Wuthering Heights: Summary, Setting & Themes

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Sophie Starmack

Sophia has taught college French and composition. She has master's degrees in French and in creative writing.

Expert Contributor
Sasha Blakeley

Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

From wild and blustering moors to haunted houses to a blistering love that outlasts death, Emily Bronte's novel, 'Wuthering Heights,' has it all. In this lesson, we'll go over the plot points, setting, major characters and themes. Updated: 10/06/2020

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, is an incredibly complex narrative. It's crammed with stories-within-stories, generations of characters (many of whom have the same name) and flashbacks to minute plot details about who married whom.

It can be a little difficult to keep all of the details straight (the Victorians seemed to have longer attention spans than we do), but the most important thing to keep in mind is the fierce and passionate love between Catherine and Heathcliff. Although social conventions prevent them from marrying, their obsession with one another continues even beyond the grave.

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  • 0:04 Wuthering Heights
  • 0:42 Backstory & Characters
  • 2:17 Cathy & Hareton
  • 3:19 Setting
  • 3:50 Literary Themes
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Backstory & Characters

In the opening chapters, we meet Lockwood, who has just rented a home in northern England. He has an upsetting run-in with his landlord, Heathcliff, who lives across the moor in a sprawling old house called ''Wuthering Heights.'' A troubled soul, Heathcliff is cruel to his family and convinced that his house is haunted by the ghost of a woman named Cathy. Lockwood asks his housekeeper, Nelly, to tell him the backstory.

According to Nelly, 30 years ago, Catherine and her brother Hindley lived in Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff, an orphan taken in by their father. Catherine and Heathcliff both have fiery tempers and soon become best friends. Their father comes to love Heathcliff more than Hindley, and as a result, Hindley starts to treat Heathcliff cruelly. When Hindley eventually inherits the house, he and his wife turn Heathcliff into a servant.

Catherine is secretly in love with Heathcliff, but she chooses to marry the proper and wealthy Edgar Linton instead in an effort to climb the social ladder. Heathcliff runs away in despair.

Bent on revenge, Heathcliff returns three years later and tries to make Catherine jealous by flirting with Edgar's sister, Isabella. Catherine takes to her bed, sick with rage, and dies after giving birth to a daughter, Cathy.

Isabella and Heathcliff elope, and they have a son named Linton. Heathcliff is now master of Wuthering Heights, but his wife won't live with him because he's cruel to her. Isabella moves away, taking her son with her. It seems that Heathcliff never really wanted anyone but Catherine.

Cathy & Hareton

Flash forward a dozen years. This time around, a situation similar to the one between Catherine and Heathcliff is playing out. Catherine's daughter, Cathy, who's beautiful and spunky, just like her mother, becomes good friends with Heathcliff's son, Linton.

Cathy falls for Linton. If Heathcliff's machinations go according to plan, Cathy and Linton will marry and he'll own the Linton household as well, completing his revenge on Edgar. When Edgar dies, Heathcliff forces Cathy and Linton to marry. Linton dies soon afterwards, leading Cathy to live a miserable life as a servant at Wuthering Heights.

The flashback is over, and we find ourselves again in the present. Mr. Lockwood, appalled, has left, but returns several months later for an update. He finds that Heathcliff has died after a strange illness during which he saw visions of Catherine's ghost. Heathcliff is buried next to Catherine. Meanwhile, Cathy has fallen in love with Hareton, her deceased uncle Hindley's son, and they plan to marry.

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Additional Activities

Wuthering Heights: More Activities

This lesson introduced you to the complex plot and themes of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Use these prompts to get to grips with what this novel has to offer and to explore further.

Dramatis Personae

In order to remember the characters and their relationships to each other in this novel, try writing out a family tree and a dramatis personae indicating how they are all connected. Be sure to note who marries whom and who is in love with whom. Refer back to your list and diagram when you need to study the novel or to refresh your memory.

Race in Wuthering Heights

One of the aspects of Wuthering Heights that was initially controversial is the fact that Emily Brontë strongly implies that Heathcliff is a person of colour. The 2011 film adaptation of the novel reflects this. Write an essay exploring race in Wuthering Heights and how reading Heathcliff as black or mixed race changes his character and his relationships, particularly his relationship with Catherine.

Creative Writing

This lesson discussed the major characters in Wuthering Heights and how their lives change over two generations. Write a short scene that either depicts a missing but important scene in the narrative or that tells part of the story from a different character's perspective. Think about who the speaker in your writing is and what their life is like. Consider when your scene would fit into the narrative and what it would contribute.

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