The Setting of “Wuthering Heights”: a Catalyst for Good and Evil Interactions

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Updated: Sep 01, 2023
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Introduction: The Yorkshire Setting

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bonte’s 1847 gothic novel, depicts the complex events induced by Heathcliff, a conceited man who loses his love, Catherine Earnshaw, and devotes the rest of his days to exacting revenge on her family. The novel setting is Yorkshire, a desolate region in remote Northern England. Wuthering Heights, a rough mansion, is a metaphor for the residents’ irrational emotions and unkind actions. The dark environs of the mansion served as a focal point for Emily Bronte’s utilization of the location to highlight the theme of good vs.

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Heathcliff: The Byronic Hero in “Wuthering Heights”

The protagonist, Heathcliff, is a consistent representation of a Byronic hero in the novel, an allegory of a tortured antihero whose ardent anger, jealousy, and indignation devastate him and those around him. Although Heathcliff is the novel’s primary instigator, he is not entirely the antagonist. Bonet employs shifting narrative perspectives to portray all characters’ contrasting traits. The novel’s characters are not inherently good or evil; instead, they perfectly depict the true essence of human nature.

Fluid Morality: Characters Neither Purely Good nor Evil

No character in the novel – whether it be Heathcliff, Catherine, Edgar Linton, or the narrator Nelly Dean – is a perfect hero; they all contribute to each other’s suffering, however minor or significant that contribution may appear to be. Through its prevailing themes of love and hate, social class, and revenge, Bronte’s Wuthering Heights suggests that everyone is capable of cruelty and that humans are an amalgamation of good and evil.

Although the primary source of most of the critical tensions that shape Wuthering Heights’ plot appears to be Catherine and Heathcliff’s love for one another, other forms of love in the book also emphasize the idea of good vs. evil. When Heathcliff first arrives at Wuthering Heights as a young orphan, he is immediately hated by both Hindley and Cathrine Earnshaw due to the attention that Mr. Earnshaw, their father, shows Heathcliff. This love shows the contrasting human nature of Mr. Earnshaw. He is supposed to be the father and the sole parental figure of both Hindley and Cathrine after their mother dies, but he never shows them any parental love.

Love and Rivalry: The Catalyst for Good and Evil Actions

Heathcliff is not blood-related to him, but he treats him better than his children. This is shown in his conversation with Cathrine due to her misbehavior, “I cannot love thee, thou’rt worse than thy brother. Go, say thy prayers, child, and ask God’s pardon” (Bonte, 42). Due to this favoritism, Hindley begins to see Heathcliff as a competition and treats Heathcliff with hostility and abuse because he is envious of Heathcliff’s relationship with Mr. Earnshaw. Mr. Earnshaw is considered an excellent paternal figure to Healthcliff, but that cannot be considered the case for the Earnshaw children.

Although Hindley continues to torment Heathcliff, Cathrine begins to enjoy his company and form a strong bond with him. This bond and love, however, does not stop Cathrine from wanting to marry Edgar Linton. After getting a taste of the life of the upper class, she begins to see Heathcliff the way everyone else does; however, her prevailing love for him does not stop. Catherine’s conversation with Nelly Dean exposes her thoughts and feelings on Edager and Heathcliff.

“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now, so he shall never know how I love him, and that, not because he is handsome, Nelly, but because he is more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and [Edgar’s] is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire” (Bonte, 79)
This statement suggests that although she is in love with Heathcliff, her desire to be of a higher status outweighs that love, which can be seen in her conversation with Nelly Dean, where she admitted that her intentions for marrying Edger are not pure, “And he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighborhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband” (Bonte, 78).

Catherine: A Woman Torn Between Love and Social Aspirations

Catherine is another example of a character with contrasting good and evil traits. She is a hypocrite, while with the Lintons, she behaves in a ladylike fashion and fails to defend Heathcliff when the Lintons belittle him. She acts another way at Wuthering Heights, where she and Heathcliff are ‘unruly’ together as always, and she underplays her attachment to the Lintons. She is torn between her desire for her true love, Heathcliff, and the status and wealth that Edgar promises. However, the readers cannot wholly fault Cathrine for wanting to live a better life with the Lintons. Heathcliff may give her love, but love is not the only thing individuals need to survive.

Catherine is a woman in the 1800s; she cannot support herself without a male figure in her life, and Heathcliff cannot give her that support. He does not have money, nor the Wuthering Heights manor, since it was passed down to Hindley. Heathcliff has nothing to his name; marrying him would mean living an unknown future. Catherine’s conversation with Nelly Dean exposes Mrs. Nelly’s good and evil nature. At the same time, Nelly wants to help Catherine clear her thoughts and feelings, but her actions lean toward a more sinister interpretation. While conversing, Heathcliff begins to eavesdrop on them, which Nelly Dean notices.

When Cathrine says it would “degrade” her if she married him, he leaves, “Having noticed a slight movement, I turned my head, and saw him rise from the bench, and steal out noiselessly” (Bonte, 79). This is a turning point in the novel since Heathcliff decides to leave Wuthering Heights to prepare for his revenge. Nelly Dean must warn Catherin of Heathcliff’s arrival and tell her he just left after their conversation. Mrs. Nelly says she is fond of the children and considers herself part of the Earnshaw family. However, her actions here do not support her claim. Wuthering Heights has no adherent villain; all the characters are just victims of their own human nature.

Social Class: A Persistent Source of Suffering and Conflict

Social class is a constant motif of suffering in the book and frequently appears in Heathcliff’s misfortune. The beginning of the novel reinforces Catherine and Heathcliff’s camaraderie, and they vow to “grow up as rude as savages” (Bonte, 45) since, out on the moors, they are both free from harsh Authority and the differences in social status that otherwise keep them separate.

However, when Cathrine first gets acquainted with the Lintons, they invite her in while disregarding Heathcliff, “He pulled me under the chandelier, and Mrs. Linton placed her spectacles on her nose and raised her hands in horror… ‘Frightful thing! Put him in the cellar, papa. He is exactly like the son of the fortune-teller that stole my tame pheasant. ‘A wicked boy, at all events,’ remarked the old lady, ‘and quite unfit for a decent house! Did you notice his language, Linton?” (Bonte, 49).

This signals the start of a significant shift in Cathrine and Heathcliff’s relationship with her injury. Linton’s Bulldog immerses Cathrine in the upper-class society she shuns yet belongs in and divides her from Heathcliff. This event also shows the contrasting characteristics of the Lintons. Although they are happy to invite Cathrine to stay, they exclude Heathcliff, showing their prejudice.

Heathcliff’s Revenge: The Culmination of Past Mistreatments

Although in the novel, the Lintons are considered the innocent victims whom Heathcliff and Cathrine hurt, they are not entirely without fault, being one of the reasons Heathcliff and Cathrine separate, even though it may be unintentional. Heathcliff must watch from the window as Cathrine enjoys the comforts inside the Linton home; this foreshadows future situations in which Heathcliff will be forced to watch Cathrine lead a life of privilege from which he is excluded. Thrushcross Grange itself acts as a foil representing social propriety as opposed to the wildness and violence at Wuthering Heights.

Although Heathcliff’s primary focus is to exact revenge on the Linton family for Catherine’s death, his vengeful nature is seen throughout the novel, even during his younger days. One of Heathcliff’s earliest signs of his toxic nature is when he threatens Hindley to get what he wants. “You must exchange horses with me: I do not like mine; and if you will not, I shall tell your father of the three thrashings you have given me this week and show him my arm, which is black to the shoulder” (Bonte, 38)

When Mr. Earnshaw purchased Hindley and Heathcliff each a horse, Heathcliff insists on trading and provokes Hindley by threatening to use the bruises he received from him against him. This deceptive technique not only emphasizes Heathcliff’s desire for vengeance but also emphasizes his depressed state. Heathcliff is not morally upright, which was a product of his upbringing. Another instance of his vengeful nature is revealed when Heathcliff is not allowed to go to the party hosted by the Earnshaw family, where he suffers great humiliation from Hindley. Heathcliff tells Mrs. Dean he wants revenge on Hindley. Mrs. Dean tries to talk him out, but Heathcliff’s mind is made up.

“I am trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back. I do not care how long I wait if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do!” (Bonte 59). Mrs. Dean’s advice is well-intentioned but ultimately useless. The cruel social world of Weathering Heights appears bent on rejecting Heathcliff no matter what he does. Mrs. Dean always tries to help, but Heathcliff’s personality undergoes a terrible transformation warded in his attempts to turn to the good. Although Heathcliff does try to fit in, he is ultimately pushed towards the edge by Edgar and Cathrine’s Catherine increasing affection; the pride and pain of his exclusion and abuse pushes him toward revenge.

Wuthering Heights – A Mosaic of Good and Evil

When Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights as a wealthy and successful man, he begins to exact his revenge on everyone who has hurt him, including Cathrine. Heathcliff explains how since he was a little boy, Heathcliff has harbored the desire to exact revenge, but Catherine’s choice to wed Edgar Linton finally incentivizes him to act. Heathcliff explains how he has trained Hareton, who was born of a higher class, to behave more slowly. However, by forcing Linton, his son, into a marriage with a young Catherine, he hopes to elevate Linton’s social status.

“And he will never be able to emerge from his bathos of coarseness and ignorance. I have got him faster than his scoundrel of a father secured me. . . Don’t you think Hindley would be proud of his son…almost as proud as I am of mine. However, there is this difference; one is gold put to the use of paving stones, and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver. Mine has nothing valuable about it, yet I shall have the merit of making it go as far as such poor stuff can go. His first-rate qualities are lost: rendered worse than unavailing” (Bonte, 212).

Heathcliff plays with Hareton and Linton’s social positions as part of his preparations for vengeance. Heathcliff understands the influence of social class and is angry about the mistreatment he endured as an orphan with no social connections. In his thirst for revenge, he gets his son Linton involved and threatens him into marrying young Cathrine.

This results in Linton deceiving young Cathrine into running away from Thrushcross Grange and going to Wuthering Heights, where her father, Edger Linton, prohibited her from visiting when he was alive. However, after marrying Linton, he realizes that he has never loved her and did it only due to the fear of his father. Linton shows the essence of human nature in his actions. Although trickling a young and impressionable girl into marrying him was immoral, he did it for survival. Linton had a compelling reason for what he committed since he was just another victim of abuse like young Catharine and Hareton.


  1. Brontë, E. (1847). Wuthering Heights. Penguin Classics.
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The Setting of "Wuthering Heights": A Catalyst for Good and Evil Interactions. (2023, Sep 01). Retrieved from