A Deeper Meaning of Wuthering Heights
A symbol is a thing that represents or stands for something else and suggests a larger significance. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is full of significant symbols that are important to analyze in order to understand the novel to its fullest. From the ghosts, to the architecture and furnishings (décor) of the two main houses in the novel; and to the moors; this book is full of dark but symbolic aspects.
To give readers a realistic point of view, the existence of ghosts as natural phenomena seem to be almost always unclear. Furthermore, take Catherine’s ghost at the beginning. This paranormal figure with the icy hand who claims to have been “a waif for twenty years” (Page 43) could just be a figment of Lockwood’s nightmares. Still, when Heathcliff demands an explanation for the oak-paneled bed (which he clearly thinks involves Catherine’s ghost), Lockwood answers that Wuthering Heights is “swarming with ghosts and goblins!” (Page 44). The ghost he has just encountered is much more than a creepy creature, and Heathcliff envies him for having touched Catherine’s icy hand. As usual, Lockwood is unable to see the situation outside of how it affects him. At the end of the novel, Nelly Dean tells Lockwood that the control folks have seen Heathcliff’s ghost, and they report having seen him “near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house.” (Page 286). The fact that the villagers see the ghosts too could mean that they are not just figments of Lockwood’s imagination.
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Heathcliff believes in ghosts because it offers the possibility of Catherine existing still. He says, “I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad!” (Page 155). This depressing reference emphasizes the lack of closure between the lovers, and it shows that ghosts are more a representation of romance than of evil. Catherine and Heathcliff have had each other since they were children. Now that Catherine is gone, Heathcliff wants her spirit to haunt him. This shows how dependent he was on Catherine’s presence, and how he cannot let go of his past with her. Also, when Heathcliff is frustrated with Catherine’s absence, he digs up her grave. He bribes the sexton to dig up the grave and remove the wall of her coffin that faced away from Edgar’s grave. He says that when he dies he’ll be buried on that side of Catherine’s grave, with the facing wall of his own coffin also removed. Heathcliff’s actions can be seen as the absolute representation of love. Death is only a wall between Catherine and Heathcliff, a wall which Heathcliff wants to destroy. The ghosts symbolize the past’s presence and influence on the present and living; and a lack of closure for the lovers.
Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are in many ways set to be the complete opposite of each other. The Heights lack hospitality and household comforts: chairs lurk; meats hang from the ceiling; and the kitchen, like unwelcome guests, is “forced to retreat altogether” (Page 26). Lockwood tells us Wuthering is “…descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather” (Page 26). Brontë’s use of natural imagery is representative of Heathcliff’s cold and harsh character as well as his passionate, yet forbidden relationship with Catherine. Wuthering Heights sits at the top of a hill surrounded by wind-bent trees and thorny grass. The house is built to match; old and narrow windows are set deep into the walls. The weather on the hill is terrible, and when Lockwood arrives there at the beginning of the book, the house seems a little bit haunted. The mood of the people that live at Wuthering Heights is as bad as the weather, no matter what is going on.
Thrushcross Grange, on the other hand, represents class, agriculture, and modesty. It’s the house that will make Catherine a “lady.” The Grange is calm and protected down in the valley; in a private area. Thrushcross Grange is the opposite of Wuthering Heights. It’s four miles away from Wuthering Heights, down in the valley where the weather isn’t so harsh. It’s comforting, calm, and welcoming — the windows and doors are often open to the outside, and it’s well-lit by sunlight and by fires at night. Heathcliff describes it as “a splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson-covered chairs and tables, and a pure white ceiling bordered by gold, a shower of glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the centre, and shimmering with little soft tapers.” (Page 60). His description makes it easy for readers to learn that this home is fancy. Thrushcross Grange has residents who belong to a higher stratum in the social ladder. Thrushcross Grange is also home to children. What goes on in Wuthering Heights itself and Thrushcross Grange and how they appear to the human eye are opposite. Each place has its own symbols.
A moor is a field of open infertile land. They can be wet wastelands full of peat, moss, and heath. They make up the area between and around Wuthering Heights and the Grange. Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff loved to play in the moors, and it also becomes a silent and sad spot for Heathcliff after Catherine dies. To Catherine and Heathcliff, the moors is a supernatural region where they have had lots of freedom. The moors can be a danger to anyone, especially in bad weather conditions. This land cannot be cultivated, and its uniformity makes navigation difficult. It is mentioned several times that there are waterlogged patches in which people could potentially drown. Thus, the moors are symbolic of the wild threat posed by nature. As the setting for the beginnings of Catherine and Heathcliff’s bond, the moors transfer its symbolic associations onto the love affair. The moors symbolically represent the idea of opposite pairs.
The physical difference of the moors during the seasons (from beautiful and green in the summer, to uniform and snowy in the winter) helps to portray this idea. The moors also show juxtaposition because they are both dangerous and “safe” at the same time. The moors are very capable of killing, but often when a character in the novel needs to escape from a situation or person, they flee to the moors as a safe haven of nature. The moors reflect the meaning of the story because they symbolize the love between Heathcliff and Catherine. Their love, like the moors, is vast and everlasting, but it has the potential to drown both of them. The overall of this is to be aware and cautious of obsessive love. It is important to continue to think, rather than get so caught up in love, that you don’t remember to think things through and often make unwise decisions.
To Lockwood, the moors serve as a confusing area that is extremely difficult to navigate. The moors confuse him, especially when it snows. He sees them as “one billowy white, ocean” (Page 47) that is full of pits, depressions, rises, and deep swamps. The muddy parts of the moors can mean death for some people. When Heathcliff imprisons Nelly and Cathy in Wuthering Heights, he spreads a rumor in Gimmerton that the two had “sunk in the Blackhorse marsh” (Page 240) and that he had rescued them. Characters did not have difficulty believing that this rumor was true, because they knew just how dangerous the moors were.
Emily Bronte’s utilization of symbols in Wuthering Heights allows the reader to visualize the internal struggles of the characters. For example, the ghosts presented in the novel show how difficult it is for Heathcliff to move on from his past to let go of Catherine. Another example is how the moors are representative of curiosity, mystery, and eeriness that takes place throughout the story. Overall, these visual aspects allow the readers to better understand the internal conflicts among characters such as Heathcliff, Catherine, and Lockwood.