Heathcliff and Edgar Linton as Character Foils: Compare and contrast the character traits of Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Though both men love Catherine Earnshaw, they are opposites in all other ways. Heathcliff comes from a lower class and is moody, violent, and mysterious. Edgar was born into the upper class and is fair-skinned, agreeable, and stable.
- For discussion: Follow Heathcliff’s and Edgar’s predominant character traits throughout the novel, especially in relation to the context of the plot. How does each character express his love for Catherine? How does each character value wealth, class, and status?
- For discussion: By the end of the novel, both Heathcliff and Edgar are buried on either side of Catherine’s coffin. What does their shared fate suggest about love and class?
Contrasting Genders as Theme: Wuthering Heights challenges the binary of masculine and feminine through the characters of Catherine Earnshaw and Linton Heathcliff. Catherine is tomboyish in nature, preferring to run around on the moors with Heathcliff— though she can perform her femininity with ease in front of the Lintons. Heathcliff’s son, Linton, is portrayed as effeminate, intellectual, and emotional.
- For discussion: Follow Catherine’s and Linton’s predominant character traits throughout the novel. How does each character embody the social constructs of femininity and masculinity? How do other characters respond to them when they behave in socially unacceptable ways? Why do you think Catherine is able to switch between being masculine and feminine, whereas Linton seems incapable of doing the same?
- For discussion: Though the novel’s reversal of gender roles may seem progressive, femininity is still depicted as clearly inferior to masculinity. Why do you think Brontë, who likely faced sexism on a regular basis, would portray femininity in this way? What would the impact be if, for example, Linton’s effeminate qualities were represented as strengths?
Nature versus Civilization as a Theme: In keeping with Romantic and gothic traditions, Wuthering Heights presents the natural world as immensely powerful and awe-inspiring, whereas modern civilization is disconnected, inauthentic, and ultimately inferior.
- For discussion: Follow the major character traits of Heathcliff, Catherine, Edgar, Isabella, Hareton, Linton, and Cathy throughout the novel. Which characters do you think are aligned with nature? Which characters do you think are aligned with modern civilization? Support your answers with evidence from the text.
- For discussion: Why are many major plot events preceded by massive storms? What does the frequent intertwining of natural event and plot event suggest? How would the novel be different if nature’s role were lessened?
Heathcliff as a Diabolical Figure: Heathcliff is mysterious, passionate, and brooding—all qualities of the Byronic hero archetype, which came to prominence in the Romantic era. However, the novel repeatedly characterizes him as “possessed of something diabolical,” as Nelly tells Mr. Lockwood. Aside from Heathcliff’s violence and obsession with revenge, he is also mysterious in ways that other Byronic heroes tend not to be: He seems to have no origin, he only has the one name that Mr. Earnshaw gave him, he can apparently converse with the dead, and he seems to choose his own death.
- For discussion: Follow Heathcliff’s predominant character traits throughout the course of the novel. What motivates his rage? How does he treat other characters? Which behaviors or traits seem evil or diabolical to you? Why?
- For discussion: Is Heathcliff’s obsession with revenge evil? Why or why not? What evidence can you find to support your opinions?
The Centrality of Money and Social Class as a Theme: Money and social class are very important in Wuthering Heights . In Brontë’s time, people were born into their classes, so social mobility was uncommon. In the novel, Heathcliff complicates the social hierarchy. He is adopted and treated as a son...
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