Plot Climax in Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

A decision by Catherine will determine not only her future, but that of both the Linton and Earnshaw families. When she chooses social position over passion, she sets events in motion that will carry through two generations.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë published Wuthering Heights in 1847, the year before she died. The novel, which traces the Linton and Earnshaw families, shows how a forbidden love can destroy all. This lesson will focus on the plot climax of the novel Wuthering Heights.

Plot Summary of Wuthering Heights

To understand the plot climax of this novel, we must first do a quick (well, quick as possible) rerun of the plot itself.

The novel is narrated by Nelly Dean, a servant in both the Earnshaw family house of Wuthering Heights and the Linton family home of Thrushcross Manor. Nelly starts her tale with the addition of the homeless orphan Heathcliff to the Earnshaw family.

Heathcliff has it rough with the Earnshaws: the mother and the son, Hindley, despise him. But Heathcliff earns the love of the family's daughter, the badly behaved but beautiful Catherine. Though Catherine loves him back, she decides instead to marry Edgar Linton, the son of the neighboring family, who are far above the Earnshaws in social standing.

Heathcliff also marries into the Linton family. He and Isabella Linton do not have a happy relationship, though. Soon after Heathcliff's marriage, Catherine dies in childbirth with her daughter, Cathy. Isabella leaves Heathcliff and goes to London, where she bears their son Linton. Upon Isabella's death, Linton lives at Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff.

Cathy eventually makes her way to Wuthering Heights, where she meets her cousin Linton. They become close, and Heathcliff bullies Cathy into marrying Linton, who soon dies. This leaves Cathy as the heir to both properties.

Heathcliff and Catherine on the Moors
Heathcliff and Cathy on the Moors

Plot Climax of Wuthering Heights

A plot climax is defined as the turning point of a story. It is not always in the middle of the book, though many plot diagrams would make you think that. The climax is an action or decision by the main character (in this case, one of the main characters) that drives the events for the rest of the story.

In Wuthering Heights, the plot climax is the moment Catherine Earnshaw decides she will marry Edgar Linton instead of Heathcliff. This moment brings the events in the beginning of the novel (the exposition and rising action, if we are being 'literarily' correct) to their end and starts the events of the rest of the novel (again, proper terms: falling action and resolution).

Without this moment, there is no Cathy, no Linton, no downfall of both families.

The Drunken Man and the Almost-Tragedy

Let's look at the moment itself. It comes at a very traumatic time in the Earnshaw household. Let's face it, though, the Earnshaw household is not a calm and pleasant place to be at the best of times, but that night it is worse than ever. This all happens in Chapter 9.

Hindley comes home drunk. This in itself is not super unusual, but it's the worst rage of his that Nelly or Catherine has seen. Nelly quickly goes to hide Hindley's young son Hareton from his father, as Hindley is very abusive when he's drunk. Hindley catches her in the act and forces a knife into her mouth.

Then, he snatches Hareton away and demands that the boy kiss him. Terrified, Hareton screams and cries and tries to kick his father. So Hindley brings the boy up the stairs…and drops him.

Fortunately, Heathcliff manages to catch the little boy and he is not injured. Hindley tells Nelly she should have been watching him better, then goes off to drink some more. Heathcliff exclaims 'It's a pity he cannot kill himself with drink,' and then he, too leaves…or at least Nelly thinks he does. That becomes very important in the climax itself.


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