Role of Marriage in Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Dori Starnes

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

Marriage in the novel 'Wuthering Heights' never comes to any good. However, Young Catherine and Hareton, the last two left standing at the end of the novel, may have hope for the future.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights, was published by Emily Brontë in 1847, the year before she died. It is the only novel written by Emily Brontë, the sister of Charlotte Brontë whose novel Jane Eyre is still one of the most beloved novels of English Literature. Wuthering Heights, which is much darker and more psychological than Jane Eyre, tells the story of the Linton and Earnshaw families. This lesson focuses on the role of marriage in Wuthering Heights.

Synopsis

Wuthering Heights is told by Nelly Dean, a servant at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. She tells the story of the Linton and Earnshaw families, starting with the adoption the gypsy-like Heathcliff. Heathcliff is hated by Hindley Earnshaw, but close with the youngest Earnshaw, Catherine.

Catherine loves Heathcliff passionately, but marries Edgar Linton, the heir to Thrushcross Grange, instead. As revenge, Heathcliff marries Edgar's sister Isabella. After Catherine dies bearing her only child, a daughter named Cathy, Isabella goes to London and bears Heathcliff's son, Linton.

Hindley Earnshaw dies not long after Isabella leaves. Hindley's son, Hareton, is cheated out of Wuthering Heights by Heathcliff.

Years pass, and Cathy grows up. Linton comes to live at Wuthering Heights after his mother dies. Heathcliff forces the two to marry. Then Edgar Linton dies, and Linton Earnshaw soon after, so Cathy becomes the heir to both properties.

The love between Catherine and Heathcliff endangers both families
Catherine and Heathcliff

The Role of Marriage in Wuthering Heights

Unfortunately, all of the marriages in Wuthering Heights end badly. By examining each of the major marriages, a pattern becomes clear: marriage is destructive, especially to the women, and leads to the end of love and romance.

Heathcliff and Catherine: The Marriage that Never Was

Heathcliff's love for Catherine drives his entire life. Though she loves him, she marries Edgar, choosing social standing over passion. The love Heathcliff has for Catherine consumes him, eventually causing him to wed another and even to stop eating, causing his own death decades later. It's something to note that the only relationship that is shown as true love is both destructive and never actually realized.

Catherine and Edgar

In a lot of ways, Edgar is the complete opposite of Heathcliff. He has the social standing and family that the orphaned Heathcliff can only dream of. Instead of the fiery passion Heathcliff has Edgar is solid and steady. They are even opposites in looks: Edgar is described as fair haired and blue-eyed, while Heathcliff is as dark as a gypsy.

Catherine meets Edgar Linton while recovering from a dog bite at Thrushcross Grange. Even though Catherine is temperamental and far below him socially, Edgar is afraid to anger Catherine and lives in fear of her.

Though Edgar indirectly causes Catherine's death in childbirth, he is a good man who cares for his family, and in that he is the opposite of Heathcliff, too.

Heathcliff and Isabella

Isabella is weak and foolish. Brontë describes her as being beautiful but 'infantile in manners'. Isabella falls in love with Heathcliff, who uses her as revenge. Against her brother's wishes, Isabella runs away with Heathcliff.

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