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Free Study Guide-Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte-Free BookNotes
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THEMES

Major Theme

The major theme of the novel is love. This theme is developed with constant references to the special affinity that exists between Heathcliff and Catherine. It is the product of a mutual rebellion against the harsh regime of Hindley and Joseph. From another point of view, it is also the product of their rebellion against the kind of adult tyranny exercised against children in the period in which they lived. Their own strong personalities, coupled with their various mistakes and failures, compound their problems. Consequently, life keeps them apart, even though they both pledge their love and devotion to one another.

Catherine is a prisoner of her own class and upbringing. The situation is further complicated by the fact that one part of her genuinely loves Edgar and genuinely desires the kind of life he represents. But she is telling an undeniable truth when she says that her love for Heathcliff "resembles the eternal rocks beneath." She knows that the love that she has for Heathcliff is something very special and beyond comparison. Nevertheless, she accepts Edgar's proposal of marriage even though she feels guilty for betraying Heathcliff. For some time she hopes to have the best of both worlds by marrying Edgar and retaining Heathcliff as a friend. But such compromises are inevitably doomed to fail. She is in an impossible situation, caught between irreconcilable forces.

Heathcliff also begins to undergo degeneration in the process. He too tramples on the special bond that ties him and Catherine so closely together. Their feelings become distorted into bitterness and hatred. As a result, Catherine dies an early death, and Heathcliff becomes a bitter, vengeful man. The reunion with Catherine, for which Heathcliff so longs, is denied to him by her parting. It is only through death that they can be eternally united. Appropriately, after Heathcliff's death their spirits are seen wandering together on the moors.


In order to give a more positive view of love than the troubled relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff, Emily Bronte brings together a younger generation that can pursue true love. Even though young Cathy, Catherine's daughter, is forced by Heathcliff to marry Edgar, his son, she rises above her problems. When her husband dies, Cathy develops an attachment for Hareton and eventually marries him out of true love. At the end of the novel, they plan to leave Wuthering Heights forever to begin a fresh, new life together at Thrushcross Grange. In the end, Wuthering Heights emerges as a truly great novel that affirms love's glory, both in life and death.

Minor Themes

The theme of revenge is also very important to the entire novel. As an "orphan" child growing up at Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is abused by Hindley, who is jealous about his father's affection for this gypsy outsider. When old Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley's treatment of Heathcliff grows more brutal. The only thing that makes his life bearable is the attention paid to him by Catherine, Hindley's sister. Then she betrays him and marries Edgar Linton. Heathcliff is devastated and promises to get revenge on both the Lintons and the Earnshaws. He goes away for three years and amasses some wealth so that he can put his plan of revenge into motion.

Upon his return to the Heights, Heathcliff becomes a cruel and unfeeling demon as he carries out his plan. In vengeance, he marries, Isabella, the simple and infatuated sister of Edgar Linton. He mistreats Hareton, Hindley's son, in much the same way he has been mistreated. He takes advantage of the drunken, gambling Hindley, winning Wuthering Heights from him as the collateral for his gambling losses. In fact, it is revenge that dominates Heathcliff's life and the second half of the novel.

In the end, Heathcliff is unable to fully carry out his plan of revenge against Hareton and Cathy because they remind Heathcliff so much of Catherine and himself. He, therefore, finally abandons his vengeful plans and waits for death to reunite him with his beloved Catherine.

The Supernatural as a theme

The supernatural element in the novel issues from Brontë's intense awareness of an unseen world beyond the tangible, visible earth. A connection with this other world is vitally important to many of the characters of the novel. Heathcliff declares, "I have a strong faith in ghosts. . .I have a conviction that they can, and do, exist among us!" Even the practical Nelly believes that Heathcliff himself may be a fiend, a visitor from another world. Catherine, too, relates her dream of having been flung out of heaven to Wuthering Heights. When she is delirious, she vows that she will not lie in the churchyard alone without Heathcliff; and she keeps her word, for her sprit haunts him for the remainder of his mortal life. When Heathcliff finally dies, Joseph and many other local people swear that they have seen his and Cathy's ghosts wandering in the night together on the moors. This pervasive presence of and references to ghosts contribute to the supernatural element in Wuthering Heights.

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