The Oak-Paneled Bed
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
You'll Find It in the Deadroom—Er, Bedroom
Never underestimate the power of the Gothic novel in turning anything—a friendly animal or a dang bed—into a terrifying symbol. Usually the discussion of a bed-as-symbol would be accompanied by some snickering or "bow chicka bow bow" sound effects, but not this one.
This bed is flat-out terrifying.
This piece of furniture is the symbolic center of Wuthering Heights—both the novel and the house—and provides the setting for two of the novel's most dramatic events. Residing in Catherine's childhood bedroom, the bed is described by Lockwood in the following terms:
[...] a large oak case, with squares cut out near the top, resembling coach windows [...] In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge of the window, which it enclosed, served as a table. (3.5)
The "ghost story" is set into action the night Lockwood spends in the oak-paneled bed. Before his nightmares, Lockwood sees it as a place where he can feel "secure against the vigilance of Heathcliff and everyone else" (3.6).
In this sense, it symbolizes a place of protection, security, and retreat. As Lockwood soon finds out, though, the oak-paneled bed was also a retreat for young Catherine, whose books became impromptu journals that she hid from Hindley some twenty-five years before. Lockwood experiences a haunting series of nightmares in the bed, suggesting that he has violated a sacred place. Because the space was Catherine's, it is sacred to Heathcliff, who is furious when he finds Lockwood sleeping in his "sanctum."
The supernatural powers that surround the bed become more intense when Heathcliff dies there, transforming the bed into a kind of symbol of a coffin where Heathcliff is finally "reunited" with his one true love. Where Lockwood tried to keep the bedroom's window closed, Heathcliff is found dead with the window wide open, almost as though his spirit has escaped. So for both Lockwood and Heathcliff, in very different ways, the bed is a protective boundary and haunted space.