Themes of The Novel Wuthering Heights

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The Purpose

      Emily's basic purpose is to show how good may conquer the evil in human nature. The novel deals with the conflict between one, all demanding love, itself contaminated with vindictive resentments, and several fully-grown hatreds in one man's soul. The universal theme of the novel is thus, the co-existence of good and evil. Like Shakespeare's Hamlet, this novel is concerned with the problem of men and destiny; and like Milton's Paradise Lost it recalls the proud challenge of Satan and the conflict between good and evil which had dominated man's entire history.

Several Themes

      According to Hilda D. Spear the novel Wuthering Heights is a complicated lattice of themes which work on several levels at once. "It is about love and jealousy and revenge, about loss and desire; it is about selfishness and self-willedness, about cruelty, violence and fear, about the evils of drunkenness, about the bringing up of children and education; it is about books and religion, about freedom and subjugation, about untamed nature and the conventions of society, about happiness and misery, about alienation, about sickness and death; it is about the strange and the supernatural, about the homely and the familiar; and finally, it is about a spiritual accord which defies separation and death to achieve reconciliation in a life beyond the grave.

The Main Theme

      Despite the multiplicity of themes; the main theme may be said to be the personal theme of love and revenge and the social theme of the contrast between untamed nature and the conventions of society.

The Theme of Love

      The love of Heathcliff and Catherine dominates the novel. It is an uncommon passion, almost spiritual in its intensity and it triumphs eventually after the death of Catherine and Heathcliff.

A Spiritual Love

      Catherine confides in Nelly the deep love she feels for Heathcliff even as she reveals she is to marry Edgar Linton. Her words: " great thought is living in himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem a part of it. Nelly, I am Heathcliff —he's always, always in my mind—not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself — but as my own being....." reflects an almost Christian view of holy love. (Compare God is love; and that he dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. I. John 4.16) She sees Heathcliff as "one who comprehends (includes) in his person my feelings to Edgar and myself" and suggests that her continued being is entirely dependent on him.

Catherine's Desolation

      Nelly passes over the next three years of the narrative in a couple of pages for it is almost as if Catherine has ceased to exist with the disappearance of Heathcliff. We know little more of her life during Heathcliff's absence than we know of him on his return, she expresses her anguish to Nelly, 'Oh, I've endured very, very bitter misery, NeUy!' (Chapter 10)

      Heathcliff's reappearance is seen by her in the light of a religious experience, an event which "has reconciled me to God, and humanity!"

Heathcliff's Agony at Her Death

      Heathcliff's reaction to her death also hints at their spiritual bond. On her death he cries out in agony, "Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul! (Chapter 16). Throughout the novel he seeks to be reunited with Catherine and this is presented in religious terms; he prays her spirit to return to him (Chapter 29) and in the same chapter he feels 'unspeakably consoled' by the sense of her presence; a few days before his death he tells Nelly, "I am within sight of my heaven" and claims in Chapter 34, "I have nearly attained my heaven."

The Theme of Love in Other Characters

      The theme of love is reflected also in the lesser characters. Hindley's love for Frances is also of a deep and enduring kind. He is a devoted husband fulfilling every whim of his wife Frances. They too are separated by death and, Hindley is so heartbroken, that he gives himself up entirely to drunken dissipation. Edgar's love for Catherine and Cathy's for young Linton also end in separation through death. Thus, it is frustration of love which can be seen as a theme. The love of Cathy and Hareton an echo of the love of Heathcliff and Catherine is the only one which ends in a happy successful marriage.

The Theme of Revenge

      The theme of revenge is linked from the beginning to the theme of love. It begins when Hindley takes control of the household at Wuthering Heights and decides to avenge himself on Heathcliff who had usurped his position in his father's affections. According to Hilda Spear, "Thus the cycle of revenge begins, for the repeated indignities heaped upon Heathcliff make him determined to pay Hindley back" He tells Nelly:

I don't care how I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do! (Chapter 7)

      It is not until later that Catherine's marriage persuades Heathcliff to extend his revenge to the Lintons. So Hareton is degraded to pay for Heathcliff's degradation; a Cathy is forcibly married to Heathcliff to make amends for Catherine and Heathcliff's separation; Heathcliff becomes master of Wuthering Heights where he was once treated worse than a servant, and owner of Thrushcross Grange, which had been responsible for taking Catherine from him. But this Old Testament justice is finally resolved in New Testament grace: Hareton is 'raised' by Cathy, just as Catherine had once to hoped to raise Heathcliff; Linton dies, paving the way for love to blossom between Cathy and Hareton; and finally, Heathcliff is redeemed through love and suffering, his spirit is to be reunited with Catherine's spirit after death and Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange return to the heirs of the Earnshaws and the Lintons.

The Social Theme

      Throughout the novel, Emily Bronte seems to relate the personal theme of love and revenge—the spiritual conflict—to the theme of the social contract between the two houses and what their inmates represent. At first glance, the civil, gentle, refined Lintons in their luxurious and calm setting at the Grange seem to be superior. But this is superficial. For, its inmates Edgar and Isabella, whom we first meet as children are unhappy and are in fact fighting bitterly over a lap dog. Wuthering Heights on the other hand has a severe, gloomy and brutal atmosphere and reflects the primitive passion which is characteristic of Heathcliff.

      The contrast is a fundamental conflict between the primitive soul with as passions and primitive moral seriousness and the civilized life which is in reality a decadence of the primitive vitality—a trivial, selfish and empty existence. Throughout the whole of the novel we are faced with the contrast between the changing "foliage" and the "eternal rocks."

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