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Free Study Guide-Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte-Free BookNotes
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SYMBOLISM AND IMAGERY

Emily Bronte uses both symbolism and imagery in her novel. The two houses, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, are highly symbolic. The Heights represents a "storm," whereas the Grange stands for "calm." Lockwood explains the meaning of "wuthering" as "descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather." Brontë takes pains to stress the house's ordinary, unfinished, and provincial nature. But its chief characteristic is exposure to the power of the wind, which makes it appear fortress-like. It is an appropriate house for the Earnshaw family: they are the fiery, untamed children of the storm, especially Heathcliff, the foundling. On the other hand, Thrushcross Grange is set in a civilized valley and stands in a sheltered park. Here, the effects of weather are always gentler, filtered, and diluted. The Grange is a house of soft, clinging luxury, and its inhabitants are guarded by servants and bulldogs. It is "a splendid place," rich, carpeted and cushioned with crimson. In contrast to the Heights, it belongs to "civilization," which values comfort more than life itself. Thus, it is a natural home for the children of calm: the gentle, passive and timid Lintons.


Animal imagery is used by Emily Brontë to project her insights into human character. Catherine describes Heathcliff as a wolfish man. Isabella Linton, after she becomes his wife, compares him to "a tiger, or a venomous serpent." Nelly Dean sees his despair after Catherine's death as not like that of a man, but of a savage beast. Heathcliff himself, when he wishes to insult his enemies, compares them to animals. However, these are not wild creatures he respects for their strength, but gentler animals that he despises. Edgar Linton is "a lamb" that "threatens like a bull." Linton, Heathcliff's son, is a "puling chicken." Heathcliff hates Hindley Earnshaw because he sees him as the author of all his misfortunes. When he dies before the arrival of the doctor, Heathcliff brutally says that "the beast has changed into carrion."

Symbolism is implicit also in various events of the novel. For example, on the fateful night of Heathcliff's departure from the Heights, the storm comes "rattling over the Heights in full fury." It symbolizes the storm that eventually destroys the lives of Cathy and Heathcliff. Then again, after three years, on Heathcliff's return, he and Cathy meet by the light of fire and candlelight, symbolizing the warmth of their affection for one another. In these ways, and many others, images and symbols in Wuthering Heights add meaning to characters, theme, tone, and mood.

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