Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is an intergenerational tale of two feuding families focusing on the enigmatic character Heathcliff. Though based in the early 1800s, the major themes in Wuthering Heights of revenge, love, social class, gender roles, good and evil, and family relationships make it a story for the ages. Let's go over them in detail and figure out what is the theme of Wuthering Heights!
Good and Evil
Though the characters in Wuthering Heights are all conflicted, some are portrayed as more good and some are portrayed as evil. The main character Heathcliff is clearly meant to be seen as evil even though one of his driving motivations is love. Edgar, on the other hand, can be seen as a good character, but between the struggle between them, Heathcliff comes across as the winner. Despite Heathcliff’s victory, he lives a tortured life whereas Edgar dies in relative peace. Every other character has moments of both good and evil representing humanity at large.
Heathcliff's obsession with revenge drives much of the story making revenge a major theme of Wuthering Heights. Mistreated by his adopted brother, his desire for revenge becomes an obsession that makes him a wealthy man. Rather than be satisfied with his success, he returns to Wuthering Heights to destroy the people who slighted him. Revenge becomes an all-encompassing obsession that makes him selfish and cruel to everybody around him, including his family. As a Wuthering Heights theme, the destructive power of vengeance is clear. Even though he accomplishes everything he wanted, Heathcliff dies a miserable, unhappy, and broken man.
Heathcliff is mistreated because as an orphan he has no social status. When he returns as a successful well-spoken man, he is given respect, highlighting the problems with the social class system. Even though Cathy loves Heathcliff she chooses to be with Edgar because he is more fitting of her social status. Heathcliff subconsciously tries to take revenge by limiting the education of Hareton in an effort to lower his social standing. The story shows the vagaries of social class making it one of the themes in Wuthering Heights.
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As one of the main Wuthering Heights themes, love is shown to both divide as well as bring together. Heathcliff's love for Cathy becomes an obsession that drives him his entire life. Edgar's love for Cathy can be seen as naive. Cathy's love is fickle and she ends up destroying both the men she cares for. Heathcliff is unable to love his children whereas Edgar is a typical traditional loving father. Everyone who enters Heathcliff's household is infected by his inability to love and ends up miserable. Eventually, the feud lasting generations is solved by the love of Catherine and Hareton. Love isn't inherently good or bad but is multifaceted, this message makes love one of the important themes of Wuthering Heights.
Humanity Vs Nature
Several characters in Wuthering Heights are described as wild and connected with nature. Heathcliff, Cathy, and Hindley, especially when they are young, love spending time in nature but are also considered reckless and unfit for society. On the other hand, Edgar and Isabella are brought up in the ways of high society and are considered good. The Moors themselves are important characters in the story, representing both wildness but also adventure and strength. Heathcliff acts more from emotion and therefore with nature, he does win most of his battles but is also a slave to his emotions and is miserable.
Three of the main characters in Wuthering Heights crave solitude, making it one of the major Wuthering Heights themes. Solitude is supposed to be a way of knowing oneself and getting over difficult situations but each of the three characters fails at embracing the positives of being alone. Heathcliff was forced to be a loner as a child, but after the death of Cathy, he enters self-imposed isolation. One that makes him cruel and miserable rather than self-reflective. Hindley’s cruelty is enhanced after the death of his wife, and he isolates himself with alcohol. Lockwood initially came to Thrushcross Grange in an attempt to have some alone time to get over a romantic entanglement, but gives up quickly and returns to crowded London.
For a story based in the 1880s many characters do not follow the gender roles of the time, but those that do not often end up with difficult lives. Heathcliff follows his ambition and rises to the level of what men are supposed to be; strong providers, but loses the woman he loves and fails to provide a good environment for his family. Cathy is tomboyish in her youth preferring to climb trees and go exploring rather than follow womanly pursuits. Even after she becomes more ladylike she is still stubborn, strong-willed, selfish, and wild. She also meets a sad end. The rest of the characters that fit their gender roles lead happier lives but are portrayed as weak. Rather than imply that gender roles are correct, Catherine who inherits her mother's strong will finds a way to be happy while avoiding gender stereotypes.
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In a story involving multiple generations of two families, there are a lot of complicated relationships, both within the families as well as between the families. Most siblings in the story tend not to get along, with the first generation absolutely despising each other. Though Heathcliff and Cathy grow up as siblings, as they get older their love evolves into romantic love, complicating their relationship. Heathcliff's love for Cathy would not have been so intense if they had not grown up as brother and sister. As was normal for the time, marrying cousins was acceptable, creating a complicated family dynamic within generations. Hareton and Catherine, though cousins, finally bring the feuding to an end by falling in love with each other after everyone from the old generation dies.
Knowledge and literacy are considered to have power throughout the story. Heathcliff arrives illiterate and is shunned and ridiculed for it. Hindley reduces him to the position of a servant after the passing of his father and limits his education. When Heathcliff returns, he carries on the tradition of limiting education as a way of keeping somebody's social status low by not allowing Hareton an education. Initially, Cathy mocks Hareton for being unable to read, but when she starts teaching him, their love starts to blossom.
In some ways, disease is the great equalizer in the novel. As was common at the time, most people died due to some form of illness. Hindley and Cathy's mother died before the story begins, their father dies due to an illness, and during his illness, he is swayed by Joseph. Cathy's illness is transmitted to Edgar and Isabella's parents who end up dying as well. Cathy herself dies during difficult childbirth complicated by disease. The disease does not care whether you are good or bad, rich or poor, from high society or low society, it is a force of nature that is impartial but powerful.
You may ask which of these themes is central to Wuthering Heights? Though there cannot be just one answer, revenge may be the main theme in Wuthering Heights. If you need any help with an essay about Wuthering Heights, the experts at Studyfy can help with editing, proofreading, and more!