What role does the setting play in developing the characters and the narrative in Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights can be seen as a cross between a Gothic novel and a more typical Romantic novel, Gothic novels being a branch of the Romantic movement.

Characteristic of a Romantic novel, there is a deep connection with nature that helps to underscore characters' self-serving passions and their desires to escape civilization. Both the country home Wuthering Heights and the estate Thrushcross Grange are situated at a distance from each other on the English moors. The wild, untamed moors, frequently hit with storms, are the part of the setting that represents a deep connection with nature. Both Catherine and Healthcliff love to explore the moors, which shows how much they are connected with nature. However, both Catherine and Heathcliff are also characterized as very wild children; hence, the expansive wildness of the moors also helps to characterize Catherine and Heathcliff as wild and untamed as well.

Settings typical of a Gothic novel include anything that represents death and decay, such as darkness, anything that represents the past, and anything that suggests haunting. Both of the homes in Wuthering Heights, the country home called Wuthering Heights and the castle Thrushcross Grange, serve to represent Gothic elements of the setting. The country home Wuthering Heights has a particularly interesting name in that the Scottish word wuthering is used to refer to wind and to mean "to blow fiercely" (Random House Dictionary). Blowing fiercely depicts both the darkness and wildness characteristic of a setting in a Gothic novel and the darkness and wildness of the novel's characters. Also, though the house is a grand one, it is also described as a bit weatherbeaten. Even the master bedroom upstairs is described as containing a dusty rug and other worn items. It's also a setting in which Heathcliff was locked up as a child. Both the weathered look of the house and its uses are characteristic of the decaying setting of Gothic literature and serve to depict the dark and decaying natures of the characters, like Heathcliff.

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