Class & Social Themes in Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
Emily Bronte's classic novel, ''Wuthering Heights'', exposes the reality of England's class system during the Victorian Era. The novel also provides a direct challenge to this strict class system by showing the tragedy of Heathcliff and Catherine as a direct result of their class differences.

Class and Society in Victorian England

The social aspects of living in the Victorian Period are prevalent in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. In the story, she puts two families in juxtaposition with a poor boy whom is taken in by one of these families. This boy, named Heathcliff, and his relationships with these two families, is a driving force in the story. In this lesson, we'll see how class matters in the story. We'll then look at how the roles of women are treated in Victorian society, especially through the lenses of Catherine and Isabella.

Heathcliff and Hindley

The rivalry between Hindley Earnshaw and Heathcliff is pivotal in the development of what would become the chip on Heathcliff's shoulder. Hindley makes Heathcliff's life miserable. After all, Hindley is very jealous of the way that his father treats Heathcliff, and while it is clear that Hindley is still the son and heir, that doesn't increase Hindley's comfort level with Heathcliff. Hindley's suspicions about Heathcliff are shared by Mrs. Earnshaw, who never really cared for Heathcliff. These two characters are uncomfortable sharing their home with a person of unknown birth, an orphan, and a gypsy; they believe they are ranked above this boy. Even after the two men grow up and Heathcliff gains wealth, Hindley never lets him forget that he was once an orphan.

Heathcliff and Catherine

Catherine, on the other hand, takes to Heathcliff immediately. The two are inseparable and it is clear that she is crazy about him. After all, she declares that I am Heathcliff, making the case that their souls are really the same. However, Heathcliff doesn't hear that particular declaration. He only manages to hear the other part of the conversation, during which Catherine lists all the reasons that their differing social classes dictate they will never be able to marry. It is this list that drives Heathcliff to leave the family and pushes him towards his psychoses.

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