There are three narrative levels in Wuthering Heights:
1. Primary: The dates 1801 and 1802 in Ch. 1 and Ch. 32 clearly indicate that the entire novel is a written record of all the incidents narrated to Lockwood by Nelly Dean. He is thus both the primary narrator and the primary narattee. The method of narration is the first person past written method. Lockwood's story is that last summer he had met a pretty girl and had encouraged her to fall in love with him but however he did not reciprocate and the girl left him disappointed. During his short stay at Thrushcross Grange he is attracted to the younger Catherine and this also does not come to anything:
"While enjoying a month of fine weather at the sea-coast, I was thrown into the company of a most fascinating creature: a real goddess in my eyes, as long as she took no notice of me. I 'never told my love' vocally; still, if looks have language, the merest idiot might have guessed I was over head and ears: she understood me at last, and looked a return - the sweetest of all imaginable looks. And what did I do? I confess it with shame - shrunk icily into myself, like a snail; at every glance retired colder and farther; till finally the poor innocent was led to doubt her own senses, and, overwhelmed with confusion at her supposed mistake, persuaded her mamma to decamp." Ch. 1.
2. Secondary: Nelly Dean is the secondary narrator who narrates all the incidents to Lockwood. The method of narration is the first person past/present spoken method. Most of the incidents she narrates have already taken place, but when she reports the exact words of a character especially during an intensely emotional scene (Ch. 11) Emily Bronte creates the illusion that the incident is happening just then.
3. Tertiary: Some of the incidents are first narratred by the different characters first to Nelly the secondary narrator who in turn narrates them to Lockwood the primary narrator: Heathcliff's oral accounts in Ch. 6 and Ch. 33; Isabella's letter in Ch. 13 which is read out aloud to Lockwood thus, combining the written and the oral method; Isabella's oral account in Ch. 17 ; younger Cathy Linton's oral account in Ch. 24; and Zillah's oral account in Ch. 30.
The main plot is undoubtedly the incestuous love of Heathcliff and the elder Catherine which is doomed to failure from the very beginning. Heathcliff is in fact the brother by adoption to the elder Catherine and although they are both sexually attracted to one another there is no possibility of their being united as husband and wife.
"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte has been written so that the reader goes through time with Catherine Ernshaw and Heathcliff, her foster brother. I thought hard about trying to break down the plots within the plots of the book. If the reader divides the book into sections based on past and present it is easier to identify the plots.
Plots in the story are as follows;
- Heathcliff's relationship with his foster brother Hindley. Hindley does not accept nor like Heathcliff and it is this relationship that causes Heathcliff's drive for revenge.
- Heathcliff and Catherine's stuggle to find a way to have love with one another despite the class distinction which leads to a tormented love for both of them.
- Heathcliff's effort to destroy Hindley and Linton, Catherine's husband, and his family. This plot sets the stage for Heathcliff to continue to seek revenge on the next generation.