The Importance and Interpretation of Setting in the Novel

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

Wuthering Heights is a timeless classic in which Emily Brontë presents two opposite settings. Wuthering Heights and its occupants are wild, passionate, and strong while Thrushcross Grange and its inhabitants are calm and refined, and these two opposing forces struggle throughout the novel.

Wuthering Heights is out on the moors in a barren landscape. Originally a farming household, it sits “[o]n that bleak hilltop [where] the earth was hard with a black frost” (14). Because winds constantly buffet the house, “the architect, [built] it strong; the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defend with large jutting stones” (10). Even the name suggests its wildness: ” ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed to” (10). The innards of Wuthering Heights “lay bare to the inquiring eye. Above the chimney were sundry villainous old guns, and a couple of horse-pistols: and by way of ornament, three gaudily painted canisters disposed along its ledge, the chairs, high-backed, primitive structures, painted green; one or two heavy black ones lurking in the shade” (11). Both the outside and inside of Wuthering Heights are clearly exposed to tumult and wildness.

In addition, the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights are stormy and wild. Hindley Earnshaw beats Heathcliff–the adopted, “dark-skinned gypsy” (11)–who, with strong fortitude, “would stand Hindley’s blows without winking or shedding a tear” (42). In one particular instance, Hindley throws an iron weight at Heathcliff, “hitting him on the breast, and down he fell, but staggered up immediately, breathless and white” (43). Moreover, as owner of Wuthering Heights, Hindley becomes fond of drunken rages. At the sight of Hindley coming home drunk, Nelly Dean takes the shots out of the gun, “which he was fond of playing with in his insane excitement” (75) and tries to hide Hareton from his drunken father. Just as Nelly is hiding Hareton in the cabinet, Hindley storms home and accuses Nelly of keeping his son away from him, finally threatening her with a carving knife. And when Hareton neglects to kiss his father, Hindley picks up the frightened boy, denouncing, “I’ll break the brat’s neck” (76). Then, carrying him up the stairs, Hindley puts Hareton over the banister and releases him, only scarcely caught by Heathcliff. Obviously, Hindley acts with wild passion, often times resulting in violence.

Growing up in this wild and stormy household, Heathcliff also takes on these attributes. After Hindley gambles the house away and dies, Heathcliff becomes the master, belittling Haretona destined gentleman of the area–to a lowly, uneducated, friendless servant, often beating him as Hindley did himself. Besides beating Hindley’s son, Heathcliff also strikes young Cathy in a fit of rage: “with this liberated hand, and, pulling her on his knee, administered with the other a shower of terrific slaps on both sides of the head” (258), and when Nelly attempts to stop him, Heathcliff silences her by “a touch on the chest” (258). Like their surroundings, the occupants of Wuthering Heights are strong, rugged, and stormy.

In contrast to Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë created another setting. Thrushcross Grange. Unlike the isolated Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange is close to the town and civilization and was established by country squires and landed-gentry. With ornate gardens and numerous trees, Thrushcross Grange is well landscaped and sheltered from wild elements. Compared to the primitive, gaudy furnishings of Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange contains ornate decorations; Heathcliff describes it: “ah! it was beautifula splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson-covered chairs and tables, and a pure white ceiling bordered by gold, a shower of glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the center, and shimmering with little soft tapers” (51). A “huge, warm, cheerful apartment” (15), Thrushcross Grange represents rest, repose, delicateness, and calmness.

Just as the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights parallel their home, so too do the inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange. Edgar and Isabella Linton both grow up at Thrushcross Grange as calm, reposed children. Catherine is forced to stay at Thrushcross Grange when Skulker, the Lintons’ dog, bites her. This serene place transforms her into a much calmer, mannerly person. And when she marries Edgar Linton, she brings some storminess from Wuthering Heights to this restful abode. For instance, Catherine and Heathcliff, both originating from Wuthering Heights, goad Edgar into “[striking] him full on the throat a blow that would have leveled a slighter man” (115). After Catherine’s death, Edgar Linton cares for young Cathy and educates her, unlike the fate of the abandoned children at Wuthering Heights. Similar to their dwelling, the inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange are calm, leisurely, and refined.

The sharp contrast between these two settings is a main theme of the novel. On one hand, Wuthering Heights represents a wild, rugged, strong place while Thrushcross Grange signifies a serene, calm, delicate abode. Emily Brontë does not want us to relate these two settings with good and evil but rather with two extreme forces. These two forces clash throughout the novel, and only in the end do their rumblings subside, when these two opposing houses mediate, as they are joined in love.

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