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Religion 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', Emily Bronte includes elements of religion, from the traditional to the unconventional. In this lesson, we will examine the religious undertones of this novel.

Exploring Beliefs

In Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, the author explores religion; she criticizes self-righteous traditionalists, explores the importance of forgiveness as a religious practice, and even considers some unorthodox, mystical views. Let's learn more about religion in the novel.

Joseph

Have you ever known someone who was particularly unloving and hateful, but used religion to justify their bad behavior? In Wuthering Heights, this person is Joseph. Joseph is the fanatical, Bible-thumping servant who has worked at Wuthering Heights for many years. Nelly describes him to Lockwood by saying, 'He was, and is yet most likely, the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours. By his knack of sermonising and pious discoursing, he contrived to make a great impression on Mr. Earnshaw; and the more feeble the master became, the more influence he gained!' Referring to Joseph as a Pharisee is an allusion, indirect or passing reference, to the Bible. In the Bible, the Pharisees were a sect of Jewish people who opposed Jesus because of their legalistic view of religious rules and tradition over relationships. Over time, the word Pharisee become a synonym for a hypocrite to many people.

Joseph's unlikable, judgmental character ridicules the 'Super-Christians' of the time, who may have lost sight of the love and charity that many believe is central to true Christianity and replaced it with the type of sanctimonious demeanor that drives people away. This timeless idea remains relatable to many readers today.

Lockwood's Dream

The night that Lockwood spends at Wuthering Heights, he is haunted by dreams. The first such dream is of a particularly religious nature. Lockwood narrates, '…we were journeying to hear the famous Jabez Branderham preach, from the text - 'Seventy Times Seven;' and either Joseph, the preacher, or I had committed the 'First of the Seventy-First,' and were to be publicly exposed and excommunicated.' The first of the seventy-first is an allusion to Jesus' instructions to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 of the 'New Testament' in the 'Bible' in which Jesus tells Peter to forgive the transgressions of his enemies seventy times seven times. The seventy times seventy first sin represents the unforgivable sin. As Lockwood sits through the ridiculously long sermons about every possible sin that could be committed, Lockwood accuses the preacher of committing the unforgivable sin with his endless rambling. With that, the congregation turns on Lockwood because the true unforgivable sin is lack of forgiveness for the transgressions of other men.

As opposed to Joseph's emphasis on rules, Lockwood's dream represents the notion that forgiveness of others is central to Christian values.

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