by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights Theme of Family
Talk about dysfunctional. Does anyone really like each other in this book? Instead of bringing comfort and peace, families in Wuthering Heights are a source of violence, alienation, jealousy, and greed. The whole mess starts when Mr. Earnshaw tries to expand the family by bringing another child, Heathcliff, to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff's new siblings won't share their beds, and they welcome him by making faces and spitting at him. Many critics suggest that Heathcliff is Mr. Earnshaw's illegitimate son. After all, his name – as Nelly tells Lockwood – comes from the "name of a son who died in childhood" (4.51). But they never dub Heathcliff with the last name Earnshaw.
Still, themes of family run throughout. Almost every character is either an Earnshaw or a Linton, or in some cases both. And because Heathcliff is never accepted into either family, he gets revenge by taking everything that they own. Brontë suggests that the family recovers in the end: the house once again becomes the property of Hareton Earnshaw, whose distant relative built it in 1500.
Questions About Family
- Brontë repeats many characters' names. What is the effect of this? Why two Catherines, two Hareton Earnshaws, and so forth?
- What is the effect of making the entire story about only two families?
- Does anyone in the novel have any sense of family loyalty?
- What is Mr. Earnshaw's motivation in bringing Heathcliff into the family?
Chew on This
Brontë emphasizes the Gothic and perverse by making her lovers related to one another. She brings them together not in spite of being related but because of it.