A prominent feature of tragedy and tragic stories is the concept of harmony. The events of the story are supposed to distort the initial harmony, something that is not restored until the protagonist falls at the end of the play. This roughly fits the pattern of events in Wuthering Heights; the arrival of Heathcliff in the Earnshaw household leads to the previous harmony being distorted. From then on, until his death, the natural order of events is not followed, characters do not receive their inheritance and family relationships are distorted. When Heathcliff dies the relationship between Cathy and Hareton is allowed to flourish and a happy and normal existence returns for all of the major characters. Therefore the life of the protagonist and the effects of his fatal flaw cause a distortion in the natural order which is not returned until he dies. Whilst this appears to follow the prescribed form of tragedy, there are faults. The normal existence at the end is not resumed as a direct cause of Heathcliff’s demise, the union of Cathy and Hareton comes from their own actions and it is this that in part causes the death of Heathcliff. The relationship itself is hardly secure; it is not fixed by marriage and many of the other relationships in the novel fall apart after similar promising starts. It is not possible to know whether or not the harmony is permanent or merely a temporary respite.
The demise of Catherine can be seen as tragic. Her refusal to fit in with the social conventions of the time leads to her being regarded as merely an immature adolescent with strong whims. Her characteristics are far more befitting of a late twentieth century teenager than one in the late eighteenth century. The lack of opportunity for her on the moor and around Gimmerton leads to her marrying Edgar Linton because she perceives it as being the only way in which she can help Heathcliff, her true love. She tries and fails to justify this course of action to Nelly in Chapter Nine of the first volume. The naivety displayed by this plan is quite incredible, but had there been more opportunities for her then it would not have been necessary. In this sense then the restriction placed on Catherine lead to her tragic descent into mental illness.
Strong emotions are an important feature of many tragedies and this is a trait that is common throughout the main characters in Wuthering Heights. The intensity of the emotion displayed between Catherine and Heathcliff is such that it goes beyond the grave and Catherine famously claims to be Heathcliff himself, so closely are the two linked. The diametric opposite of this is the passionate hate felt by Heathcliff for Hindley, as well as those who he perceives to have been responsible for the demise of Catherine. Even though only temporarily displayed in many cases, there is a great strength of emotion in many interactions between characters. Cathy is passionate in her love for her father, whilst Joseph’s hatred for those he deems to be blasphemous is striking in its ferocity. The tempestuous nature of the interactions between the characters is a strong theme in Wuthering Heights and this links with the notion of tragedy displayed in many other contexts.
The context of tragedy is different in Wuthering Heights to many conventional tragedies because it is in the form of a novel rather than that of a play. Therefore the structure is different, the only concession to form being the two volumes that it is written in. There is no epilogue or prologue and the plot does not follow the prescribed Greek or Shakespearean forms. Given, however, the reference to the changing form of tragedy commented on by Raymond Williams this is less important. The novel was in its infancy at the time at which Wuthering Heights was written and for Bronte to experiment with a traditional idea in a modern format is entirely probable and does not detract from the narrative.
In conclusion, Wuthering Heights is tragic in nature but not in form. It loosely follows the progression of a tragedy if Heathcliff is taken as being a tragic hero, with harmony being restored at his demise. However there are faults with this and it does not fit the mould of a tragedy, most of all in the fact that it is a novel rather than a play. As stated by Raymond Williams, in the light of the events and circumstances the novel is tragic and given the ways in which the tragic form has progressed from the ancient to the modern world the novel may be loosely termed a tragedy.