Dramatic Irony 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, the characters frequently make assumptions about each other that lead to dysfunctional behavior. In this lesson, we will look at some specific examples of dramatic irony from the story.

Dramatic Irony

Have you ever gotten angry with someone and then found out later that you didn't have all the facts? Dramatic irony is when a character acts or behaves out of ignorance because the author has withheld some information from him that has been revealed to the reader. Emily Bronte skillfully wields dramatic irony throughout Wuthering Heights to further the plot and contribute to the miscommunication and dysfunction that permeates this novel. Let's look at some examples of dramatic irony from Wuthering Heights.

Heathcliff's Misunderstanding

In perhaps the most significant and dramatic moment of the novel, Heathcliff eavesdrops on a conversation between Catherine and Nelly as Catherine contemplates Edgar's marriage proposal. Catherine says, '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. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.'

Unfortunately, Heathcliff only stays long enough to hear his beloved Catherine say that marrying him would be degrading. Ouch! Had he stayed long enough to listen to the rest of her rant, Heathcliff would have known that Catherine considers him her soul mate. If Heathcliff had truly listened, he may have persuaded Catherine to marry him instead.

In this case, dramatic irony is used to divide the two young lovers, creating many years of unhappiness for not only them, but for everyone around them. Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights for a few years, returning after Catherine has already married Edgar.

Isabella's Love for Heathcliff

When Heathcliff returns, he starts sniffing around Thrushcross Grange to reconnect with his already married soul mate, Catherine. The reader, Catherine, and Edgar know that Heathcliff is there for Catherine, but when Edgar's young sister, Isabella, becomes attracted to Heathcliff, reason flies out the window, creating dramatic irony. Like many young people in love, Isabella refuses to listen to Catherine's warnings. Catherine tries to explain with Nelly's help that Heathcliff is '…an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone.' Catherine further describes her fear for Isabella by comparing her with Heathcliff to a 'little canary into the park on a winter's day' and by telling her 'he'd crush you like a sparrow's egg.'

Isabella, who imagines Heathcliff as 'a rough diamond - a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic,' is unwilling to listen to Catherine's advice when Catherine tells her, 'I know he couldn't love a Linton; and yet he'd be quite capable of marrying your fortune and expectations: avarice is growing with him a besetting sin. There's my picture: and I'm his friend - so much so, that had he thought seriously to catch you,…'

Isabella dismisses Catherine's advice as mean-spirited jealousy based on her unwillingness to let anyone else feel love. Isabella turns her back on her family and marries Heathcliff, only to discover on their first night at home at Wuthering Heights that she has made a big mistake. Heathcliff tells her that she '…should be Edgar's proxy in suffering, till he could get hold of him.' Their abusive marriage ends within months.

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