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Wuthering Heights
Concept/Vocabulary Analysis

Literary Text: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Organizational Patterns

Wuthering Heights is organized into thirty-four chapters, most
of which are not overwhelmingly long. However, the
chronological organization can be potentially quite confusing for
students. They should understand when the narrator,
Lockwood, is speaking about his experiences with present-day
Heathcliff and when he is being told stories by the housekeeper
about Heathcliffs past. It is possible to teach students about the
frame story, in which a story is being to told to a character in a
larger, more encompassing plot.

The chronology and family relations can be confusing, so it might be beneficial for
students to create some sort of timeline or family tree in order to keep things straight.
Otherwise, there is potential for a lot of frustration, as some characters have the same
names (more than one Catherine is found in the story) and some characters change
names multiple times (Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Heathcliff, Catherine Linton are
all mentioned but are the same person).

Central Question

Emily Bronte delves into the changing and often tumultuous nature of human
relationships. A question she may be presenting through the novel is How can love
affect a person in a destructive way, and is there a way to overcome such a debilitating
state? The imagery, setting, and characterization in the novel provide the perfect
background for such a study in the darkness of human nature.


Unrequited love is one major theme of the novel. Readers of Wuthering Heights
quickly observe that it is a love story, but by the end of the book realize that couples
who appeared to be in love did not end up together. Catherine is courted by several
young men during the book and while Heathcliff is the one she truly loves, he is the one
she turns away. She feels less passionately, however, toward Edgar, whom she marries.
The theme also continues in Heathcliffs daughter-in-law, as seen by Lockwood. He
treats her poorly and she does not show daughterly love for him at all. The narrator
goes so far as to describe her as a little witch, handsome but not at all happy (16).
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Social class is also a theme discussed by Bronte. Heathcliff may be thought of as an
indicator for how quickly social class can change and also how devastating it can be.
An obvious example is when Catherine chooses Edgar as a husband over her other
suitors (including Heathcliff) so that she can rise in her status among her neighbors.
Heathcliff (and his future wellbeing, including his family) is virtually destroyed by her
choice. However, he manages to manipulate the situation into such that he becomes the
owner of Thrushcross Grange and while his class
status is high, he is not truly happy.

Another motif is that of nature, specifically nature vs.
man. The countryside manor where the story takes
place is almost its own character. Bronte writes
consistently throughout the novel of the brush and
heather-covered hills, and this is where much of the
action takes place. Lockwood is nearly lost in a
snowstorm trying to reach the house at the beginning
of the novel. Later, Catherine is nearly overcome by
grief when Heathcliff fails to return from an outing
across the moors. Natures destruction, therefore,
even plays a catalyst in the development of
Catherines and Heathcliffs love story. In Heathcliffs
mind, Wuthering Heights is inextricably tied in with
Catherine. This leads him to extreme measures to
become owner of the land, even after she is dead.


The setting of the story stays in one place: Wuthering Heights. Occasional scenes take
us to Edgars and Catherines house, where Catherine rendezvous with Heathcliff in
secret. Wuthering Heights is located in England in the moors, where land is for the
most part uninhabited and where
plant life has a hard time growing.
Students may find it helpful to see
pictures of the barren, dreary
landscape in order to connect the
feeling of the place with the dismal
tone of the novel.

Point of View

As mentioned earlier, the point of
view or narrator changes at various
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times throughout the novel. This can be very difficult to understand so the students
will need extra help in identifying the difference. The main narrator is Lockwood, a
nave gentleman who is renting a room at Wuthering Heights from Heathcliff.
However, he learns the story in part from a young maid and mainly from Ellen, who
was Catherines nurse when she was young. The diversity of narrators not only gives a
sense of distance from the story but also may make the reader question the validity of
the facts that are given. This could be a great bridge into discussing narrator reliability.


One of Brontes strong points in the novel is her use of imagery to create a vivid
illustration of people and places. For example, on the first page Heathcliff is already
characterized as a hardened figure and one to be feared, by Lockwoods describing his
black eyes and how his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still
further in his waistcoat (3). Bronte uses imagery to emphasize the themes of
unrequited love and the destructiveness of nature as she describes in detail the barren
moors. The outdoors is almost never seen as pleasant, and this is due to the images of
death and dryness that the reader finds in connection with the fields of Wuthering


Heathcliff and Catherine share one of the most romantic love stories of all time, yet they
do not ever get married and rarely show physical affection one towards another. One
reason could be that the author intrigues the reader with the characters because of their
mysterious behavior. Brontes
characterization is effective in
part because the reader never
really understands any of the
characters. Their actions seem
irrational and yet the reader
may sympathize with their need
for attention and care from
those they love. Heathcliff is
continuously hard and dark-
natured, yet he shows his need
for affection as he calls out to Catherines ghost in the night after Lockwood has a vision
of her. In turn, Catherine is fickle in her desire for a suitor and cannot commit to
Heathcliff, yet she never ceases to love him as she proves in their encounter at the end
of the book. Both characters stubbornness and desire to be loved are traits that we may
all understand and connect to.

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Affective Issues Related to the Work

Because of Brontes masterful characterization we may feel disgusted with the actions of
the characters of the book but we still see humanness in them with which we are
connected. There is even something to be said for the illogical nature of their choices.
Students, as teenagers in the upper high school years, dont always make choices of a
logical nature. Many of them can relate to the need for love felt by Brontes characters,
and some of them may have even gone to extreme or embarrassing measures as a result
of that need. The issue of social class may seem a distant one
when placed in the context of 19
century England.
However, similar issues exist in America as far as a disparity
between rich and poor, and can be seen on a more personal
level with popular or non-popular students. Teachers
may help students make these connections in order to bridge
the reading of the novel to their personal lives.

Vocabulary Issues

The unusual language of the novel is a big reason why
Wuthering Heights is classified as a higher reading level,
such as that of 9
or 10
grade students. Bronte uses terms
specific not only to the time period but also to British English, such as grouse (a pair
of birds) and offald (disreputable, worthless). If it is possible, students should read a
version of the book that has definitions of unusual words in an annotated form.
However, if this is not available, the teacher should be prepared to allow students time
to look up words in the dictionary or should be willing to help them find word
On the other hand, Brontes use of imagery is incredible and her word choice offers
ample opportunities for studies on descriptive writing.

Background Knowledge

To understand the unusual independence that Catherine exhibits and then her quick
change to total dependency on a male suitor, students should know something about
English culture in the 1800s. Women were not expected to find any sort of career. They
merely needed to find a good husband. Such attitudes are drastically different from
how Americans (and most modern societies) view romantic relationships. To get to the
themes that Bronte intended in her novel, students must first get over the initial distaste
for this way of life.

Another aspect of British life during this time period is that of servants and how social
class comes into play in human relationships. Heathcliff goes from being a pet and
well-treated to being beaten and thrown around and forced to work as a servant.
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Students may need help understanding why this would be so horrifying and yet a
possible turn of events for this time period.

Implications for Students of Diversity

There are a couple of barriers that could prevent certain students from engaging fully
with the text, such as a lack of background knowledge of the time period and the
difficulty of the books vocabulary. However, these can overcome through some effort
on the part of the teacher
and the learners.
Primarily, teachers must
be aware that students
need guidance in bridging
the story to their personal
lives. Class discussions on
topics like prejudice
because of social
differences can spark
interest in the students
because they most likely
know what it means or
what its like to be picked
on. They can then refer
that schema to the story of
Heathcliff and Catherine.

A little more difficult is the question of students understanding the higher level
vocabulary of the novel. Teachers must be flexible in class discussions and willing to
explain what is going on in the story, as students may have read the text but missed the
meaning because of strange vocabulary. Assessment should also be flexible in that
students be tested over their understanding of themes and literary elements that they
have learned during class, not just facts from the novel itself. In this way, students from
a variety of backgrounds and learning abilities can gain from studying Wuthering

Gender Issues

Catherine breaks the mold for what many would see as the stereotypical 19
woman: she is independent, strong-willed, and makes her will known to all those
around her. Later in the novel her actions strongly reflect those that are expected of
women in England of the time period, so teachers could discuss these gender roles with
students and even connect the importance of the womens rights movement.

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Research Issues/Project Ideas

Wuthering Heights Family Tree: To help students understand the relationships
between different characters of the novel, assign a timeline. They are to choose
10 major events from the story (teacher may provide a list for them to choose
from) and design a colorful, well-organized chronological timeline. Encourage
creativity in the presentation.

Play Adaptations: Students choose a passage from the story and work in groups to
produce a theatrical version of what they are reading. They can use costumes
and assign parts as they like. The only rules: the events must follow what
happens in the book and the play must take place at a time period or location
other than the actual novel. They should research the time period in which their
production takes place to ensure accuracy of speech, culture, etc.

Write Your Own Ending: Dont like how the novel ended? Students pick a point in the
novel from which they can erase Brontes work and write what they think should
have happened. The writing should imitate the original text as much as possible,
while students can characterize the people from the novel any way they want.
They will get an exercise in characterization and in using imagery similar to
Bronte in her novel.

Informational/Functional Texts

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Introduction by Daphne Merkin
This version of the book contains annotations that explain difficult vocabulary
words. The introduction is also a helpful source for students who want to know
more about Bronte.

Wuthering Heights the film, 1939.
Students will get an added dimension to their understanding of the novel as they
see it enacted on screen. Teachers can show selected scenes to teach thematic
elements or play the whole movie to help students get a grasp on plot elements
and chronological sequence of events.
A helpful website that contains biographical information on Emily Bronte. Can
serve as a pre-reading activity by teaching students about setting, background
knowledge, culture, etc.