Discuss the most important themes, motifs and symbols of Wuthering Heights.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The symbols and motifs are mainly Gothic and Freudian (Penistone Crag):

  • haunted houses
  • ruined buildings
  • shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing
  • extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather,
  • omens and ancestral curses,
  • magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural,
  • a passion-driven, wilful villain-hero or villain,
  • a curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued–frequently,
  • a hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel,
  • horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings.
  • animals: Heathcliff foams "like a mad dog." References to weather are everywhere.
  • violent storms
  • raw violence: the bulldog attacking Catherine
  • the supernatural: Heathcliff as diabolical (literally, "like the devil")
  • food and fire: symbols of manners and passion.

Enotes does a smashing job of the themes:

  • Love and Passion: Love as Religion; Love as Addiction: 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Class Conflict: To the characters of Wuthering Heights, property ownership and social standing are inextricable. The Earnshaws and the Lintons both own estates, whereas Heathcliff is a foundling and has nothing.
  • Nature: "Wuthering" is a Yorkshire term for roaring of the wind, and themes of nature, both human and nonhuman, are closely associated with violence throughout the story.
  • Supernatural: There are many references in the novel to the supernatural, and even when the references seem fairly literal, the characters do not seem to think them odd. W
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial