Gothic Elements in Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights' is a crucial piece of Gothic literature due to its exploration of darkness in human consciousness. We'll look at the elements that made this work a classic in the genre.

What Makes Something Gothic?

What mental image do you get when you read that something is Gothic? Perhaps you think of a certain barbarian tribe that once sacked Rome? Or giant cathedrals that, while beautiful, have a tinge of darkness with gargoyles and grotesques? Or maybe you think of the sort of music that can be described as 'Goth'. In any event, you're not picturing sunshine and flowers, now are you?

That's probably the best way to describe Gothic literature, as something that explores the darker sides of humanity. As you can imagine, it is a popular genre -- writers such as Poe, Faulkner, and Shelley are only three of its famous examples. Wuthering Heights is a great example of Gothic Literature, owing in no small part to the madness, decay, setting, and perhaps something a bit out of the ordinary.

Madness and Decay

Gothic genres often explore the depths of human emotion from a less positive standpoint. Oftentimes, this means looking at madness. Wuthering Heights has a fair share of this. We learn that Catherine goes mad before her death. At one point, with Catherine's corpse, Heathcliff pushes at it, saying that her presence has tormented him for years.

Meanwhile, there is also plenty of decay to be had in Wuthering Heights. The house is ill-kept, as is Heathcliff. We find that he is supposedly a gentleman, but his manners have long since left him. Also, a number of characters are shown to have decayed from past robust lives to being mere shadows of themselves.

Finally, there are cases of misunderstandings being blown completely out of proportion. One of these is key to the plot of the book - Heathcliff doesn't hear how much Catherine loves him, but only that it would be beneath her station to marry him. This misunderstanding creates the environment for much of the rest of the book.

Setting

A Gothic masterpiece would be hard to imagine on a Caribbean island, and Wuthering Heights is no exception. To put it kindly, the house is in ill-repair, and is in the middle of a rather bleak countryside. Moreover, the weather is quite erratic, creating thunderstorms that seemingly shake the foundations of the old house. In fact, we learn that the estate, Wuthering Heights, gets its name from the fact that the house shakes so much during rough weather.

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