Motifs in Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Melissa Rohen

Melissa has taught college English and has a master's degree in English and Composition.

Sometimes in stories objects and ideas seem to show up again and again. These are motifs. In this lesson, we will explore motifs, why authors use them, and what impact they have on the reading experience by looking at the novel 'Wuthering Heights.'

A Brief Summary of Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights was published in 1847. It combines romance, revenge, and coming of age stories. The leading man in this tale is Heathcliff, a brooding man who was adopted by the Earnshaw family when he was seven. When Heathcliff is brought to Wuthering Heights, he and the Earnshaw's daughter, Catherine, eventurally become friends. However, the son of the family, Hindley, immediately despises him. This opinion never changed, even after Hindley went off to college.

When Hindley returns home with a new wife after the Earnshaw parents die he decides to use his newfound power as head of household to turn Heathcliff into a servant. Even so, Catherine and Heathcliff remain friends and fall in love. But, despite their love, Catherine marries another. Heathcliff spends the rest of the novel, and his life, exacting revenge on Hindley, Catherine, and her in-laws. He succeeds for the most part, but ends up dying alone and and generally unloved.

What Are Motifs?

In this lesson, we will be talking about motifs inWuthering Heights. A motif is a distinct idea or theme that usually reoccurs several times in a story. It can be a color, an object, or even a character. Motifs are usually prominent, and kind of obvious, because they are meant to catch the reader's attention in order to point out and support the primary theme of the story.

A motif is a literary device, which is a writing technique that authors use to help readers understand the message or meaning of the story. Literary devices help the reader become engaged, find deeper meaning, and make the story more interesting. Besides motifs, other types of literary devices include symbols and themes.

Motifs, themes, and symbols can sometimes be confusing because they are very similar and are often used together to support the same main idea. So, let's clarify a bit before we explore Wuthering Heights

A theme is the overall main idea of the story. A symbol is something - a character, an object, or anything, really - that represents something else. Usually a symbol represents a bigger idea that relates to the theme. A symbol might show up once in a story, unlike a motif which appears multiple times. Motifs and symbols work together to support the theme.

Motifs in Wuthering Heights

Now, let's take a look at a few examples of motifs used in Wuthering Heights. There are several motifs in this novel; we'll focus on four of the more prominent ones.


This is perhaps the most prominent motif used in the novel. It seems as though nearly every character and landmark has a double. These doubles can be twins or opposites. There are two distinct narrators telling different perspectives of the story. The character, Catherine, is paired with Heathcliff. These two characters are practically identical in some aspects, and their stories are so intertwined they almost mirror each other. Catherine's own internal character is dualistic - it is divided into a paired set of ideals: the side that loves Heathcliff and the side that loves her new husband. Even the houses in the story are a pair: Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange - both representing the ideals of the families and social classes that inhabit them.

This motif serves to support the theme of struggle between social class and the restrictions it puts on the characters' desires.


Nature is another prominent motif in this novel. Bronte, the author, uses nature to underscore the underlying characteristics of the families in the story. For instance, the Earnshaw family that adopts Heathcliff generally ignore the social standards of the day and refuse to acknowledge the rules of polite society - they are ruled, instead, by their passionate nature. This is represented by nature that surrounds their home of Wuthering Heights - the wild and dangerous moors.

This motif also supports that theme of the struggles brought by about by social class.

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