Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights book cover
Start Your Free Trial

At a Glance

Wuthering Heights key themes:

  • In Wuthering Heights, Catherine’s passion for Heathcliff contrasts with Edgar’s cold-bloodedness.

  • Heathcliff’s devotion to Catherine drives his thirst for revenge against Edgar.

  • Cruelty and sadism are shown through Heathcliff’s maltreatment of Hareton and Isabella as well as Hindley’s torment of Heathcliff.

  • Class conflict separates the penniless Heathcliff from the Earnshaws and the Lintons. Heathcliff knows that Catherine will not marry him because of his low social standing.

  • Nature mirrors the passions of the characters.

Download Wuthering Heights Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

When Mr. Lockwood became a tenant at Thrushcross Grange he naturally became interested in the history of the place and its owner. During one of his visits to the owner, he gets caught in the snow and is forced to stay overnight. While staying in an abandoned room at Wuthering Heights, he learns part of the story about Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. This web of the relationship of love and revenge between Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar Linton is the major theme of novel.

Bronte presents her readers with a multi-sided portrait of love and revenge. Each of the characters loves at least one of the others. Each in turn, either purposely or unwittingly exacts revenge from the others. This is a complex tale in which none of the characters really understands the psychological make-up of the others or himself or herself.

Bronte creates and explores two halves of one soul. The souls of Heathcliff and Cathy are always trying to be united. Through the events in the novel, Bronte shows her readers that male and female characteristics can perhaps never be fully united or integrated. Neither gender is dominant but neither gender is truly happy either.

This is also a story about passion and naturalness. Heathcliff and Cathy are two passionate people. As children they are soul mates. They are wild, almost feral children who roam the moors, and they are one with nature. They are uncorrupted by "man made laws" of behavior.

When they grow up and Cathy becomes tainted by her stay at the Lintons', their relationship begins to change. She realizes that she cannot marry Heathcliff and rejects him and the way of life that he stands for. She chooses Edgar and the life of conventionality that he represents. She chooses to become a "lady." Edgar is pale in comparison to Heathcliff but he seems to have been a relatively good husband for Cathy, and they eventually have a child.

Bronte uses Heathcliff as a symbol of the darker forces of nonconformity. He is above or beyond the conventions of a classed society. Edgar represents the law-abiding, pedestrian, accepter of civilized society. Cathy is the mediator between the two. She wants the natural, free life that Heathcliff offers, but she also longs for the status and conventional "good life" which Edgar offers. Heathcliff and Cathy represent the traditional male and female qualities which yearn to be unified; neither Heathcliff nor Cathy is a whole person without the counterpart.

Themes

(Novels for Students)

Love and Passion
Passion, particularly unnatural passion, is a predominant theme of Wuthering Heights. The first Catherine's devotion to Heathcliff is immediate and absolute, though she will not marry him, because to do so would degrade her. "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire." Although there has been at least one Freudian interpretation of the text, the nature of the passion between Catherine and Heathcliff does not appear to be based on sex. David Daiches writes, "Ultimate passion is for her rather a kind of recognition of one's self—one's true and absolute self—in the object of passion." Catherine's passion is contrasted to the coolness of Linton, whose "cold blood cannot be worked into a fever." When he retreats into his library, she explodes, "What in the name of all that feels, has he to do with books

(The entire section is 1,340 words.)