Chapters 1–2 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on December 9, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1405
When the novel opens, it is the year 1801. Mr. Lockwood, the narrator, explains that he has recently begun renting Thrushcross Grange, a grand house in northern England. Lockwood recounts his day, beginning with his visit to his new landlord, Mr. Heathcliff, who lives nearby at Wuthering Heights. Lockwood describes himself as a misanthrope, claiming to have sought out a home in the remote countryside in order to enjoy some solitude. When Lockwood arrives at Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff gruffly greets him and reluctantly invites him inside. Heathcliff is taciturn and rude, yet Lockwood believes that they have similar personalities. Inside the house, Lockwood meets an elderly servant named Joseph, who is equally unwelcoming. Lockwood decides that Wuthering Heights is a very appropriate name for Heathcliff’s house, given the powerful and stormy winds that continually blow through the area.
Examining the interior of the house, Lockwood concludes that it looks like the sort of place where a “homely, northern farmer” might live. Lockwood is especially fascinated by the “singular contrast” between the rustic house and Heathcliff, who appears to be a member of the gentry. Lockwood is further intrigued by the contrasts he sees in Heathcliff’s appearance: he looks like a “dark-skinned gipsy” but dresses and speaks like a gentleman, and though he is handsome, he also looks quite morose. Assuming that Heathcliff is just like him, Lockwood hypothesizes that Heathcliff’s hostile attitude stems from a distaste for emotional displays of any sort. Lockwood explains that he understands this well, as only the previous summer he accidentally led a young woman to believe he was interested in her before reacting to her obvious affection with cold indifference. From this, people judged Lockwood to be “deliberately heartless,” a reputation he feels is unfair.
Lockwood attempts to pat one of Heathcliff’s dogs, and Heathcliff warns him that the dog is not a pet. When Heathcliff leaves the room, Lockwood makes faces and winks at the dogs, causing them to attack him. A young woman rushes out of the kitchen and rescues the indignant Lockwood while an unsympathetic Heathcliff blames him for upsetting the dogs in the first place. Heathcliff eventually relents, however, and admits that he is unused to having guests. Lockwood and Heathcliff sit down and chat pleasantly about Thrushcross Grange for a while, though Lockwood suspects that Heathcliff is merely trying to mend any offense he might have given to his new tenant. Lockwood finds Heathcliff quite intelligent and resolves to visit again the next day, even though Heathcliff obviously has no wish to see him again.
The next day, Lockwood is initially inclined to stay indoors. However, one of the maids begins cleaning out the fireplace, and eager to escape the dust, Lockwood begins walking the four miles to Wuthering Heights. Just as he arrives, it begins to snow. Lockwood knocks on the door but receives no answer. Mentally cursing Heathcliff, he begins to bang on the door. Joseph appears from the barn and tells him that only the “missis” is home and that she will not let anyone in. Eventually, a young man leads Lockwood inside, where a beautiful young woman with a disagreeable expression sits by the fire. Lockwood assumes that this must be Heathcliff’s wife. Despite Lockwood’s attempts at polite conversation, the woman is very rude to him and demands to know whether he has been invited. Heathcliff appears and tells Lockwood that it was foolish to set out in a snowstorm. When Lockwood requests that someone from Wuthering Heights guide him back to Thrushcross Grange, Heathcliff replies that they have no one to spare. Heathcliff is very hostile toward the young woman, and when Lockwood awkwardly remarks upon Heathcliff’s “amiable lady,” Heathcliff responds that his wife is dead. The young woman turns out to be Heathcliff’s daughter-in-law. Realizing his mistake, Lockwood believes that the young man who let him in must be Heathcliff’s son. He is once more corrected as the young man defiantly declares that his name is Hareton Earnshaw. Heathcliff explains that his son, like his wife, is dead.
After they eat, Lockwood declares once more that he needs a guide to help him find his way home. He is ignored and watches as Joseph and the young woman cruelly taunt one another. Lockwood asks Heathcliff to let him stay the night, but Heathcliff insists that the house is not equipped for guests. Frustrated, Lockwood grabs a lantern and sets off on his own. However, Joseph, believing Lockwood is trying to steal the lantern, sets the dogs on him. Trapped on the ground by the dogs, Lockwood becomes so agitated and hysterical that his nose starts to bleed. Zillah, the housekeeper, takes pity on him and leads him back inside.
In these chapters, we are introduced to the occupants of Wuthering Heights through the story’s narrator, Mr. Lockwood. From his very first interaction with Heathcliff, it is clear that Lockwood is somewhat eccentric. Though he fancies himself a loner and misanthrope, he continually seeks out the company of those at Wuthering Heights, even when he is clearly unwelcome. Lockwood freely admits that he has an aversion to emotional bonds, and his behavior suggests that this may stem from a tendency to be self-centered. He appears to care little for the wishes of those around him and repeatedly forces the residents of Wuthering Heights to act as his hosts: “He evidently wished no repetition of my intrusion. I shall go, notwithstanding.”
While Lockwood imagines that he and Heathcliff are quite similar, this belief is soon revealed to be laughably inaccurate. Lockwood’s clumsy attempts to observe the niceties of polite society contrasts starkly with Heathcliff’s gruff and rude demeanor. Though Lockwood expects to be treated like a respected guest (despite his lack of invitation), Heathcliff is exceptionally impolite to him, choosing to laugh at Lockwood’s hysterics rather than help him. Lockwood makes several awkward social blunders, including assuming that the unkempt Wuthering Heights would have a full domestic staff, mistaking a pile of dead rabbits for a group of cats, and incorrectly guessing the identity of both Hareton and the young woman. These bungled attempts at polite socialization further demonstrate that Lockwood is far from the astute observer he believes himself to be, and his inability to accurately read people and situations renders him a potentially unreliable narrator. The majority of Wuthering Heights will be narrated by people who only hear the main events of the story secondhand, and Lockwood’s obvious character flaws serve as a reminder that none of these accounts are totally free from prejudice or error.
Through Lockwood’s awkward visits to Wuthering Heights, we are introduced to several characters that will play an important role in the story. Although the mysterious Heathcliff behaves brusquely, Lockwood observes that he appears, at least in some ways, to be a gentleman. While Heathcliff initially speaks properly, Lockwood notices that his speech eventually becomes more informal and accented, suggesting that Heathcliff may have adopted his more refined ways later in life. Heathcliff is undeniably rude to Lockwood, and his interactions with the other inhabitants of Wuthering Heights suggest that this behavior is normal for him. Unlike the intrusive and gossipy Lockwood, Heathcliff is a true misanthrope—though we do not yet know why.
Hareton Earnshaw and the young woman also act openly hostile, even to a virtual stranger like Lockwood. Their social standing, like Heathcliff’s, is ambiguous. Lockwood suspects that Hareton might be a servant, because he is “rude” in appearance and takes orders from Heathcliff. But Hareton’s “haughty” demeanor and obvious pride in his name (“My name is Hareton Earnshaw...and I'd counsel you to respect it!”) suggest something different. Lockwood contrasts the exquisite beauty of the young woman with her abrasive personality, though he also detects “a kind of desperation” in her eyes. From Joseph’s and Heathcliff’s harsh remarks to the young woman, we can easily surmise that she is despised at the house. However, despite the clearly mutual dislike between her and the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights, it appears that she is not allowed to leave the property: “I cannot escort you. They wouldn't let me go to the end of the garden wall.” As the novel progresses, Lockwood will endeavor to learn more about the curious inhabitants of Wuthering Heights and their mysterious animosity toward one another.