What are the main conflicts in Wuthering Heights and how do they relate to the novel's themes?

There are internal conflicts in Wuthering Weights, including Catherine's being torn between Linton and Heathcliff, and external ones, such as Heathcliff's desire for revenge.

Expert Answers

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

One major conflict in the novel is the class one, with Heathcliff experiencing resentment against the people born into wealth. Heathcliff directly comes into conflict with Hindley and as a result embarks on a path of revenge against him and his descendants. Heathcliff also has a grudge against the Lintons for the way they mistreated him. Heathcliff's vengeful nature leads him to come into conflict with almost everyone, inducing Linton, Isabella, Hindley, and Hareton.

Catherine is internally conflicted between her attraction for Heathcliff and her desire for a civilized life and advantageous marriage to Edgar. Edgar himself is relatively weak and passive by nature but becomes a target of Heathcliff's bitterness due to his marriage.

Hindley mistreats both Heathcliff and his own son Hareton, and Hareton thus is in conflict with Hindley. Heathcliff also seduces Isabella as part of his revenge plot but is an abusive husband, and Isabella and Heathcliff end up antagonists.

Nelly, who narrates much of the story, is generally good-natured and feels pity for most of the people caught up in the drama of the two families. Nelly is ambivalent concerning Catherine and sometimes in conflict with her and loves Cathy and thus is drawn into conflict with Heathcliff.

Cathy is drawn into conflict with Heathcliff as part of Heathcliff's desire for revenge. She initially is drawn into conflict with Hareton but eventually falls in love with him.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on May 11, 2020
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main conflict in the novel is between the desires of the heart and the economic and social constraints on that desire posed by family and society.

Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff love each other deeply and would love to get married, but Heathcliff, degraded to a farmhand by his older stepbrother Hindley, makes that an unrealistic possibility. Catherine does the practical thing and marries the rich man in the neighborhood, Edgar Linton. Heathcliff runs off in despair and comes back after a mysterious absence of three years, having fashioned himself into a gentleman. Because of her marriage, Catherine and Heathcliff cannot be together, as Linton increasingly won't even endure Heathcliff's presence. The separation eventually kills Catherine and leaves Heathcliff in a state of grief and rage.

Several themes emerge out of this central conflict of love versus society. The first is revenge: Heathcliff is determined to revenge himself on the Earnshaw and Linton families, both of whom he blames for destroying the possibilities of love between he and Catherine. He does this by using the weapons of his society—most notably money and patriarchy—against his enemies. For example, he elopes with Linton's sister to hurt Linton and uses his patriarchal power as a husband to mistreat his wife. He uses gambling (money) to get ahold of Wuthering Heights.

Another theme is repetition: Heathcliff wants to replicate the same hurt he experienced in losing Catherine on Hareton, Hindley's son, and he does his best to degrade him. He then encourages him to love the young Cathy, meaning to cruelly separate the two.

This leads to yet another theme: healing. Heathcliff loses his will to revenge at the end and allows the healing relationship between Hindley and Cathy to develop.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the main conflicts is that between nature and civilization. Heathcliff is very much a force of nature, the archetypal brooding Romantic. His nature is such that it cannot truly be tamed by so-called respectable society. He is at one with the dark, forbidding landscape, the moors, the rocks, and the crags. His often tumultuous relationship with Catherine reflects the wild, stormy weather that characterizes life in this part of the world.

This feeds into the wider theme of nature as a site of freedom for the Romantic individual, a place of repose from the petty restrictions of so-called civilized society. Yet with freedom comes danger, and Heathcliff and Catherine's relationship, like the Penistone Crags themselves, is certainly dangerous. So long as the two love-birds remain alienated from society, they will continue to represent a danger to themselves and those around them.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

You also have the internal conflicts that the characters experience. The first Catherine is torn between her love for Heathcliff and what Edgar Linton can offer her. Later, Catherine refuses to answer Edgar when he tells her to choose between the two men. Her inability to choose eventually leads to her death.

Heathcliff's inner conflict is the jealousy he feels when Catherine begins her friendhsip with Edgar. Then when he overhears Catherine say she would be "degraded" if she married Heathcliff, he leaves Wuthering Heights, hurt and ashamed. His love for Catherine becomes an obsession that only grows as he grows older. He's never able to control what he feels for Catherine. When he does return, he vows vengeance on everyone. Heathcliff spends the rest of his life struggling with the hate he feels for everyone at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. His obsessive love for Catherine and his hateful revenge control him, and he's never able to rise above them.

These inner conflicts reflect the themes of love and passion, revenge, and cruelty.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Class conflict is one of the major themes. Catherine is very wealthy and Heathcliff, an orphan, has nothing. Bronte asks the reader to consider whether property ownership and money should have any bearing on determining a person's worth.

Another conflict is cruelty, which can manifest it self both physically and emotionally. Bronte argues that violence begets violence. This cycle of cruelty is so prevalent that it can be considered a major theme. For example, Heathcliff's rough treatment of Hareton is really a result of Hindley brutality to him. Emotionally, the sadist-maschostic relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is one infused with cruelty.

For more on the themes of "Wuthering Heights" please visit the link below.

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