Conflict 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.

'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte is the story of obsessive love and revenge that is packed with conflicts at every level. In this lesson, we look at some of the major internal and external struggles that the characters face.

Internal and External Struggles

Have you ever made a bad decision because you were upset with someone? The bad decisions that the characters of Wuthering Heights make in the face of conflict drive the plot. Conflict is any struggle between opposing forces. Each of the characters faces a combination of internal and external conflicts, but many of the conflicts remain unresolved. Let's look at a few examples of conflict from the story.

Hindley's Jealousy

When Hindley and Catherine's father brought the orphaned street urchin, Heathcliff, home to be their new brother, both children resented it. Over time, Catherine grew to love Heathcliff, but Hindley never did. Things only get worse when Heathcliff grows to be their father's favorite. `'So, from the very beginning, he bred bad feeling in the house; and at Mrs. Earnshaw's death, which happened in less than two years after, the young master had learned to regard his father as an oppressor rather than a friend, and Heathcliff as a usurper of his parent's affections and his privileges; and he grew bitter with brooding over these injuries,'' narrates Nelly.

As soon as their father dies, Hindley takes advantage of the opportunity to exact his revenge against Heathcliff by turning him into a servant, flogging him for misbehavior, and prohibiting him from spending time with Catherine. In the long run, Hindley's real conflict was with himself as he grew up thinking he was unlovable, but he displaced his feelings of abandonment onto the nearest target. Hindley's life did not improve in any way from his vengeance, but instead resulted in misery for the next generation.

Catherine's Betrayal

Heathcliff is able to withstand Hindley's degradation of him as long as he has Catherine by his side to lift him up. When Heathcliff overhears Catherine telling Nelly, ''It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am,'' it is more than Heathcliff can bear.

The real struggle Catherine faces between Edgar and Heathcliff is that Edgar can provide her with social status and material wealth, whereas Heathcliff is the one her soul loves. As a result of Catherine's social climb, Heathcliff feels compelled to leave Wuthering Heights to create some wealth of his own. By the time he establishes his own social standing, it is too late for Heathcliff and Catherine as she has married Edgar. The result of the conflict that both Catherine and Heathcliff face in their quest for money and prominence in the community is that once they achieve it, they discover that it wasn't what they really wanted after all. They both end up miserable.

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