Literary Text: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights is organized into thirty-four chapters, most of which are not overwhelmingly long. However, the
chronological organization can be potentially quite confusing for students. They should understand when the narrator,
Lockwood, is speaking about his experiences with present-day Heathcliff and when he is being told stories by the housekeeper about Heathcliff’s past. It is possible to teach students about the “frame story,” in which a story is being to told to a character in a larger, more encompassing plot.
The chronology and family relations can be confusing, so it might be beneficial for students to create some sort of timeline or family tree in order to keep things straight. Otherwise, there is potential for a lot of frustration, as some characters have the same names (more than one Catherine is found in the story) and some characters change names multiple times (Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Heathcliff, Catherine Linton are all mentioned but are the same person).
Emily Bronte delves into the changing and often tumultuous nature of human relationships. A question she may be presenting through the novel is “How can love affect a person in a destructive way, and is there a way to overcome such a debilitating state?” The imagery, setting, and characterization in the novel provide the perfect background for such a study in the darkness of human nature. Themes
Unrequited love is one major theme of the novel. Readers of Wuthering Heights quickly observe that it is a love story, but by the end of the book realize that couples who appeared to be in love did not end up together. Catherine is courted by several young men during the book and while Heathcliff is the one she truly loves, he is the one she turns away. She feels less passionately, however, toward Edgar, whom she marries. The theme also continues in Heathcliff’s daughter-in-law, as seen by Lockwood. He treats her poorly and she does not show daughterly love for him at all. The narrator goes so far as to describe her as a “little witch,” handsome but not at all happy (16). Read, BYU, 2009
Social class is also a theme discussed by Bronte. Heathcliff may be thought of as an indicator for how quickly social class can change and also how devastating it can be. An obvious example is when Catherine chooses Edgar as a husband over her other suitors (including Heathcliff) so that she can rise in her status among her neighbors. Heathcliff (and his future wellbeing, including his family) is virtually destroyed by her choice. However, he manages to manipulate the situation into such that he becomes the owner of Thrushcross Grange and while his class
status is high, he is not truly happy.
Another motif is that of nature, specifically nature vs.
man. The countryside manor where the story takes
place is almost its own character. Bronte writes
consistently throughout the novel of the brush and
heather-covered hills, and this is where much of the
action takes place. Lockwood is nearly lost in a
snowstorm trying to reach the house at the beginning
of the novel. Later, Catherine is nearly overcome by
grief when Heathcliff fails to return from an outing
across the moors. Nature’s destruction, therefore,
even plays a catalyst in the development of
Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s love story. In Heathcliff’s mind, Wuthering Heights is inextricably tied in with
Catherine. This leads him to extreme measures to
become owner of the land, even after she is dead.
The setting of the story stays in one place: Wuthering Heights. Occasional scenes take us to Edgar’s and Catherine’s house, where Catherine rendezvous with Heathcliff in secret. Wuthering Heights is located in England in the moors, where land is for the most part uninhabited and where
plant life has a hard time growing.
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