Study Guide

Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights Themes

Themes

When Mr. Lockwood became a tenant at Thrushcross Grange he naturally became interested in the history of the place and its owner. During one of his visits to the owner, he gets caught in the snow and is forced to stay overnight. While staying in an abandoned room at Wuthering Heights, he learns part of the story about Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. This web of the relationship of love and revenge between Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar Linton is the major theme of novel.

Bronte presents her readers with a multi-sided portrait of love and revenge. Each of the characters loves at least one of the others. Each in turn, either purposely or unwittingly exacts revenge from the others. This is a complex tale in which none of the characters really understands the psychological make-up of the others or himself or herself.

Bronte creates and explores two halves of one soul. The souls of Heathcliff and Cathy are always trying to be united. Through the events in the novel, Bronte shows her readers that male and female characteristics can perhaps never be fully united or integrated. Neither gender is dominant but neither gender is truly happy either.

This is also a story about passion and naturalness. Heathcliff and Cathy are two passionate people. As children they are soul mates. They are wild, almost feral children who roam the moors, and they are one with nature. They are uncorrupted by "man made laws" of behavior.

When they...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Wuthering Heights Themes

Love and Passion
Passion, particularly unnatural passion, is a predominant theme of Wuthering Heights. The first Catherine's devotion to Heathcliff is immediate and absolute, though she will not marry him, because to do so would degrade her. "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." Although there has been at least one Freudian interpretation of the text, the nature of the passion between Catherine and Heathcliff does not appear to be based on sex. David Daiches writes, "Ultimate passion is for her rather a kind of recognition of one's self—one's true and absolute self—in the object of passion." Catherine's passion is contrasted to the coolness of Linton, whose "cold blood cannot be worked into a fever." When he retreats into his library, she explodes, "What in the name of all that feels, has he to do with books, when I am dying?"

Revenge
Heathcliff's devotion to Catherine, on the other hand, is ferocious, and when frustrated, he conceives a plan of revenge of enormous proportions Catherine's brother Hindley shares her passionate nature, though he devotes most of his energies to degrading Heathcliff. In some respects the passion that Catherine and Heathcliff share is so pure that it approaches a kind of spirituality. "I cannot express it," says Catherine, "but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is, or should be an existence of yours beyond you." In the characters of Heathcliff and Hindley, who both feel slighted in love, Bronte draws a parallel between the need for love and the strength of revenge.

Violence and Cruelty
Closely tied to the theme of revenge, but sometimes independent of it, are themes of cruelty and sadism, which are a recurring motif throughout the novel. Cruelty can be manifested emotionally, as in Mr. Earnshaw's disdain for his natural-born son, or in the first Catherine's apparent rejection of Heathcliff in favor of Edgar. The characters are given to physical cruelty as well. "Terror made me cruel," says Lockwood at the outset of the story, and proceeds to rub the wrists of the ghost Catherine against a broken windowpane in an effort...

(The entire section is 929 words.)