You know how Charlie Brown's Snoopy, sitting atop his dog house with a typewriter, always starts his stories "It was a dark and stormy night"? Well, he may as well be Emily Brontë, because that sort of mysterious atmosphere sets the tone of the novel. As a Gothic novel, Wuthering Heights is persistently dark and eerie. There is not a very wide range of tones: it's either grim or grimmer.
The attitudes of our narrators help shape the tone as the drama unfolds, so Lockwood's initial curiosity and fascination convey a lighter feeling than after he realizes how sinister Heathcliff is.
Because one thing is for sure: whenever Heathcliff is around, the tone tends to grows darker. After all, dude says things like this regularly:
Two words would comprehend my future—death and hell: existence, after losing her, would be hell. Yet I was a fool to fancy for a moment that she valued Edgar Linton's attachment more than mine. If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn't love as much in eighty years as I could in a day. (14.23)
Oof. We need a SAD lamp—the darkness of Heathcliff's psyche had depleted all of our Vitamin D.
And it's not like the other characters are chipper. You can tell that Nelly Dean really enjoys storytelling, so she tries to sustain a tone of suspense and mystery—that way she keeps Lockwood's, and by extension the reader's, attention. This is what keeps Lockwood up late... and what keeps us reading.
Wuthering Heights has just about all the elements of a Gothic novel, but the characters are a lot more complex than your average Gothic protagonists/antagonists. Heathcliff's motivations and responses go way beyond the flat character of the average Gothic villain. Catherine is far from the vulnerable, threatened maiden in need of rescuing. And instead of a ruined, crumbling castle, we have Wuthering Heights. Also, the novel provokes greater consideration of morality than the usual action-driven Gothic novel.
Still, Wuthering Heights has plenty of spooky Gothic features, like imprisonment, dark stairways, stormy weather, nightmares, extreme landscapes, melancholy figures, moonlight and candles, torture and excessive cruelty, necrophilia, a supernatural presence, madness, maniacal behavior, communication between the living and the dead—you get the point.
In the Gothic tradition, Brontë features tyrannical fathers and a troubled family line. In this case, the threat comes from Heathcliff, the outsider, who causes havoc by usurping the family line and taking all of its property.
Some of the darkest themes of the Gothic novel emerge with the implications of incest (through the romantic love of Heathcliff and Catherine, who may be half-brother and sister; the marriage of cousins like Cathy and Linton would not have been seen as scandalous) and the suggestion of necrophilia (through Heathcliff's perverse interactions with Catherine's corpse).
The Gothic genre often reveals larger societal anxieties. Wuthering Heights may help to reveal contemporary fears about a foreign presence in the house, threats to patrimony, or an influx of immigration (through places like Liverpool, England) in the form of the so-called "gypsy." It's important to note that Wuthering Heights was published well after the trend in Gothic novels had petered out, so several critics saw the genre—and the novel—as tired and overdone.
That Wuthering Heights is a romance is undeniable. The love between Heathcliff and Catherine transcends the boundaries between life and death, which is both creepy and aww-inspiring. While several marriages and sub-romances occur, the one between the two protagonists is far and away the most dramatic and memorable.
All the characters are driven by their appetites—desire, passion, lust, and ambition. The plot line is propelled toward the reunion of the two lovers, so that when Catherine dies halfway through the book, the reader really wants to know how the romantic story will be resolved. Heathcliff often shows up in top-ten lists of romantic fictional protagonists—often making number one. Despite being unforgivably malicious, Heathcliff is still a major hunk. (For details, see "Trivia.")
Though Wuthering Heights could not be exclusively categorized as a psychological thriller (there are way too many Gothic elements), it strongly features the complexities of Heathcliff's character. In the tradition of this genre, Heathcliff's motivations, his tricks and schemes, and his revenge and manipulations are represented in great detail. Brontë creates enormous suspense by making the reader wonder how Heathcliff will calm his troubled soul and resolve his feelings of vengeance.
Contrary to what autocorrect may believe, wuthering is a real word. Our good buddies at Merriam-Webster define "wuther" as "to blow with a dull roaring sound."
Oh, well, that's cheery.
But, if you've read Wuthering Heights you'll realize that the characters take a sort of masochistically dark approach to naming things. Dogs get names like Gnasher and Skulker. Houses get names like... Wuthering Heights.
With this novel, Emily Brontë takes the whole Gothic haunted house thing several steps further than her predecessors. While the book has all of the Gothic elements made popular the century before by authors such as Ann Radcliffe and Horace Walpole—and even mocked by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey—Wuthering Heights has a lot more psychological complexity than your average pulp Gothic job.
Throughout the story, Brontë plays on a whole set of genre conventions—Gothic, romantic, pseudo-psychological—and by naming the novel after the house, she sort of announces those influences to her readers. While the house is the main setting for most of the action, its role is so important that it almost seems like a living, breathing, ticked-off character, reflecting the bad attitude of its inhabitants.
Windows and doors are a big deal in the novel, as people and ghosts are always trying to climb in or out, people are getting locked in and out, doors are slammed, keys are hidden, and so forth. Heathcliff often stands in the doorway of Wuthering Heights, controlling who crosses the threshold. At the center of the house, symbolically if not literally, is Catherine's oak-paneled bed, which provides the setting for the more uncanny and chilling events: Catherine's ghost fighting to get in against Lockwood's brutal refusal, and the death and discovery of Heathcliff's rain-soaked corpse.
To Heathcliff, whoever controls the house has the power, so even though he seeks revenge for all of his mistreatment, he does so by acquiring real estate. Being accepted into houses means a lot—Hindley never welcomes Heathcliff into Wuthering Heights, and the Lintons open their doors to Catherine (but not Heathcliff). The house has different meanings for each character—prison, punishment, social class, horror, and nostalgia.
Basically, the house is loaded with symbolic importance. It's up on the stormy hillside above Thrushcross Grange, which, by comparison, seems like a sort of Eden with its brightly lit salon and expansive garden. Lockwood notices some of the house's strange details from the very beginning—for example, the inscription over the doorway:
Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door, above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date "1500," and the name "Hareton Earnshaw." (1.13)
This inscription serves as the house's nametag ("Hi, My Name Is Creepy, Dilapidated Mansion) and informs us that the Earnshaws have been there for a looong time (the novel is set in 1801). What Lockwood means by "shameless" we can't really know, but the implication is that the image is Gothic and a little sinister.
Oh, and bonus biographical tidbit: Emily Brontë grew up on the Yorkshire moors, so a lot of critics speculate about the influence the houses in her village of Haworth had on her description of Wuthering Heights.
The book is a real page-turner, making you really want to know how it ends. Death? Marriage? Trick question: we get both.
The last page of the book has Lockwood leaving Wuthering Heights for Thrushcross Grange, stopping to take one last look at the soon-to-be-married Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Heathcliff.
Wuthering Heights really shows the difference between "ending" and "closure." Sure the book ends, as does Nelly's narration, and certain threads of the story are neatly tied together: domestic harmony returns to the home, Hareton is able to read his name above the threshold, and his ownership of the house suggests that all is right with property and inheritance. When Nelly picks up the narration one last time, she seeks to provide closure to Heathcliff's story and to the reunification of this generation of Earnshaws. Like a Shakespearean comedy, the story ends with a marriage. Nelly explains in almost maternal tones:
"The crown of all my wishes will be the union of these two; I shall envy no one on their wedding day. There won't be a happier woman than myself in England!" (32.111)
The novel begins with Lockwood struggling to enter Wuthering Heights (with all its vicious dogs, locked gates, and the forbidding landlord) and ends with open windows, sunshine, and lovers. But for all the romantic conclusions and gratification we get from Hareton and Catherine, the lovers we're really thinking about are six feet under.
Lockwood can't resist passing by the graves of Catherine, Edgar, and Heathcliff, the latter of which is not yet covered in moss, grass, and turf because he was just buried. Looking over the peaceful scene, with moths fluttering about, Lockwood imagines that all three will rest in peace. What?! Has he not just heard the whole story? We can be pretty sure that anything involving Catherine and Heathcliff will not be peaceful.
It's almost as if Brontë teases us with this serene image of the moors after detailing several hundred pages of conflict. So, while Lockwood interprets closure in his narrative, we as readers have become more savvy than him, knowing that there are many ways to read the novel's ending.
Set in the harsh and isolated Yorkshire moors in Northern England, Wuthering Heights practically makes a character out of its geography. And—like other characters in this book—the moors is not a nice guy.
Gimmerton is the nearest town and provides the location for characters like Mr. Kenneth, the doctor, and Mr. Green, the lawyer. Liverpool is a distant port city associated with the dark, foreign, gypsy child, Heathcliff. But more important than any sense of a city center are the regional markers and sights, such as the "golden rocks" of Penistone Crags, black hollows, bleak hilltops, bilberry bushes, moonlit scenery, miles of heath, and winding roads. It's easy to get lost in this barren landscape, especially in the snow. The feelings of desolation and confusion provoked by the setting strongly contribute to the tone of the novel.
The story spans roughly fifty years (the last half of the eighteenth century) though Lockwood's narrative begins in 1801.
Weather plays a big role and tends to reflect some of the desolate attitudes of the characters. (The fancy term for this literary motif is "pathetic fallacy.") The landscape can be pitiless and forbidding—as with Lockwood's snowbound night at the Heights—or a Garden of Eden-like escape from the tyrannies of the home—as with the rambles young Catherine and Heathcliff take in order to avoid Hindley's cruelty.
The two main sites of action, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, are opposed in many ways: Wuthering Heights is dark and cold, located on a hill high above the more bright and inviting Thrushcross Grange, which is situated in the valley below. The two houses are only four miles apart, and yet characters are constantly getting lost while traveling between the two. There is continuous back and forth movement on horse and foot.
Access to the Grange symbolizes the acquisition of a certain social status. Though there is no social scene as such, Catherine is still proud of her acceptance into the Linton manor. Heathcliff, on the other hand, is not welcome in either household. So issues of setting, access, and mobility reflect many of the novel's themes of social class, family, property, and estrangement.
With her violently romantic plot line and passionate characters, Emily Brontë has no problem drawing the reader into the book. And once you get through the first two chapters, you are definitely hooked. Heathcliff seems like such a jerk, but he is one of the most famous romantic protagonists ever.
Brontë doesn't always make it easy to follow the timeline—there are all sorts of flashbacks—so you have to pay attention to where you are in the story. Though Nelly Dean and Lockwood are our main narrators, there are numerous sub-narrators. Of course, everyone has his or her own opinion on the Earnshaw-Linton drama, so keep in mind that you are getting anything but an objective narration.
Before she wrote Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë composed quite a bit of poetry, and the urge to write in a lyrical manner really shows in her prose style. Her poems are full of flowers, mountain breezes, frozen snow, thorny briars... and brooding dudes.
Like Heathcliff and Catherine, she finds inspiration in nature. Some of the only affectionate and cheerful descriptions in the novel concern the heath and the hills, flowers, bees, and moonlight.
Brontë varies the style depending on whether Lockwood or Nelly Dean is narrating, and even further with each character being described. Nelly's speech is animated, with lively images and vivid descriptions that reflect her presence at the scenes she describes. She also enjoys ratcheting up the drama, infusing her accounts with her own opinions and attitudes. You can tell she enjoys her position as narrator to Lockwood's listener, and this sense of power influences her style. But technically we are reading Lockwood's diary, and his style is intimate but more formal and composed than Nelly's.
Above both of them, Brontë's style prevails, and she has a pretty rhythmical and elegiac approach. For just about every implication of the sinister and dark, there is a beam of light struggling to emerge. Her prose style is not quite so heavily under the influence of the Gothic that she denies the possibility of hope and redemption.
An example of her striking ability to balance these oppositions can be found in the novel's final sentence, where, standing at the graves of Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar, Lockwood observes:
I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.
Brontë crafts the image of the three graves in subtle, graceful terms. Gothic elements are still present, with the suggestion of life after death and the supernatural, human-like description of the breathing wind.
Even in the face of death, nature is life-sustaining and life-giving. And rather than mentioning dead corpses buried in the earth (which she would not be above doing), Brontë terms the bodies as "sleepers," a far more poetic characterization, and uses the word "unquiet" instead of "disturbed."
Thanks for that, Emily. That almost makes up for the terrifying dogs and moaning winds.
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 tormented 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 as 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 hallowed 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 love. Where Lockwood tried to keep the bed'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.
From the very first pages of Wuthering Heights, Lockwood is anxious to cross the threshold and enter the house, while Heathcliff seems intent on keeping him out. "Even the gate over which [Heathcliff] leant manifested no sympathizing movement […]" (1.6). Lockwood personifies the gate, implying that, like Heathcliff, it does not want to let him in. Even Lockwood's name reflects his failure to gain access. (But since he is not one to pick up on hints, he charges in anyway.)
In his first descriptions of the house, Lockwood observes its unwelcoming architecture: "Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, the corners defended with large, jutting stones" (1.12). Constructed in 1500, this home is clearly designed to be impenetrable. The window in the oak-paneled bed is a critical boundary in the novel, symbolizing a space of violation and violence. Even though Catherine's name is scratched on its surface, the window does not provide entry for her wailing ghost – thanks in large part to Lockwood's lack of sympathy. The bloodshed from Catherine's wrist "rubbed [. . .] to and fro" on the pane suggests that there is profound violence involved in crossing thresholds. Later in the novel, the young Cathy escapes Heathcliff from the same window:
She dare not try the doors, lest the dogs should raise an alarm; she visited the empty chambers, and examined their windows; and luckily, lighting on her mother's, she got easily out of its lattice, and onto the ground by means of the fir tree, close by. (28.66)
Remember that same fir-bough scratching on the window as Lockwood emerged from his nightmare?
There are numerous incidents in which the two houses are referred to as prisons and their inhabitants as prisoners. When domestic harmony finally returns to Wuthering Heights at the novel's end, Lockwood finds that the whole prison vibe is gone:
"I had neither to climb the gate, nor to knock it yielded to my hand [. . . ]. Both doors and lattices were open [. . .] what inmates there were had stationed themselves not far from one of the windows. I could see them and hear them talk before I entered, and looked and listened in consequence, being moved thereto by a mingled sense of curiosity and envy that grew as I lingered. (32.26)
Obviously, Lockwood is still a major snoop; the problems caused by his past boundary violations do not hinder him from imposing himself yet again.
Throughout the novel, characters gaze and spy through windows, open windows, or break them. Not surprisingly, the large drawing room window of Thrushcross Grange appears ample and cheery compared to windows at Wuthering Heights. Rather than being "narrow" and "deeply set," it provides accessible views out onto the garden and green valley and, conversely, into the home's interior.
When Catherine and Heathcliff venture out to spy on Edgar and Isabella, the drawing room window provides a view onto a different world – one that eventually welcomes Catherine but rejects Heathcliff. Thrown out of Thrushcross Grange (as he will be many more times), Heathcliff is left to make his observations through the glass partition: "I resumed my station as a spy, because, if Catherine had wished to return, I intended shattering their great glass panes to a million fragments unless they let her out" (6.39). The many symbolic meanings of windows extend even to Heathcliff's appearance, as Nelly describes his eyes as "a couple of black fiends, so deeply buried, who never open their windows boldly" (7.42). Again, windows prevent rather than provide access.
What's with all of the doubles and opposites in the novel? Wuthering Heights versus Thrushcross Grange, civilization versus nature, Edgar Linton versus Heathcliff are just some of the oppositions. The family tree is very symmetrical, but the families blend and the opposition between the houses becomes less clearly distinct. Among the novel's many doubles, Catherine and Heathcliff are the most important. Their love is based on being spiritual twins. Recall Catherine's confession to Nelly Dean that she can't marry Heathcliff because, as she explains, "he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire" (9.92). She concludes with one of the most memorable lines in the novel: "Nelly, I am Heathcliff" (9.101).
Heathcliff is not Catherine's only double – there's also her daughter, the other Catherine, better known as Cathy. All of these names can get really confusing, leading you to wonder – couldn't they come up with any new names?! There are many Lintons and Earnshaws, even several characters with the name Heathcliff, though only one goes exclusively by Heathcliff (like Prince or Madonna). There are two Hareton Earnshaws, though one from way back in 1500.
Heathcliff has another double too: Hareton Earnshaw. Both were placed into a servile position and deprived of an education by the ruthless master of the house. Just how vengeful Heathcliff is comes out with Hareton, because rather than feeling compassion that the young man has no sympathetic father figure, Heathcliff repeats the same crummy treatment on Hareton that he received from Hareton's father, Hindley.
Among the many examples of repetition in the plot, the scenes with the two Catherines and their respective suitors, Edgar Linton and Linton Heathcliff, reveal that mother and daughter are both feisty and self-indulgent. Let's briefly look at the repetition in two scenes.
In the first, Catherine boxes Edgar Linton on the ear. When he tries to leave Wuthering Heights, she becomes a master manipulator, shouting, "No . . . not yet, Edgar Linton – sit down; you shall not leave me in that temper. I should be miserable all night, and I won't be miserable for you!"(8.77). Moments later, Edgar proposes marriage and Catherine accepts.
Roughly twenty years later, Cathy pushes Linton Heathcliff after a fight about their parents. Though Cathy apologizes, she also blames him, just like her mother blamed Edgar. She does not want to leave Wuthering Heights carrying the blame for the scene: "Don't let me go home thinking I've done you harm!" (23.49). Daughter, like mother, cannot control her temper and yet does not want to bear any of the responsibility.
We're not exactly talking about Gryffindor Tower's Nearly Headless Nick here, but there are definitely some haunting figures in Wuthering Heights. It is important to note, though, that Brontë's ghosts are ambiguous entities and may have logical, rather than supernatural, explanations.
Take Catherine's ghost at the beginning. This paranormal figure with the icy hand who claims to have been "a waif for twenty years," (111.55) could just be a figment of Lockwood's nightmares. Still, when Heathcliff demands an explanation for the commotion in the oak-paneled bed (which he clearly thinks involves Catherine's ghost), Lockwood answers that Wuthering Heights is "swarming with ghosts and goblins!" (3.67). As readers, we accept his interpretation because Lockwood is our narrator, but his characterizations can also be wildly inaccurate, reflecting his own biases and assumptions, as with his description of Catherine's ghost as a "little fiend" who may have been seeking entry into the window in order to strangle him. As he further describes her, "And that minx, Catherine Linton, or Earnshaw, or however she was called – she must have been a changeling – wicked little soul!" (3.69).
In many ways the ghosts in Wuthering Heights symbolize a lack of closure for the lovers. Heathcliff wants to believe in ghosts and the afterlife because that means Catherine will still be around. When Catherine dies, he begs to be haunted: "I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad!" (16.25). Brontë's ghosts are not your average Gothic novel device, as they seem to have much more to do with romance than evil. The superstitious Joseph may be the only one to see the ghosts as sinister.
At the end of the novel, Nelly Dean tells Lockwood that the "country folks would swear on their Bible [the ghost of Heathcliff] walks," and they report having seen him "near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house" (34.99). These reports could go either way. That the villagers see the ghosts too could mean that they are not just figments of Lockwood's imagination. On the other hand, the villagers may just be demonstrating the same kind of superstitious fear as Joseph. Even drama-loving Nelly is skeptical about the existence of ghosts. When a neighborhood boy reports "They's Heathcliff and a woman, yonder, under t' Nab [...] un' Aw darnut pass'em" (34.101), Nelly tells Lockwood that she did not see the ghosts herself and that "He probably raised the phantoms from thinking, as he traversed the moors alone, on the nonsense he had heard his parents and companions repeat […]" (34.103).
So what's the verdict on the ghosts? Brontë leaves it up in the air, but the hauntings and uncanny happenings are part of what make the novel so riveting.
The wild and desolate moors are set against the drama unfolding in the two houses. But as much as there is a nature versus culture theme going on here, Wuthering Heights (the house) is very much associated with nature, and so it can't really be put in neat opposition to it. As Lockwood explains at the novel's opening, "Wuthering" is "a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather"(1.12). Translation: bring a jacket.
But the moors mean different things to different people. To Lockwood, the moors serve as a confusing expanse that's almost impossible to navigate on his own. The moors confuse him, especially when it snows. He sees them as "one billowy white, ocean" (4.101) full of pits, depressions, rises, and deep swamps. The boggy parts of the moors can mean death for some people. When Heathcliff imprisons Nelly and Cathy in Wuthering Heights, he spreads a rumor in Gimmerton that the two had "sunk in the Blackhorse marsh" and that he had rescued them (28.2).
But as much as the moors represent threat and menace, they are also full of mystery and mysticism. They are a source of comfort and a respite from the prison-like atmosphere of Wuthering Heights. To Catherine and Heathcliff, the moors exist as a supernatural, liberating, and boundaryless region. For them, the ultimate freedom is associated with wandering on the moors. They often describe their love and their own individual identities through metaphors of nature. Catherine's dying wish to be released on to the moors reinforces Heathcliff's analogy of Catherine as an oak contained by the strictures of Thrushcross Grange:
[Catherine:] "I wish I were out of doors – I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy […] I'm sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills. Open the window again wide […]." (12.46)
Both Catherine and Heathcliff have an intense identification with the unruliness and brutality of nature. Catherine justifies her marriage to Edgar Linton using comparisons to the natural world:
"My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath a source of little visible delight, but necessary." (9.101)
Heathcliff's appearance draws endless comparisons to nature. It is "bleak, hilly, coal country" to Linton's "fertile valley" (8.53). Brontë does not set up a neat opposition between nature and civilization, though. First of all, life at the Heights is not exactly civilized; second, the very name of the house reflects its surroundings.
Like her mother, Cathy yearns to escape the confines of the house and play on the moors. Hareton slowly earns her trust by giving her a guided tour of some of the natural features of the surrounding countryside. "He opened the mysteries of the Fairy cave, and twenty other queer places […]" (8.85).
There are dogs all over this novel, and they actually play a pretty big role in propelling the plot. Like the Lintons and Earnshaws, the dogs are all related. Dogs figure in several major scenes and tend to be symbolically linked to Heathcliff. For example, when Lockwood tries to enter Wuthering Heights at the beginning of the novel, he finds not only several locked gates but also a pack of dogs preventing entry. "[T]wo hairy monsters" (3.101) with the names Gnasher and Wolf attack Lockwood, their lack of hospitality seeming to reflect that of their master. But Lockwood doesn't get the hint.
When Catherine and Heathcliff take their pivotal journey down to Thrushcross Grange, they share a glimpse of the sniveling Linton children fighting over a dog (6.37). When Catherine is bit by Skulker, one of the Lintons' dogs, she is compelled to stay at the Grange to recuperate, which changes her relationship to Heathcliff forever. Finally, let's not forget Heathcliff's treatment of Isabella's springer, Fanny. As they elope from Thrushcross Grange, Heathcliff uses a handkerchief to hang the dog by his neck on a bridle hook – definitely some foreshadowing of the treatment his new bride will receive.
Well, we know by the book's title that houses are pretty important here. Heathcliff's entire revenge plot is tied up in gaining ownership of the two houses. Even though Wuthering Heights is a love story, it's the houses that Heathcliff is determined to get possession of; his plan is not to win Catherine back or steal her away from Edgar Linton.
Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are in many ways set in opposition to each another. (See "Doubles and Opposites," above) The Heights lacks hospitality and domestic comforts: chairs lurk, meats hang from the ceiling, and the kitchen, like unwelcome guests, is "forced to retreat altogether" (1.14). "Wuthering," as Lockwood tells us, is "descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather" (1.12). Thrushcross Grange, on the other hand, represents refinement, class, cultivation, and propriety. It's the house Catherine aspires to socially, the house that will make her a "lady." The Heights sits exposed on a stormy hilltop, but the Grange is calm and protected down in the valley.
With all the crazy intermixing that goes on in the novel, though, these neat thematic oppositions start to get confused. When the novel opens we learn that Heathcliff owns both houses. But when Lockwood notices that the inscription over the doors reads "Hareton Earnshaw," we know that the family has lost the house; the laws of inheritance have been violated. (Remember, even though Heathcliff was taken in by Mr. Earnshaw, he was never named Heathcliff Earnshaw). Figuring out how this happened becomes one of our goals as a reader.
Wuthering Heights has two main narrators: Lockwood and Ellen "Nelly" Dean. The primary narrator is Lockwood, who begins and ends the narrative and is recording the story that he hears from Nelly.
Nelly is Lockwood's inside source of information, though, as he can only directly report what he witnesses in the present time—beginning in 1801, the year before Heathcliff dies. So, Nelly is telling Lockwood her version of the events, which then get filtered and recorded through his perspective. In cases where Nelly was not a witness to the events, she fills in the story with either someone else's eyewitness report to her or with quotes from a letter.
It's important to remember that both Nelly and Lockwood have their own interests, biases, likes, and dislikes. So what we read is a highly biased account of the story of the Linton, Earnshaw, and Heathcliff families. With the exception of a few stretches in the novel, we are always receiving information through the double lens of these two characters... neither of whom is objective or detached.
Brontë provides a few hints that our narrators have their own plans, desires, and interpretations. An example: remember how Lockwood grossly misjudges Heathcliff on their first encounter? He writes,
Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! (1.1)
We realize pretty quickly that Heathcliff is a lot of things, but a "capital fellow" isn't one of them, and it takes Lockwood a while to get the hint. Plus, remember how he thought he had a chance with Catherine Heathcliff? Riiiight.
Okay, now just one (of many) examples of a problem with Nelly's narrative: she admits that she tells the story "in true gossip's fashion" (8.87). How Nelly sees herself is important because it tells us about the kind of narrator she will be. As she tells Lockwood:
I certainly esteem myself a steady, reasonable kind of body [...] not exactly from living among the hills and seeing one set of faces, and one series of actions [...] but I have undergone sharp discipline which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more books than you would fancy, Mr. Lockwood. You could not open a book in this library that I have not looked into. (8.86)
Nelly wants Lockwood to know that she's not just some uneducated servant. But any time you have narrator who reads a lot, it's a red flag. By adding this detail, Brontë suggests that Nelly likes stories, or fiction, and possibly gets some of her ideas from books. We can tell she likes drama and symbolic detail, as when she tells the story of Heathcliff putting a piece of his hair in Catherine's locket.
While Nelly's story involves less speculation than Lockwood's, her advice to young Heathcliff reveals an active imagination, the result of reading perhaps one too many Romantic novels:
Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen, each of them able to buy up, with one week's income, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange together? [...] Were I in your place, I would frame high notions of my birth. (7.44)
The point is, Nelly adds her own creative interpretations to a scene she is too much a part of to describe objectively. The story that Nelly narrates takes place, for the most part, in the past, and the characters cannot refute her version of the facts. Her tendency to romanticize makes her a compelling but totally unreliable narrator.
Wuthering Heights is a variation on the Rags to Riches plot line. Heathcliff is (supposedly) an orphan who is brought into the home, where he experiences abuse and neglect. Though Mr. Earnshaw loves him (too much, it seems), his new brother Hindley is deeply envious and sets out to make Heathcliff miserable. Rather than running away and losing the one home he has, Heathcliff bonds with Catherine and together they find comfort and respite in the moors.
When Heathcliff loses Catherine to Edgar, he leaves Yorkshire. He possibly goes into the army or travels to America—no one knows for sure. What's important is that he returns with money, and this initial financial gain sets him up to accumulate more.
All the money in the world can't win Catherine—or keep her alive. So when he loses the one person he loves (and who loves him), Heathcliff can only think about punishing Hindley and Edgar Linton and taking possession of the two houses.
We finally see the depths of Heathcliff's cruelty as he sacrifices his own son's health and happiness in the service of his revenge. Then, suddenly, he loses interest in sadism and begins to show some vulnerability and decency.
In death, Heathcliff finally gets what he wants—a reunion with his beloved Catherine. Brontë suggests that they will haunt the moors together, enjoying the countryside that provided such a source of tranquility and strength for them as children.
Lockwood arrives at Wuthering Heights to become a tenant at Thrushcross Grange, owned by the surly but provocative Heathcliff. He is recording all of these events in his diary so, in a sense, we are reading his private notes. Lockwood reveals that he had a failed romance at the seaside. That's pretty much all we ever find out about him, because he is way more interested in the goings-on at the two houses.
He sleeps one night at the Heights, where a ghost named Catherine Linton haunts him. Then he establishes himself at Thrushcross Grange, where he eagerly listens to the story of the Lintons and the Earnshaws as told by his housekeeper, Nelly Dean.
Mr. Earnshaw brings home a little child whom he claims to have found in the streets of Liverpool—though it's possible that the boy, Heathcliff, is his own illegitimate son. His own children, Cathy and Hindley, do not like the boy. In fact, no one likes him. He is labeled a "gipsy," an "imp of Satan," and all sorts of other cruel names. Finally, Cathy warms up to him, and they console each other after Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley becomes a raging jerk.
While Heathcliff has always been treated like an outsider, at least he had Catherine. But when she meets the Lintons, she becomes socially ambitious. She wants to be a lady of the house—something that would never happen if she married Heathcliff. So even though she really loves Heathcliff, Catherine decides to marry Edgar. Heathcliff disappears for three years, and it's never entirely clear where he goes.
The climax lasts a long time because Catherine gets a "brain fever" from all of the stress of Heathcliff and Edgar arguing—and from the fact that she is not with the man she really loves. After a wrenching reunion with Heathcliff, Catherine gives birth to Catherine (Cathy) Linton, and then she dies. Heathcliff begs her ghost to torment him for the rest of his days.
With the love of his life dead, Heathcliff dedicates himself full-time to revenge, most particularly on Hindley, the brother who made his childhood a living hell, always reminding him of his status as swarthy interloper. Part of his revenge consists of getting his sickly son to marry Catherine Linton—that way he will get Thrushcross Grange too.
Having spent every last ounce of energy driving Hindley into the grave and gaining control of the house (and losing his wife and son along the way), Heathcliff is left with two housemates—his nephew Hareton Earnshaw, and his daughter-in-law Cathy Heathcliff. He admits to Nelly that all the vengeance has exhausted him and, after some seriously strange behavior, he dies in Catherine's bed.
The whole nasty property and inheritance tangle is sorted out when Heathcliff dies and the houses revert to their proper owners—Hareton Earnshaw and Cathy Heathcliff. Brontë offers some nice, neat closure with the impending marriage of these two youngsters. She also offers some unsettling conclusions by reuniting Heathcliff and Catherine Linton in death and suggesting that they will haunt the moors together. If this were a movie, we'd almost expect a sequel.
Lockwood arrives and Nelly Dean begins to tell the story of the Earnshaws and the Lintons. Flashback time: Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff into the family. Everyone treats him terribly, but then Heathcliff and Catherine fall in love. She chooses social status over romance, marrying Edgar Linton and moving into Thrushcross Grange.
Heathcliff is tormented by the loss of Catherine. He disappears for a while only to return and begin avenging himself on Hindley and, by extension, everyone else. Catherine dies in childbirth.
Now that Catherine is dead, revenge is a full-time job for Heathcliff. His brutality and scheming kills off just about everyone, including himself. Cathy and Hareton are the only ones who remain. Their love suggests a new era of hope.