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Deconstructing a Question

In the world of Wuthering Heights extremes of behaviour are presented as the norm, and moderation is neither known nor desired. To what extent do you agree with this reading of the novel?
At first sight, a pretty obvious question, but the exam board stress the importance of really getting inside it. Lets break it down into its constituent parts. The first part is a statement: In the world of

Wuthering Heights extremes of behaviour are presented as the norm, and moderation is neither known nor desired.
The second part is an instruction: To what extent do you agree with this reading of the

novel?
So far, so obvious, but there is more to the question, and, to do a proper job of answering it, we need to pick it apart. Lets see what the question is all about, shall we?

In the world of Wuthering Heights extremes of behaviour are presented as the norm, and moderation is neither known nor desired.
So what are the extremes of behaviour in the novel? Hindley forcing a knife down Nellys throat? Heathcliff hanging Isabellas puppy? Isabella and Edgar fighting over their dog? Hindley throwing a weight at Heathcliffs chest? If you answered yes to any of the above, pat yourself on the back and look smug. Now stop it, because, in looking smug, you have made a mistake typical of so many of your kind: only reading part of the question. There is a lot more to this question yet to come. What do we notice about these extremes of behaviour? Are they connected in any way? Perhaps they are centred around the characters of sHeathcliff and Cathy, or maybe they reflect social exclusion, or a childlike state of mind. Certainly, we cant just leave them unexplored. So what next? Shall we start our magnum opus, our great dissertation? The eagle-eared and bateyed among you will have noticed that there remains a good deal of the question not embiggened by our cromulent attentions. What else could I embolden?

In the world of Wuthering Heights extremes of behaviour are presented as the norm, and moderation is neither known nor desired.

Aha we need to consider whether they are presented as the norm, that is, unworthy of comment, conventional, ordinary. Clearly we are moving away from simply listing events that happen, and starting to analyse them from a literary point of view; in short, does the writers use of language suggest that these incidents of extreme behaviour are particularly noteworthy or not? But wait, I hear you cry, theres more! Indeed there is, friends, so let us to bed, for tomorrow we ride to war, at around eight, and we must be on the road by nine.

In the world of Wuthering Heights extremes of behaviour are presented as the norm, and moderation is neither known nor desired.
This second part of the question is no less important than the first, despite its unattractively ordinary appearance. But what does moderation mean? Behaviour which is not extreme? Restraint? Equally important is the fact we are invited to consider the two terms: known and desired. Why is there a distinction? Is one possible without the other? The little neither nor, hiding like a gnome between those two impressive participles, is key here. Perhaps we might consider the view that Hareton does not know moderation until the very end of the narrative, but he certainly desires it. Phew. What clever chaps we are! By Jove, I should say weve got this question licked, aint that the truth, guvnor. But hold on. Perhaps if we see Haretons desire for learning and social graces as evidence for moderation, then we must pick apart that idea a little further, because isnt he simply conforming to bourgeois ideals of respectability and improvement? So we might argue that moderation reflects the novels gradual rejection of the utopian rebelliousness of its early chapters? Well, mightnt we? And yet, my dears, the games still afoot, and weve not cried God for England, Harry and St George. Because there are two bits yet to pick apart.

In the world of Wuthering Heights extremes of behaviour are presented as the norm, and moderation is neither known nor desired.
I know, I know, it seems needlessly picky, but if something is being presented, then someone, it stands to reason, is presenting it. The question is, who? I might venture to suggest that the chinese box narrative of the novel offers us something worth considering here: is there a difference between how Lockwood and Nelly present extreme behaviour? Is there a difference in how they measure extremity? Certainly Lockwood shudders rather excessively at the pile of rabbits, while Nelly thinks little of unhooking Isabellas puppy from its gallows. And yet, why not go further? These arent the only two voices we hear in the novel: Heathcliff and Isabella have their turns, too. What of them? Do we think Isabella presents extremes of behaviour as the norm? Does the narrators social position have something to do with their acceptance or otherwise of extremity?

Now you might think were getting there, and we are, but theres one last part of the question that needs our attention:

In the world of Wuthering Heights extremes of behaviour are presented as the norm, and moderation is neither known nor desired.
What do we mean by the world of Wuthering Heights? At its simplest, it implies the house on the moor, but the fact that Wuthering Heights are in italics tells us that this is the literary world of the novel, not merely the fictional place. Dr Kenneth seems an interesting candidate for discussion here, or maybe we might consider Edgars apparent desire for moderation when he seeks to placate the raving Catherine at Thrushcross Grange.

And this isnt the half of it. There remains one last heffalump trap that for the unwary, and that is simply the:

No it dashed well doesnt!


Reaction. You must engage with the question and explore it on its terms; you cannot just ignore it and gallop off on your own quest for truth and knowledge. Even if you disagree with the argument put forward in the question in the strongest possible terms (stronger, even, than I have expressed myself in here), you ought to begin your essay by exploring its positive qualities, and for the rest of your essay you must stick to the terms of the question.