A prime example of gothic literature, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights employs exemplary usage of gothic elements such as weather, the supernatural, and darkness. Resembling the epitome of classic horror movie characteristics, Bronte’s novel illuminates the darkness of life and the imperfection of the human soul. Heathcliff represents the “criminal,” torturing not only himself but also the individuals who surround him. Plaguing his victims, Heathcliff affects Cathy Linton, Hareton, and Nelly through his destructive path. In fact, Heathcliff’s role as a demonic character directly impacts the lives of those closest to him. Moreover, just as movies illustrate ominous settings, Bronte uses gothic imagery to develop themes in the book. Throughout Wuthering Heights, one of the most prominent features include the use of imagery during the course of the book, which brings about a unique and emotional experience that touches on the primary themes of the book. Of the prominent imagery in the novel used, the most prominent instances are Heathcliff and the sinister aspects that relate to him, elements of nature and their influence in the characters’ lives, and how love and passion or the absence of both cause Heathcliff to act out.
In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is portrayed as a troubled character who seeks revenge for his problems. His symbolic connection to sinister things such as Satan in Paradise Lost, predatory beasts, and the links between him, the devil, and hell only further add to his development as a detached misanthropist. John Milton’s work, Paradise Lost includes many similarities to Heathcliff and Lucifer, almost to the extent of identifying Heathcliff with that of a fallen angel. In one part of Paradise Lost, Lucifer is spoken of by the author: “of dauntless courage, and considerate pride waiting revenge,” giving off the idea that Lucifer, like Heathcliff, waits for the perfect opportunity to act on his revenge after his mistreatment. In another section, Lucifer’s thought process is revealed when Milton says: “better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” reflecting that Lucifer would rather be the master of the worst place imaginable than be a subsidiary in paradise. Mirroring this, Heathcliff feels this way about Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, with Wuthering Heights being hell and Thrushcross Grange being heaven.
Besides this, Heathcliff instinctively employs many characteristics of beastly animals in his personality that constitute his character in the novel. After the death of Catherine, Heathcliff shows his animalistic ways concentrated from his anger. Heathcliff scratches and beats a tree out of frustration, howling like a beast, displaying his true nature: “He dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast…” (173). Along with his beastly characteristics, Heathcliff reflects devilish and dark traits. Upon returning home, Heathcliff is not recognized by Nelly. Who she sees instead is a dark silouette of a man, being Heathcliff (95). Later in the book, Catherine speaks to Nelly regarding her outrage over Heathcliff and Isabella, touching on Isabella’s foolish love for Heathcliff. She relates his false love for Isabella to the form of a demon, saying: “… all is dashed wrong by the fool’s craving to hear evil of self that haunts some people like a demon!” (121). All of these qualities show the detrimental state of Heathcliff as a character and his effect on others.
Conversely, Bronte uses the elements of nature to indicate that life revolves around the changes and growth of the environment; through imagery, she uses nature to represent Lockwood’s first stay at Wuthering Heights, Catherine Earnshaw’s dissatisfaction with Edgar Linton, and Cathy and Hareton’s budding relationship. Certainly, the ominous weather haunting Lockwood in the beginning of the book foreshadows his impending and tumultuous night at Wuthering Heights. Specifically, Lockwood says, “A sorrowful sight I saw: dark night coming down prematurely, and sky and hills mingled in one bitter whirl of wind suffocating snow” (13). By illustrating this scene using the images of storms, skies, and hills, Bronte essentially connects the elements of nature with imminent threat in the plot. Moreover, Catherine’s description of her relationship with Edgar reflects the gradual changes of the forest and of the seasons. Cathy tells Nelly Dean, “My love for Linton is like the foliage of the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees” (83). Clearly, Catherine uses natural elements to depict her shallow love for Edgar. Furthermore, Bronte uses trees as an image to signify the the theme of the power of nature in the lives of individuals, specifically in the relationship between Cathy and Hareton. She writes, “We were in April then: the weather was sweet and warm, the grass as green as showers and sun could make it, and the two dwarf apple trees, near the southern wall, in full bloom” (337). In short, just as the trees in April start to bloom, the affection between Hareton and Cathy blooms. Thus, influence of the natural elements in the book represents a significant theme during Lockwood’s stay at the mansion, Cathy’s description of Edgar, and Cathy and Hareton’s new bond.
Throughout Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte weaves the influence of love and passion into the life of Heathcliff, using on-point imagery to illustrate the extent that they have on him. Dogs have a reputation for being loyal and protective of humans, and since Heathcliff has characteristics like a dog, he acts protective toward Catherine.Therefore, in the scene where Heathcliff visits the frail Catherine, Nelly says: “on my approaching hurriedly to ascertain if she had fainted, he gnashed at me, and foamed like a mad dog, and gathered her to him with greedy jealousy” (166). Heathcliff’s immense love for Catherine encourages him to pursue revenge against all those who have kept them apart, turning him into a devil in his own right.
As keeper of the underworld, Lucifer harbours the damned souls of the world and punishes them ; this power to be the gatekeeper is mirrored by Heathcliff when he says of Hareton: “If [he] does not turn you out of the room I’ll strike him to Hell, damnable witch!” (330). He speaks as if he has the power to send both Hareton and young Cathy (the damnable witch) to Hell as if admitting that he is in fact the Devil. Even after Cathy’s death, Heathcliff still clings to the remaining shimmer of his opportunity to be with her. In hopes that he may be with Catherine in the afterlife by opening up her coffin, he admits that he “bribed the sexton to pull [the side] away when I’m laid there, and slide mine out too” (297) so that they may be together eternally.
Throughout Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, one of the most prominent features include the use of imagery during the course of the book, which brings about a unique and emotional experience that touches on the primary themes of the book. Specifically, Emily Bronte’s depiction of Heathcliff as a demonic and savage character directly relates to Lucifer in Paradise Lost, by John Milton. Essentially, Bronte indicates the theme of the presence of the Devil through Heathcliff’s life as a vengeful individual. Moreover, Bronte creates patterns between elements of nature and the lives of the individual characters to foreshadow and highlight the theme. She employs images such as the moors, hills, skies, and storms to connect the growth and changes in nature to the gradual “ups and downs” of life.Similarly, she indicates the theme of the influence of love through the destructive behavior of Heathcliff after the death of Catherine. Certainly, love drives the decisions made by multiple characters in the book, especially Heathcliff. Clearly, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights tells the timeless tale of the fallen angel, who succumbs to the destructiveness that comes from the absence of love.