Theme is a pervasive idea presented in a literary piece. Themes in Wuthering Height are masterpieces by Emily Bronte that apply to every era. The present dilemma of good and evil and demonstrates the dark sides of human nature. Some of the major themes in Wuthering Heights have been discussed below.
Themes in Wuthering Heights
Good and Evil
Theological conceptions of good and evil are the major theme of the novel. She has presented this strand through piety, love, revenge, and obsession. At first, there is an inclination of different characters toward either good or evil. Later, Mrs. Dean tries to understand the motives of Edgar and Heathcliff. She also tries to understand whether Heathcliff and Cathy are inclined to good or evil. For example, she constantly weighs whether Hindley has fallen to wickedness after his renunciation of God. Mrs. Dean also sees Heathcliff determined to take revenge, disregarding the kindness of Earnshaw. The author has presented Catherine, Hareton, and Edgar along with Mrs. Dean leaning toward goodness. Mrs. Dean showers her love and compassion for others. However, Cathy, contrary to her, turns toward evil, when it comes to treating others such as Heathcliff.
Violence and Revenge
Violence begets violence. The author tells the impacts of violence along with the theme of revenge. Through Heathcliff, the readers see the abuse he suffers. Hence, he abuses the other person. People become revengeful when they are ill-treated in their childhood. For example, Heathcliff turns violent to everyone around him. The same is the case of Hindley. Heathcliff first makes Hindley pay by making him homeless and then keeping Hareton secluded from the social world. He even tries to marry Catherine as revenge on Earnshaw and Cathy. Although his violent behavior seems just revenge, he admits that he enjoys causing discomfort to others. Hence, by the end, he admits that “I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction”. It is an admission that earlier he used to enjoy it.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it has been a popular strain in various stories where people born in one class usually stayed in the same or be insulted and humiliated. Edgar is rich because of his belonging to the rich class. His parents inherited him a property. On the contrary, Nelly Dean is poor at their service because of her class. The idea of mobility from one class to another class was a foreign concept. However, the author had explored it in depth. The difference between class changes. Heathcliff is brought by Earnshaw at home to bring him up in his class. However, he is snubbed by the Lintons. Hareton, on the other hand, loses his inheritance and becomes homeless because of Heathcliff.
Dominance of Patriarchy
Before the 20th century, most of the male heads were abusive toward children and women in the family. Earnshaw’s expectation about Cathy to behave appropriately toward others is a case in point. He wants her to shun her arrogant attitude toward others at home. Edgar Linton also shows the rough side of patriarchy when he forces Catherine to make a choice between Heathcliff and him instead of allowing her free will to choose. Hindley shows patriarchy when he makes Heathcliff pay for his excesses. Heathcliff displays his power by incarcerating Isabella and later Nellie and Cathy. Thus the author has shown the abusive aspect of patriarchy in the novel.
Knowledge and Power
Knowledge and power are intertwined. It is shown through the abusive behavior of Heathcliff who forces Hareton to stay uneducated. He does so to keep the power to question his immoral authority. Similarly, Cathy providing books to Michael, is a conditional act that he would deliver her letters to Linton. The start of the novel also shows this power oozing out of the written graffiti at Wuthering Heights mansion about the names of Catherin Earnshaw and her daughter to show their power and authority over the mansion. It also gives pleasure and is a source of consolation for Cathy when she sees their names.
Many characters in the novel seem to enjoy loneliness. Even in the beginning, Heathcliff and Hindley want to stay isolated instead of joining others. Lockwood also states that his desire for isolation has forced him to move to Thrushcross Grange. He wants to limit their disappointments for failure in emotional fulfillment. When Catherine breathes her last, Heathcliff withdraws from mundane affairs. Hindley becomes estranged toward others when his wife leaves him for good. However, it has not been shown how isolation has healed their psychological wounds. It is because almost all of them die desiring for the fulfilment of their emotional hunger which is not met.
Self-knowledge means the characters come to know about themselves or become conscious of their persona. When Catherine makes a decision to marry Edgar, she becomes fully aware that she is double-minded. She knows that she is also inclined to Heathcliff who could be a better husband. However, she lacks the judgment to make an immediate decision, knowing that Heathcliff is a revengeful person. On the other hand, Isabella knows about Heathcliff better and yet she decides to marry him. She is aware of her capability and the power to control the challenging aspects of Heathcliff’s nature.
The relationships shown between two families of Linton and Earnshaw are very strong. However, the love between Heathcliff and Catherine is confusing. They were siblings when they grew up at Wuthering Heights and develop a special love for each other. After a while, it continues to confuse Catherine until she marries Edgar Linton. Heathcliff never forgives her for marrying Edgar. He also takes revenge from Isabella for marrying him. This shows the estrangement in his relationship forming ability. On the other hand, Earnshaw’s kindness toward him, in the beginning, shows his ability to forge relations even with adopted children.
The psychological issue, in a Freudian sense, shows distinct sides of Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar. They also show id, ego, and superego through their actions and choices. Heathcliff shows all three of these character traits in himself. His id is his drive for sex that forces him to love Catherine and shows this love to seek pleasure from her. He is also an adopted child which means that he may not have a civilized upbringing. Additionally, Catherine is Heathcliff’s ego that relates him to the social fabric of that time and tests the id in return. Edgar seems superego who represents the moral framework of the society of that time.
The novel shows that the impacts of childhood never fade away even if a child is raised in a high mansion like Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff shows the wild side of his nature despite having got a space with the upper class.