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Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

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The interplay of love and revenge as central themes driving the plot in Wuthering Heights

Summary:

In Wuthering Heights, the central themes of love and revenge drive the plot. Heathcliff's passionate love for Catherine turns into a vengeful obsession after her marriage to Edgar, leading to a cycle of retribution and suffering that affects multiple generations. This interplay of intense emotions shapes the characters' actions and the story's tragic trajectory.

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Discuss how love and revenge are the two main themes in Wuthering Heights.

There is certainly lots of truth in this statement. Love and revenge are two of the key themes in this novel that result in its plot and the way in which Heathcliff sets out to seemingly take over and destroy the Linton family. What drives him is his love for Catherine, and this, even after her death, is something that impels him forward on his path to perdition as he seeks to revenge himself on those who he feels oppose him and opposed his union with her. This is why he gains revenge on Hindley for the way in which he treated him when he was master of Wuthering Heights, and also the way in which he gains revenge on Edgar through the way in which he marries his sister and then forces his beloved daughter into a marriage with his son and tries to keep her from being with him when she dies.

However, let us also remember that Catherine is a character who is consumed with revenge just as much as Heathcliff, in some ways. She in effect kills herself because she is so annoyed by the way in which both Heathcliff and Edgar stay away from her at her time of need. Revenge is shown not to be the exclusive property of Heathcliff.

In addition, the overarching theme, and in many ways the cause of the theme of revenge, is the love that Heathcliff and Catherine have for each other. Let us remember Catherine's famous description of her love for Heathcliff in Chapter Nine:

My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I AM Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.

It is this love that is shown to endure throughout their lives, and even beyond, as the rumours of ghosts and spirits that walk the moors shows.

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How do love and revenge drive the plot of Wuthering Heights?

Love (of various degrees and kinds) and revenge join together to drive the plot of Wuthering Heights. Let's see how this works.

The book begins with love. Catherine Earnshaw falls in love with Heathcliff, an orphan boy her father brings to Wuthering Heights to live with the family. Mr. Earnshaw favors Heathcliff much more than his own son, Hindley, and this makes Hindley vigorously jealous.

When Mr. Earnshaw dies, the first plot of vengeance begins as Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights and turns Heathcliff into a mere servant, abusing him badly. Catherine and Heathcliff, however, continue their romance until Catherine is forced to stay with the Linton family at Thrushcross Grange for several weeks after an injury. During this period, she develops a relationship with Edgar Linton, and the two eventually become engaged. It is doubtful that Catherine truly loves Edgar, for she is seeking mostly social advancement through their relationship.

Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights for a time, and when he returns, he discovers a way to take revenge on Hindley. He lends Hindley money, drawing him further and further into debt and despair until Hindley dies and Heathcliff inherits Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff continues his vengeance (now on Catherine and Edgar) by marrying Isabella Linton and treating her so cruelly that she runs away to London.

The years pass. Catherine has died in childbirth, but her daughter, also named Catherine, takes over the cycle of love and revenge. Heathcliff's son, Linton, is now living with his father, and Heathcliff (who is as cruel as can be to his son) forces him to pretend to be in love with Catherine. Heathcliff forces the young couple to marry, thus securing his title to Thrushcross Grange. Love has nothing to do with their relationship; it is all about revenge.

After Linton and Heathcliff die, the young Catherine can finally find real love. Surprisingly, she finds it in her cousin Hareton, the son of Hindley. Revenge has finally ended, and love takes over as the couple plans their wedding at the end of the novel.

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How is revenge connected to love in Wuthering Heights?

Though commonly characterized as a romance, Wuthering Heights is largely about revenge, though the desire for vengeance always comes from hurt feelings related to love. When Mr. Earnshaw openly prefers Heathcliff over his biological son and heir Hindley, Hindley revenges himself on Heathcliff by forcing him to become a servant. After bearing abuse from Hindley and losing his beloved Catherine to Edgar Linton, Heathcliff seeks revenge on both the Earnshaws and the Lintons, driven by not only his own pain but also his desire to be with Catherine.

This does lead one to question the novel's conception of love. It is not genteel and pretty, at least not in the case of Catherine and Heathcliff. Their passion for one another drives them to hurt those around them and one another. At Catherine's death, Heathcliff does not wish for her to find peace in heaven, but to "wake in torment" and wander the earth so long as he is still alive. Theirs is a mutual sadomasochistic passion that does not resemble a healthy romantic relationship. Indeed, it might be erroneous to consider their bond as such. The two often claim they are the same entity, suggesting Catherine and Heathcliff are not so much lovers wanting to be married as they are a single organism yearning to be whole.

It must be noted that Catherine and Heathcliff's bond is not the only model of love in this book, however. Cathy Linton and Hareton Earnshaw's romance takes up the second portion of the book, and their relationship, while initially tumultuous, ends up thwarting Heathcliff's vengeance and uniting the two houses after generations of conflict. Unlike Catherine and Heathcliff, Cathy and Hareton learn to compromise within their relationship (Cathy stops being a snob and Hareton puts aside his hurt pride), finding refuge from Heathcliff's abuse in one another. While Catherine and Heathcliff's passionate relationship is iconic, it is Cathy and Hareton who are granted a happy ending. They have a future. Catherine and Heathcliff do not.

The juxtaposition of these two couples suggests that love is not simple, neither wholly good or evil, depending upon the nature of those experiencing it. Love can destroy, as it does Heathcliff and Catherine, or it can transform and restore, as it does with Cathy and Hareton.

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How is revenge connected to love in Wuthering Heights?

Revenge is directly tied to love in this novel. Heathcliff seeks revenge on the two families he holds responsible for keeping Cathy apart from him, the Earnshaws and the Lintons.

The main love story depicted in the novel is between Cathy and Heathcliff. The two grow up together and bond very tightly in a highly dysfunctional household marred by physical and emotional abuse, neglect, anger, death, and alcoholism. They only have each other to depend on for love, kindness, and support. They often run away together to the nearby moors to escape a toxic environment. As they grow up, they develop a deep, passionate romantic love for one another. They are all in all to each other.

Catherine tries to explain this love to Nelly and to contrast it to the love she feels for Edgar. She describes her love for Heathcliff as deep and unchanging and says "I am Heathcliff." It is as if their souls are one because they know each other so well and care so deeply and fiercely about protecting one other. He is everything to her. She is marrying Edgar, a high-status gentleman, in part so that he can help Heathcliff. Cathy is also everything to Heathcliff. They might not always like each other, but they love and understand each other to the core and can't live without thinking of the other.

When Catherine dies, Heathcliff blames her, saying "you did this, Cathy," but he also blames Linton, her husband, for separating him from Cathy by barring him from the house. Heathcliff thinks this helped kill Cathy. He blames Hareton Earnshaw, as well, for degrading him into a farm laborer unfit to marry Cathy. He methodically goes about wreaking revenge, wanting to destroy both families because he believes they killed Cathy and, in so doing, destroys his own happiness and reason for living.

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How is revenge connected to love in Wuthering Heights?

As a Byronic hero, Heathcliff's nature is intrinsically connected to his tormented, inhumanly passionate love for Catherine Earnshaw. Catherine, too, loves him passionately, "He's more myself than I am....I am Heathcliff. Heathcliff is her one unselfishness; yet, she rejects him to follow convention and marry her cousin.

When Heathcliff, whose arrogant nature that lacks any heroic virtue, returns to wreak revenge upon both Hindley and Catherine--the only fit justice for rejection--Catherine tells her sister-in-law, "He's a fierce pitiless wolfish man...and he'd crush you like a sparrow's egg..." Catherine warns Isabelle. As she lies dying, Catherine tells him that he has driven her mad. Then, after Catherine dies, Heathcliff prays her soul will know no rest because he "cannot live without my life, I cannot live without my life."

Sharing a fierce, tormented, primal love, Catherine and Heathcliff are lost to each other, each possesses the spirit of the other. But, when they are torn apart, Heathcliff destroys them both in his Byronic revenge. Catherine loses her passion and dies; Heathcliff no longer has "his life,,,,[his] soul" and, too, dies, but looks as though carried off by the devil.

As Shakespeare cautioned, violent delights often have violent ends.

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