Heathcliff's Madness & Death in Wuthering Heights: Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

At the end of Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights,' Heathcliff, the novel's dark, brooding antihero, undergoes a huge attitude shift before dying suddenly. This ending can be tricky to unpack, so let's take a look.

How It Goes Down

After Heathcliff's son Linton dies near the end of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff, our dark antihero, is left alone at the house with Cathy (daughter of Heathcliff's dead rival Edgar Linton) and Hareton Earnshaw (the son of Hindley Earnshaw, the man who abused Heathcliff as a child). Heathcliff hates them both, and they don't care much for him or each other -- at least at first. As time goes on, Cathy and Hareton grow closer and fall in love. Heathcliff can't handle it, as they both look too much like his great unrequited love, Catherine Earnshaw.

Up until this point in the novel, Heathcliff has been full of vengeance and violence, but he's changed now. He doesn't have the will in him to take vengeance on these two, and he starts walking on the moors in the middle of the night instead. He doesn't eat or drink hardly anything and he starts talking to air, but he seems happy for the first time ever. One evening, Heathcliff bars himself in his room. Nelly forces her way in the next morning to find the window hanging open and Heathcliff dead, soaked with rainwater, his eyes open and his mouth smiling.

Heathcliff's Madness

Heathcliff admits to Nelly, the maid at Wuthering Heights, that he wishes he could still work up the energy to wreak havoc on Cathy, Hareton, and people in general. He just can't -- at this point in his life, all he wants is to be reunited with Catherine Earnshaw. He stops eating and mostly stops socializing at all.

Heathcliff's mood shifts abruptly after he spends a night walking around on the moors outside. For Heathcliff, nature represents Catherine in its wildness and uncaring nature, so spending a night out there with nature is as good as spending a night with her as long as Heathcliff is alive. He's almost crazy with happiness after he takes his walk. He even smiles, which frightens Nelly. In addition to being happy, he also starts murmuring Catherine's name and talking to himself.

The Death of Heathcliff

Heathcliff's death is another opportunity for him to get closer to Catherine. He opens the window. It lets the wind and rain and general nature outside into the room, and it also allows Catherine's ghost to enter the house and be with Heathcliff.

While Bronte never explicitly says that Catherine's ghost is actually haunting Wuthering Heights (or even exists at all), Heathcliff's belief in her ghost is enough. A closed window will stop a ghost from entering, so Heathcliff lets his hang wide open.

After the End

A few chapters before his madness, Heathcliff makes arrangements to be buried next to Catherine in her grave. He reminds Nelly about that arrangement right before he dies, and his wish is granted. Heathcliff and Catherine are finally together, and Cathy and Hareton are free to marry without Heathcliff's interference. Some of the village folk even say they see Heathcliff and Catherine's ghosts haunting the village and the moors together, but Lockwood's not so sure.

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