Wuthering Heights as a Setting: Symbolism, Analysis & Importance

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

There's a grand tradition of spooky stories named after the houses where they take place. Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights' is one such story, set at the titular Wuthering Heights. Let's take a look at this spooky abode.

What-ing Heights?

'Wuther' is an outdated English word -- it means 'to blow with a dull roaring sound,' usually referring to wind. Combine that with the fact that the house Wuthering Heights is on a hill, and you get the surface meaning of the house's name and the book's title. It's a house high up on a hill, where the wind blows with a dull, roaring sound.

Lockwood tells us as much in the first chapter of the book, when he arrives to tell Heathcliff that he's there to rent the other house, Thrushcross Grange. The wind has even warped the landscape: ''One may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.'' Cheery!

But several other characters throughout the book could be described as blowing with a dull roaring sound. There's Hindley Earnshaw, who turns into a raging drunk after his wife passes away and who abuses Heathcliff verbally and physically as a child. There's Heathcliff himself, who's an anger-fueled vengeance monster. And then there are the ghosts.

G-g-g-g-ghosts!

Catherine Earnshaw's ghost is the main one we're talking about here. She haunts Lockwood in a dream when he stays the night at Wuthering Heights, and he slams the window in her ghostly face (more on this later). Heathcliff trades him rooms for the night, but Lockwood is shaken.

Whether or not Wuthering Heights is actually haunted is never totally clear. Heathcliff definitely believes that it is, and many other characters do too. That belief informs everyone's behavior in the book. Heathcliff seems like a demon several times throughout the book, due to both his looks and his actions. And at the end of the novel, when Heathcliff goes crazy and dies, it's his belief in Catherine's spirit accompanying him that lets him go somewhat peacefully.

Catherine's Bed & The Open Window

Catherine's giant oak-paneled bed is the centerpiece for both of these haunting events. It's a symbol for the house as a whole: sturdy, ornate, and creepy. And it's a reminder for everybody in the house of Catherine's memory and possible presence. Lockwood sleeps there with Heathcliff's reluctant permission, and he dreams of Catherine's bloody ghost. Lockwood closing the window suddenly is all that keeps the ghost outside the house.

Heathcliff, at the end of the novel, bars himself in Catherine's bedroom during a midnight thunderstorm. He's found dead the next morning, with the window hanging wide open and the room soaked. The implication is that he's let the ghost in -- again, even if the ghost isn't real within the novel, Heathcliff's belief in her leads him to open the window.

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