Symbolism and Imagery in The Novel Wuthering Heights

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The Two Houses — Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange

      The novel begins in Thrushcross Grange as Lockwood writes his journal, but the subject of his thoughts is Wuthering Heights; thus the two houses are linked together from the outset.

      The first look the reader has of Wuthering Heights is as it appears to Lockwood in the November of 1801—with an air of neglect, grass grows up between the flags, and the cattle are the only hedge-cutter. The chained gate signifies a lack of welcome, reinforced by the fortress like appearance of the house itself with its narrow windows ... deeply set in the wall and corners defended with large jutting stones. The inhabitants of the house are as unwelcoming as its exterior; Heathcliff precedes Lockwood up the path 'sullenly' and Joseph responds to orders in an undertone of peevish displeasure.

      Inside however the house has an atmosphere of homely well-being and the sitting room is bright and cheerful with the glow of warmth from the fire. There is an oak cupboard with pewter and silver dishes, and jugs; in a corner recess lies a bitch with her puppies. There are piles of homemade oatcakes standing on wooden frames and 'legs of beef, mutton and ham' are hanging. The floor is white stone and the furniture is primitive and functional.

      But Emily Bronte gives this description a symbolic force by echoing and re-echoing the changes in these things with the changing fortunes of the house and its people. Years before Lockwood's visit to the Heights, in 1777 Frances as the new bride of Hindley expressed her delight in the "white floor, and huge glowing fire place, at the pewter dishes, and delf-case, and dog kennel" (Chapter 6) But in the hands of Hindley it is completely neglected and Isabella as a new bride finds:

      "There was a great fire, and that was all the light in the huge apartment, whose floor had grown a uniform grey; and the once brilliant pewter dishes, which used to attract my gaze when I was a girl, partook of a similar obscurity, created by tarnish and dust". The room becomes a symbol of her despair.

      When Lockwood returns in September 1802, he observes major changes, not in the comfort of the interior but in the welcoming air of the exterior: "the gate is no longe chained; the doors and windows are open and he is greeted by the scent of flowers as he walks up the path" (Chapter 32)

      Thrushcross Grange is a contrast to Wuthering Heights in every respect but we are told less about it than the Heights. From Lockwood's comments we gather that the Grange has extensive grounds—it is two miles from the gate to the house. It is one of the 'big houses' of the neighborhood. Our first real view is given by Heathcliff to Nelly. Heathcliff describes with wonder the Linton's drawing room lit by a sparkling chandelier and in contrast to the white stone floor and green and black chairs of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff sees a 'splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson-covered chairs and tables' (Chapter 6). Yet within there is no harmony as Edgar and Isabella are quarreling and crying. Every reference to the furnishings in subsequent chapters reinforces the image of luxury and comfort; Catherine has a feather pillow on her bed and a large mirror in her room (Chapter 12) and in Chapter 17 an easy chair is mentioned.

The Symbolic Contrast Implicit in the Two Houses

      David Daiches observes, that the symbolism in the novel is complex and not as simply organized as might at first be supposed. One can note a contrast between "the fireless grate at Thrushcross Grange and the roaring fire of Wuthering Heights", but even more noticeable in the book is the contrast between the luxury and comfort of Thrushcross Grange, lying in the soft valley below and the fierce unpadded existence at the Heights, which lies exposed to the winds on high moorland. But beyond this physical contrast is also the deeper symbolic contrast Both the houses are the home of human emotions. Wuthering Heights is seen through out the novel as symbolizing life in the raw, of unbridled and primitive passions and emotions of love and hate. Thrushcross Grange on the other hand represents emotions that are emasculated - petty jealousy and spite. Wuthering Heights is also a place of general abundance. Food is always plentiful; immense comforting fires always fill the grate. Life at Thrushcross Grange on the other hand, is cold and inhibited. Meals are rarely mentioned and food is either dainty or frugal; Lockwood eats gruel to ward off the cold (Chapter 4). Catherine has a plate of cakes tipped into her lap and in Chapter 12 Nelly prepares some tea and dry toast for her.

The Principles of 'Storm' and 'Calm'

      David Cecil elaborates further on the two houses as embodying the principles of 'storm' and 'clam'. According to Lord David Cecil: "The setting is a microcosm of the universal, scheme as Emily Bronte conceived it. On the one hand, we have Wuthering Heights, the land of storm; high on the barren moorland, naked to the shock of the elements the natural home of the Earnshaw family, fiery untamed children of the storm. On the other, sheltered in the leafy valley below, stands Thrushcross Grange, the appropriate home of the children of calm, the gentle, passive timid Lintons. Together each group, following its own nature in its own sphere, combines to compose a cosmic harmony which is the theme of the story. It opens with the arrival at Wuthering Heights of an extraneous element— Heathcliff. He, too, is a child of the storm, and the affinity between him and Catherine Earnshaw makes them fall in love with each other. But since he is an extraneous element, he is a source of discord, inevitably disrupting the working of the natural order. He drives the father, Earnshaw, into conflict with the son, Hindley, and as a result Hindley into conflict with himself (Heathcliff). The order is still further dislocated by Catherine, who is seduced into uniting herself in an 'un-natural' marriage with Linton, the child of calm." This perverts Heathcliff's nature and from then on he is driven only by his passionate desire for revenge. As a counterblast to Catherine's marriage, and actuated not by love, but by hatred of the Lintons, he himself makes another 'unnatural' marriage with Isabella. Nor does his revenge end with the first generation as he proceeds to wreak his revenge on the next generation — Hareton Earnshaw, Catherine Linton and Linton Heathcliff who are offsprings of both 'calm' and 'storm' and hence partake of both natures. David Cecil points out, "Hareton and Catherine are the children of love, and so combine the positive 'good' qualities of their respective parents: the kindness and constancy of calm, the strength and courage of storm. Linton on the other hand, is a child of hate, and combines the negative 'bad' qualities of his two parents — the cowardice and weakness of calm, the cruelty and ruthlessness of storm". Finally, the forces of harmony triumph when Hareton and Catherine who have a natural affinity are united.

The Symbolism of Windows, Doors, Locks and Keys

      A major aspect of Emily Bronte's style is extraordinarily powerful use of sustained imagery which give it the force of symbolism in Wuthering Heights. Apart from the two, the most significant is the group of inter-related images based on windows, doors, locks and keys. They reflect the 'inside-outside' theme — the longing to pass from one side to the other of a window or a door: in chapter 3 Lockwood witnesses a little ghost outside, longing to come in; in chapter 6 Heathcliff and Catherine look into Thrushcross Grange from outside the drawing room window; in chapter 12 Catherine, sick and unhappy at Thrushcross Grange, is longing to get out. Locked doors, stapled windows and keys intensify the separation; in chapter 7, Heathcliff is locked in the room in the garret; during the quarrel between Edgar and Heathcliff, Catherine locks the kitchen door and throws the key in the fire; Heathcliff keeps Isabella in his Custody at Wuthering Heights and he kidnaps and locks up both Nelly and Catherine at the Heights. Throughout the first thirty-one chapters of the novel the imagery keeps us continuously aware of the restrictive nature of the lives of the protagonists. The last three chapters herald the change. Constraints are no longer apparent, when Lockwood arrives at the Heights after his return from London, as all the doors and windows are finally open; Heathcliff dies beside the open window through which he is apparently united with the spirit of Catherine. Before her death, Catherine complains of being enclosed in the 'shattered prison' of her physical body. Both Heathcliff and Catherine gain their freedom to be united in death.

The Imagery of Animals

      Animal imagery especially of dogs is used to indicate violence and the uncivilized and brutish side of man. The dogs portrayed in the novel are always shown savaging someone or being themselves savaged. Lockwood is attacked by the dogs in his first two visits to the Height; Catherine is bitten by the Linton's bulldog and Cathy and her dogs are attacked by the dogs from Wuthering Heights. Dogs also suffer from the cruelty of the characters. Isabella and Edgar quarrel over their dog and almost tear it to pieces; Heathcliff hangs Isabella's spaniel from a hook before eloping with her; little Hareton hangs a litter of puppies in the doorway of Wuthering Heights as Isabella escapes.

Other Symbols and Motifs

      There is much significance attached to the 'Earnshaw eyes' throughout the novel. Catherine has them and later both Hareton and the younger Catherine too have the Earnshaw's eyes. It is their eyes, so much like the elder Catherine which captivate Heathcliff and ultimately makes him give up his revenge on them. Similarly references to teeth occur frequently; Heathcliff is described as having 'sharp cannibal teeth' . Joseph is called! a 'toothless hound' and Isabella is shaken till her 'teeth rattled'. Blood is an important motif; its association with violence from the moment Lockwood rubs the little ghost's wrist across the broken glass of the window pane emphasizes the idea of life in the raw as it is constantly seen at Wuthering Heights.

      There is also the imagery of wind and cloud, water and fire, hot and cold; generally used to distinguish Heathcliff and Edgar respectively. Comparing Heathcliff and Edgar, Catherine says.

      "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.

Style and Linguistic Symbolism

      Apart from the sustained imagery and symbols in the novel as a whole Wuthering Heights is also highly poetic and rich in other linguistic devices. There is a conversational tone and fairy-tale element in the novel. The various narrators have the gift of recounting dialogue as in the actual words of the characters concerned. Thus, Lockwood presents Nelly's story as she tells it and Nelly reproduces the actual words of Catherine, Heathcliff and the rest; similarly both Lockwood and Nelly are adept at mimicking Joseph. When Nelly takes over the narration her language is more picturesque than Lockwood's with many similes and metaphors of country and animal life: "uncomplaining as a mice", "mute as a mice", "Rough as a saw-edge., hard as whinstone". Heathcliff and Catherine also share this gift of graphic language. Catherine compares her love for Edgar and Heathcliff to the natural landscape around her:

      "My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods, lime will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath — a source of little visible delight but necessary".

      Heathcliff compares Linton and Hareton with striking metaphors: "One is gold put to the use of paving stones; and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver"

University Questions

Bring out some of the symbols in Wuthering Heights and point out their significance.
Comment on Emily Bronte's linguistic style and extensive use of symbolism and imagery in the novel.
Contrast the principles of 'Storm' and 'Calm' in Wuthering Heights.
Point out the symbolic significance of the two houses — the Heights and the Grange in Wuthering Heights.

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