Discuss the use of irony in Wuthering Heights.  

In Wuthering Heights, there are examples of dramatic irony, verbal irony, and situational irony. An example of dramatic irony is when Catherine says that she could never marry Heathcliff because he is beneath her in status, but the reader knows that Heathcliff only heard a fraction of what Catherine has said and does not understand her meaning.

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An example of dramatic irony in Wuthering Heights is when Heathcliff overhears Catherine saying to Nelly that she, Catherine, could never marry Heathcliff because Heathcliff is beneath her. She says, in fact, that it would "degrade" her to marry Heathcliff. Heathcliff overhears this conversation and is so upset that he decides to run away. However, Heathcliff runs away before he has a chance to hear Catherine also say that Heathcliff is her soulmate. Referring to their souls, she says that "his and mine are the same." This is dramatic irony because we know the full extent of what Catherine has said, but Heathcliff does not. If Heathcliff had heard Catherine call them soulmates, he may have stayed.

An example of verbal irony is when Heathcliff takes possession of Hareton at Hareton's father's funeral and tells Hareton, "Now, my bonnie lad, you are mine!" Hareton, described here as an "unsuspecting thing," is "pleased" at hearing these words from Heathcliff and seems to interpret them to mean that Heathcliff will look after him. Little does he know, however, that Heathcliff intends to ruin Hareton as a way of getting revenge on Hareton's father.

When Heathcliff returns, after a mysterious absence of three years, he returns as a wealthy and powerful man, and he immediately sets upon his plan for revenge. A big part of this plan, which in time he achieves, is to become master of Wuthering Heights. This is an example of situational irony because nobody would have expected the scruffy, homeless, "stupid little thing" that arrived at Wuthering Heights as a child to eventually become the master.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 23, 2021
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