Wuthering Heights was set in rural Yorkshire in the last forty years of the eighteenth century and first two of the nineteenth. There were big differences between the two classes at the time. The upper class lived in grandeur and comfort, which was at a contrast to the working class. The neighbouring Lintons are of a higher class, both because they have more money and don’t seem to have to work, and because they are better educated. The difference in status between the Earnshaws and Lintons is clear. The Lintons treat Heathcliff badly and send him away from their house numerous times because of his appearance. The Lintons live in the neat and tidy Thrushcross Grange whilst the Earnshaws live in the wild and dishevelled Wuthering Heights.
The novel is set on the vast and bleak moors. There is strong wind and rain at the beginning. Many of the chief incidents use weather analogies to accentuate the setting, from the blizzard that keeps Lockwood at Wuthering Heights to the final rainstorm that accompanies Heathcliff’s death. Most of the weather is suitably forbidding: squalls, cold, frost, mist, snow and so on. The wildness in the novel is associated principally with Catherine and her love for Heathcliff.
The mutual passion between Catherine and Heathcliff is the central theme of the novel. However this turns into thwarted love after Catherine marries Edgar and ultimately dies because of the dramatic conflict. Catherine marries Edgar for class reasons and this is the pivotal point in the novel. Another theme is revenge as Heathcliff has destructive passions of bitterness, hate and vengeance.
Heathcliff and Catherine meet when Catherine’s father finds him wandering the streets and brings him to Wuthering Heights. Catherine befriends “the poor fatherless child,” but over time their friendship develops into something more deep and finally into love, with Catherine declaring, “Ellen, I am Heathcliff!”
In the character of Heathcliff, Emily Bronte has created a complex character: deeply layered, inexplicable and baffling to others. He defies being understood and readers cannot resist seeing what they want to see in him. The book teases the reader with the possibility that Heathcliff is something other than what he seems and that his cruelty and malice is merely an expression of his frustrated love for Catherine, or that his deleterious behaviour serves to conceal the heart of a romantic hero. Heathcliff is represents “ordinary”. He is not as rich as the Linton family and cannot afford to own his property.
Heathcliff is seen as “Byronic”. Lord Byron was an English poet, who was one of the most significant and versatile writers of the Romantic Movement. In 1812, the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a poem narrating travels in Europe, were published, bringing him fame. The protagonist of the poem, Childe Harold, was the first example of what came to be known as the Byronic hero, the young man of turbulent emotions who shuns humanity and wanders through life weighed down by a sense of guilt for mysterious sins of his past. The Byronic hero is, to some extent, modelled on the life and personality of Byron himself. Heathcliff is perceived in this way and is seen such to be such a person. By introducing these Byronic elements to the novel, Emily Bronte conspires to produces the forceful nature that runs through Wuthering Heights.
We know nothing about his origins, so Nelly tells him, “Who knows, but your father was Emperor of China and your mother an Indian Queen, each of them able to buy up, with one week’s income, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange together?” This pinpoints the fact that Heathcliff could have come from anywhere. This is something else that depicts how Heathcliff is of a lower class that the Earnshaws.
As a young boy, Heathcliff endured Hindley’s treatment of him. He is Mr. Earnshaw’s favourite but suffers for it. When Mr. Earnshaw dies and the vitriolic Hindley reduces Heathcliff to the status of servant, his powerful love for Catherine helps make it bearable and gives him strength and hope.
Catherine however shatters this love by marrying Edgar Linton for his money and status. She tells Nelly Dean that it would demean her to marry Heathcliff saying, “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now, so he shall never know how I love him, and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. 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.” Heathcliff only hears the first part of this speech and leaves before he hears the rest.
Throughout the novel, Heathcliff loves Catherine intensely, despite her rejection of him. She welcomes him into her home but the hostility between Heathcliff and Edgar becomes apparent and damages their relationship.
However, Catherine and Heathcliff are reconciled briefly before Catherine’s death and how ardent their love is becomes evident. Heathcliff tells her, “You loved me-then what right had you to leave me? What right-answer me- for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery and degradation and death and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart- you have broken it- and in breaking it, you have broken mine.”
Heathcliff and Catherine are determined to stay together despite the approaching threat of Edgar, with Heathcliff saying, “I’ll stay. If he shot me so, I’d expire with a blessing on my lips.”
When Heathcliff learns of Catherine’s death, he acts unfeeling so that Nelly weeps as much for him as for Catherine as “we do sometimes pity creatures that have none of the feeling either for themselves or for others.” He tells Nelly, “Put your handkerchief away- don’t snivel before me. Damn you all! She wants none of your tears!”
After this initial reaction, Heathcliff’s coldness gives way to a paroxysm of anger, screaming, “Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest, as long as I am living! You said I killed you- haunt me then! The murdered DO haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”
Heathcliff refers to ghosts and the supernatural. The gothic novel was emerging as a new genre of writing at the time this novel was written. The Bronte sisters’ work falls more or less into the Gothic tradition. Magic, mystery, and chivalry commonly form the structural basis for the Gothic novel generating a feeling of integrity and depth.
Heathcliff changes into an embittered and malevolent person and he seems to think that if he can revenge Catherine’s death, he can be with her. His callous and sadistic treatment of Isabella Linton turns the reader against him and wins him no sympathy. He takes Hindley’s property and his son Hareton away from him, therefore degrading and humiliating him. As he grows older, Hareton does not realise how much he should hate Heathcliff for taking his property and not allowing him to be educated. By not permitting Hareton to have an education, Heathcliff is thwarting any attempt for him to obtain his full potential. It is a way of controlling his destiny and preventing him from bettering himself.
He treats his own son, Linton with disregard, as he is weak and sickly. Linton embodies all the worst traits of both the Linton and Earnshaw families, he is full of self-pity, has an ill temper and is a coward. Heathcliff takes him after Isabella’s death but forces him into marriage with Cathy Linton in order to gain Thrushcross Grange.
As the novel progresses, Heathcliff displays his anger and rage in several different scenes. This anger may have been caused by his rejection because of his class. Catherine does not choose him because he has no money and status, despite her vehement love for him. In this scenario, love does not win over the attractions of money. However, Heathcliff manages to prove himself by rising above much of his difficulties to become an owner of two large estates with plenty of money
Cathy is another person that Heathcliff does not treat well. He emotionally blackmails her into seeing his son, even though Cathy says that she would gladly marry her cousin without compulsion. Heathcliff is violent towards her, when she refuses to let him trap her and Nelly inside Wuthering Heights, he silences her
with, “a shower of terrific slaps on both sides of the head, each sufficient to have fulfilled his threat, had she been able to fall.”
Feminists would not view this violence in a good light, but it was probably accepted by the males and some females of the time. This violence reflects on the evolved state of today’s society, as it is not acceptable by either gender and would probably result in a jail sentence.
However, if you look at it closely, Wuthering Heights is quite a feminist novel. Catherine has quite an independent view of life. She puts herself in a position to have just as much control of the men in her life. For example she says she wants to marry Edgar in order to use his money to help Heathcliff. Bronte constructs this character with flair and readiness.
Cathy is just as headstrong and wilful as her mother. She disobeys Nelly on countless occasions and sneaks around to see Linton. Despite everything, Cathy stays strong and never weakens in the face of adversity.
He is disturbed by how much she is like her mother, Catherine and when she displays her boldness, he is “reminded by her voice and glance, of the person from whom she inherited it.” However, he is also tormented by Hareton’s resemblance to Catherine, as he says to Nelly, “His startling likeness to Catherine connected him fearfully with her.”
Towards the end of his life, Heathcliff is haunted by his memories of Catherine and confesses to Nelly, “I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree- filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object, by day I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men, and women- my own features mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!”
At the end of the novel, after making everyone miserable, he gives up his plans of revenge and dies. He is buried in the kirkyard to the right of Catherine, with Edgar to the left of her, symbolising the antagonism which tore apart her short life and suggesting her conflicted loyalties. It is only at this point that Heathcliff is finally reunited with Catherine.