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Symbols & Symbolism 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'' by Emily Bronte, as the character's rage within Wuthering Heights, storms rage outside. In this lesson, we will learn how the author used the weather and animals as symbols of the characters.

Representative Characterizations

In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte uses the weather and dogs as symbols of the emotional state and traits of some of the chief characters. Symbols are objects, events or situations that represent bigger ideas. Let's take a look at weather first.

Weather

Weather can be calm or violent just like characters. In the novel, significant tumultuous events are accompanied by storms and help to signify the raging emotions of the characters. Even the name of the residence 'Wuthering' is an adjective describing ''…the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.''

The first major storm of the book is when Lockwood visits Wuthering Heights in the middle of a blizzard. He ends up getting stuck there where he encounters the ghost of Catherine.

As Nelly tells Lockwood the story of how Heathcliff came to Wuthering Heights, she describes a storm on the night that Heathcliff, Hindley, and Catherine's father died. ''A high wind blustered round the house, and roared in the chimney: it sounded wild and stormy, yet it was not cold, and we were all together…''

On the night that Heathcliff runs away, Catherine and Nelly go to look for him in the storm. Nelly narrates, ''About midnight, while we still sat up, the storm came rattling over the Heights in full fury. There was a violent wind, as well as thunder, and either one or the other split a tree off at the corner of the building: a huge bough fell across the roof, and knocked down a portion of the east chimney-stack, sending a clatter of stones and soot into the kitchen-fire.'' This is by far one of the most violent storms of the book.

The next storm occurs when Heathcliff returns from mourning Catherine to a confrontation with Hindley and his gun. Ultimately, this conflict led to Isabella leaving Wuthering Heights and running four miles in the rain to take refuge at Thrushcross Grange. It is not hard to see the metaphorical connection between the strong, violent emotions that are happening within the walls of Wuthering Heights and the storms that are raging outside.

Dogs

The dogs at Wuthering Heights that Lockwood encounters on his visit are wild and out-of-control, just like the people who live there. Lockwood is terrified when he is left alone with a pack of dogs to guard him. When Lockwood teases one, she attacks and alerts ''…the whole hive: half-a-dozen four-footed fiends, of various sizes and ages, issued from hidden dens to the common centre.'' Similarly, Heathcliff is unable to take teasing and responds with unnecessary force when he feels disrespected.

The next day, Joseph sics the dogs on Lockwood, thinking he is stealing the lantern Lockwood borrowed. '…while a mingled guffaw from Heathcliff and Hareton put the copestone on my rage and humiliation. Fortunately, the beasts seemed more bent on stretching their paws, and yawning, and flourishing their tails, than devouring me alive…' This attack isn't physically dangerous, but is intended to ridicule, demean, and wield power over Lockwood. Sometimes that can be worse than physical pain.

The first time Catherine and Heathcliff visit Thrushcross Grange, Edgar and Isabella are fighting and whining over a little dog. But when they hear Catherine and Heathcliff laughing outside, they sic the bulldogs on them, resulting in Catherine becoming injured. The bigger more aggressive dogs symbolize Heathcliff's fierceness and reckless behavior, while the tiny, little, whiny dog is representative of Edgar's sensitivity.

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