Animal Imagery in Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In ''Wuthering Heights'' by Emily Bronte, animal imagery is used to describe the characters in the novel. In this lesson, we will see examples of animal imagery that are used in characterizations of Edgar, Heathcliff, Isabella, and Cathy.

Descriptive Characterizations

What are some strategies that Emily Bronte uses to help the reader better understand the characters? One of the types of figurative language that is frequently used in characterizations is imagery. Imagery is a particularly descriptive form of figurative language that frequently uses multiple senses to bring the words on the page to life. Often imagery is symbolic. In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte uses animal imagery to symbolically describe the characters' emotional state. Let's look at some examples from the novel.


How would you describe a man that allows his significant other to walk all over him? Despite Catherine's ridiculously bad temper, Edgar finds her irresistible. On the night that he tries to leave, Nelly, the narrator, compares him to a soft cat and a half-eaten bird when Nelly writes, 'The soft thing looked askance through the window: he possessed the power to depart as much as a cat possesses the power to leave a mouse half killed, or a bird half eaten. Ah, I thought, there will be no saving him: he's doomed, and flies to his fate.' This example of imagery portrays Edgar as weak and helpless when it comes to Catherine, who is much stronger than he.

Heathcliff and Isabella

Unlike Edgar, Heathcliff is strong, but unpredictable and dangerous. Catherine loves Heathcliff, but she becomes genuinely concerned that Isabella may endure his wrath. Catherine begs Isabella not to fall for him, explaining her reasons using animal imagery. Catherine warns that Heathcliff is not the diamond in the rough that Isabella imagines by comparing Isabella's impression of him and the real man to two different animals. Catherine says, 'Pray, don't imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He's not a rough diamond - a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic: he's a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man.'

Catherine further warns Isabella of the danger to herself if she pursues a relationship with him by comparing Isabella to a delicate thing. '…he'd crush you like a sparrow's egg, Isabella, if he found you a troublesome charge.' Unfortunately, Isabella doesn't listen, and Catherine's prediction plays out. This example of imagery shows that Isabella is much too fragile to be able to withstand the mercilessness that is part of Heathcliff's DNA.

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