Wuthering Heights is widely considered to be one of the most famous Gothic works of literature. Gothic literature can have many different elements, but most Gothic works feature a mysterious setting (especially a castle or grand estate), an atmosphere of suspense or spookiness, supernatural themes, high emotions, and brooding male characters.
In Wuthering Heights, the story takes place on the stormy moors of Yorkshire, particularly in two mysterious estates: Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Wuthering Heights, though it seems to be eerily beautiful, is not bright and hospitable; it seems dark, haunted, and uncomfortable.
The supernatural element is certainly present as well; throughout the entire story, ghosts and spirits are hinted at. Heathcliff particularly seeks out contact with the late love of his life, Catherine, going so far as to exhume her body from her grave to be closer to her. Brontë, keeping in mind that powerful, all-consuming emotions were another common gothic element, seems to be indicating that Heathcliff and Catherine are truly soul mates; even death cannot keep them apart. Heathcliff himself is also the classic gothic antihero; he is brooding, mysterious, and tortured by his own emotions, and he ultimately chooses to starve himself in order to join Catherine in death.
There are many Gothic elements to Wuthering Heights. These include the following:
Setting: the Gothic genre is known for settings that are wild, forbiddingly beautiful, and isolated. Wuthering Heights uses the moors as this kind of Gothic setting. Gothic buildings are ancient, mysterious, and foreboding. Wuthering Heights, the house, fits this description as well, a remote outpost that often serves as a kind of prison.
The supernatural: Gothic stories often have to do with supernatural events or creatureism, hence the book's use of the theme of "haunting" and the idea of Cathy's ghost haunting Heathcliff.
Extreme emotion: Heathcliff and Cathy's love is described as being beyond normal human relations and enduring even after death. Heathcliff's hatred toward Linton, his revenge against Hindley, and his treatment of Isabella and his own son all show his extreme emotions.
The Gothic hero: Heathcliff functions as a Gothic hero in that he is dark, mysterious (his origin and how he becomes rich is unknown), violent, and scheming. Heathcliff's passion for Cathy seems to be also a desire to transcend reality or to defy or defeat God himself.
Violence/Depravity: The Gothic is known for violence, and Wuthering Heights is full of violent confrontation, drinking to excess, and gambling, as well as acts of casual cruelty.
Morality: While Christian morality is referenced often, the book in effect establishes its own moral system which is outside common religiosity.
The gothic genre is characterized by showing the dark or shadowed side of life. A gothic landscape is anything but bright and sunny. It is far more likely to be dark, stormy, isolated, and foreboding. A classic gothic house would be the creepy haunted house with the loose banging shutter that everyone is afraid of. Gothic characters have a sinister quality, and gothic heroines often find themselves in life threatening situations. Further, the supernatural hovers over the gothic.
While Wuthering Heights is more than just a gothic novel, gothic characteristics or motifs are part of the story. The moors are depicted as in an isolated area of England, and as rocky and harsh. The house dates to 1500 and is made of harsh stone. We first encounter it on a winter day and then at night, where it is shadowy and gloomy. It is an unheimlich or uncomfortable place, as Lockwood quickly finds out on his early visits. He, for example, mistakes a basket of dead rabbits for a basket of kittens. Further, Heathcliff, who he first considers a "capital" fellow, turns out to be hostile and inhospitable. When Lockwood is forced to spend the night at the house due to a snowstorm, he has what might be a supernatural encounter with the desperate ghost of Catherine Earnshaw. All of these are classic gothic elements.
As the story unfolds, we are faced with family dysfunction, including alcoholism, neglect, and abuse. Heathcliff is not a Romantic hero but a dark, cruel figure bent on revenge. Catherine chooses death because she is caught between Heathcliff who she loves and her husband. The novel focuses on the grim underside of families and patriarchal power. We are led to believe that Catherine's ghost wanders the moors. These gothic elements set the tone for the novel.
The character of Heathcliff is the very epitome of Gothic. Dark, dangerous, and brooding, he's a man without a past, a man whose origins are an absolute mystery. In fact, he's more like a force of nature than a man, in keeping with the dark, windswept Yorkshire moors that provide such a dramatic backdrop to much of the story's action.
If Gothic is about anything it's the complex relationship between the natural and the supernatural, between this world and the next. In the figure of Heathcliff, that relationship in all its complexity finds its ultimate expression. He's in this world but not of it. Though possessing some of the obvious traits of the Romantic hero, his selfishness and cruelty also put him firmly in the category of a villain. This is a classic example of the moral ambiguity that is such a characteristic feature of the Gothic in literature.