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Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

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Discuss the theme of revenge in Wuthering Heights.

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The theme of revenge is highly significant in Wuthering Heights. Virtually all of the action taking place in the story comes from a desire for vengeance by one character or another. The predominance of revenge in Wuthering Heights reinforces the brutal, almost primitive atmosphere that pervades every aspect of life in the Yorkshire Moors.

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Revenge is everywhere in Wuthering Heights. Hindley gets his revenge on Heathcliff for taking his place at Wuthering Heights by denying him a chance to get an education. Heathcliff pays Hindley back in his own way by denying an education to his own son Hareton.

But Heathcliff's not done yet. In due course, he will seek revenge on Edgar for marrying his beloved Catherine. Of all the characters in the story, Heathcliff seems to be the most vengeful of all.

To a large extent, this is because there's something different about him. Set apart from society due to the mysterious circumstances of his birth, he doesn't feel bound to its moral norms and values. Then again, environment, as well as personal choice, plays its part. There's something decidedly uncivilized about this part of the world, with its oppressive, brooding atmosphere that is particularly conducive to the development of vengeful attitudes.

If Heathcliff stands apart from civilized society, then the same could be said of Wuthering Heights and its environs. This is a world largely cut off from the norms and values of decent society, in which revenge has no place and where relations between individuals are governed and regulated by law.

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How is the theme of revenge explored in Charlotte Bronte's Wuthering Heights?

Charlotte Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights explores the theme of revenge in a number of ways, including the following:

  • Hindley’s mistreatment of Heathcliff is partly a kind of revenge because Heathcliff was loved by Hindley’s father when Hindley and Heathcliff were both boys.
  • Hindley’s later, even more serious mistreatment of Heathcliff is again partly a kind of revenge rooted in his early jealousy of Heathcliff.
  • Later, after Heathcliff becomes rich, he takes revenge on Hindley by provoking the latter to lose his possessions through gambling.
  • Heathcliff takes a kind of revenge on Catherine (the woman he once loved) and Edgar (the man she married instead of marrying Heathcliff) by himself marrying Edgar’s sister because he (Heathcliff) desires her money.
  • In one of the most striking moments in the novel, Heathcliff expresses his desire to seek revenge even against Catherine herself:

“And as to you, Catherine, I have a mind to speak a few words now, while we are at it.  I want you to be aware that I know you have treated me infernally—infernally!  Do you hear?  And if you flatter yourself that I don’t perceive it, you are a fool; and if you think I can be consoled by sweet words, you are an idiot: and if you fancy I’ll suffer unrevenged, I’ll convince you of the contrary, in a very little while!”

To this, Catherine responds by saying,

“Quarrel with Edgar, if you please, Heathcliff, and deceive his sister: you’ll hit on exactly the most efficient method of revenging yourself on me.”

  • Later, however, after Catherine tragically dies, Heathcliff hopes that her ghost will take revenge on him by haunting him.
  • As a form of vengeance on the dead Hindley, Heathcliff plans to mistreat Hindley’s son as Heathcliff was once mistreated by Hindley.
  • Much of Heathcliff’s behavior in the closing sections of the novel is hateful and vengeful. The theme of revenge is in fact one of the most important motifs in this novel.


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