinating, it is ...view middle of the document...
Hindley’s distaste toward his father’s favorite so upset Mr. Earnshaw that he declared that “Hindley was nought and would never thrive as where he wandered” (Brontë 41).
Mr. Earnshaw’s obvious preference toward Heathcliff and his obvious disappointment in his son push Hindley, as Joseph quotes, “down t’broad road” to destruction (Brontë 103). After his father’s death, Hindley’s behavior only worsens. His sister Catherine notes that Hindley “was always greedy; though what he grasps with one hand he flings away with the other” and that he “can’t be made morally worse than he is” (Brontë 99). Hindley takes up gambling and drinking, spending his money on alcohol and cards rather than on his son or on his home. And as a father, Hindley has taught Hareton “’Naught…but to keep out of his gait” (Brontë 110).
As a child, Catherine was always defiant and unruly, but usually kept in check by her father, brother, and the household servants. Her disobedience was kept at a maintainable level. After her first major mental illness, however, the “doctor had said that she would not bear crossing much; she ought to have her own way” (Brontë 88). As she grows accustomed to having her own way, it becomes “nothing less than murder in her eyes for anyone to presume to stand up and contradict her” (Brontë 88-89) and even her husband “had a deep rooted fear of ruffling her humor” (Brontë 91). This feeds into Catherine’s egotism and only creates more problems for those around her.
Joshua May explains that “psychological egoists claim that all of a person’s actions are ultimately self-interested or selfish in some sense” (39). This theory provides an explanation for Catherine’s foolish belief that by marrying Linton, she “can aid Heathcliff to rise” (Brontë 81) and ultimately still keeping the two men that she loves in her life. She is a prime example of Brunstein’s observation that while most people grow out of their childish, selfish tendencies, some adults, however, do not relinquish such former, egotistical traits (Brunstein, np). The instance would be rare, if occurring at all, in which Catherine places the needs and desires of another person before her own.
Even though she knows that Heathcliff and Edgar hate one another, Catherine still selfishly tries to maintain relationships with the both of them. When Catherine blames Heathcliff for her heartbreak, he corrects her, attributing both her heartbreak and his own to Catherine’s selfishness (Brontë 159). Heedless of Heathcliff and Edgar’s feelings, Catherine insists upon keeping acquaintance with the two, which only furthers the tension between them. Catherine’s behavior is in accordance with Hills’ statement that “Psychological hedonists claim that all agents act for the sake of their...