Wuthering Heights

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Themes and Colors
Gothic Literature and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
Love and Passion Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Revenge and Repetition Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Wuthering Heights, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Class Theme Icon

Understanding the importance of class in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain is essential to understanding Wuthering Heights. Generally, at the time, people were born into a class and stayed there: if your parents were rich and respected (like Edgar's), you would be, too; if your parents were servants (like Nelly Dean's), you probably would be too. Social mobility—the idea that you can change your class status (usually for the better)—was not commonplace.

In Brontë's novel, however, class distinctions are constantly changing, much to the confusion of the characters. There are two primary examples of this: Heathcliff and Hareton. Because no one knows anything about Heathcliff's background, they all treat him differently. Mr. Earnshaw adopts him and treats him like a son, but the snobby Lintons refuse to socialize with him. When he disappears for a few years and comes back rich, the characters struggle even more over how to approach him—he now has money and land, but many of them still consider him a farm boy. Likewise, Hareton has a hard time gaining respect. The son of Hindley, Hareton should be the heir to Wuthering Heights. With land and standing, he ought to be a gentleman. However, Heathcliff refuses to educate him, and everyone else mostly ignores him, so his manners (a very important indicator of class status) are rough and gruff. Only when young Cathy helps educate him does he achieve the class standing to which he was born.

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Class Quotes in Wuthering Heights

Below you will find the important quotes in Wuthering Heights related to the theme of Class.
Chapter 1 Quotes
But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman, that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire.
Related Characters: Mr. Lockwood (speaker), Heathcliff
Related Symbols: Wuthering Heights
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Lockwood recalls arriving at Wuthering Heights for the first time, describing his initial impressions of the house and of Heathcliff, its owner. He remarks that based on the look of the house he would expect it to be inhabited by a "homely, Northern farmer," but instead he encounters Heathcliff, whom he describes in paradoxical terms. To Lockwood, Heathcliff simultaneously looks like a "dark-skinned gypsy" and a member of the English aristocracy. Even in his own home, Heathcliff seems to be an outsider, and the reference to his ethnic origin hints that, as Bronte later reveals, Heathcliff was adopted. 

Immediately we know that there is something strange and otherworldly about Heathcliff. To 19th century white English readers, his depiction as a "dark-skinned gypsy" would signal that he was mysterious and potentially menacing. The fact that he blurs class boundaries is also significant, as it would have been highly unusual to meet someone who could not clearly be placed within the rigid class system of the time. Finally, there is a hint of irony in the fact that Lockwood describes Heathcliff as being at odds with his home. Although Heathcliff is more suited to the open moor than to the house, he comes to be closely associated with the rugged, sturdy Wuthering Heights, especially in comparison to Thrushcross Grange.  

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Chapter 9 Quotes
I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn't have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and [Edgar's] is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.
Related Characters: Catherine Earnshaw Linton (speaker), Heathcliff, Edgar Linton
Related Symbols: The Weather
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine confides her conflicted thoughts about Edgar and Heathcliff to Nelly, unaware that Heathcliff is listening. After Catherine admits that it would "degrade" her to marry Heathcliff, Heathcliff leaves, and thus does not hear her confess that she loves him and that their souls are the same. This passage is pivotally important in the novel, because if Heathcliff had chosen to leave even a moment later he and Catherine might have ended up marrying after all. Such timing adds to the tragic drama of the plot. It also provokes the question of why Nelly chose not to intervene and explain to Catherine that Heathcliff had been listening. 

Catherine's words illuminate the mystical, uncanny nature of hers and Heathcliff's relationship. The statement that she loves him "because he's more myself than I am" has an eerie resonance considering they are technically brother and sister. It also illustrates the ways in which Catherine and Heathcliff's characters blur the boundaries of masculine and feminine, self and other.

Once again, nature is invoked to describe the fundamental differences between people. The suggestion that Catherine and Heathcliff's souls are made of "lightning" and "fire" indicates the fierce and destructive power of their love.

Nelly, I see now, you think me a selfish wretch; but did it never strike you that if Heathcliff and I married we should be beggars? whereas, if I marry Linton, I can aid Heathcliff to rise, and place him out of my brother's power?
Related Characters: Catherine Earnshaw Linton (speaker), Ellen "Nelly" Dean, Hindley Earnshaw, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine continues to reveal her thoughts to Nelly, explaining that she feels that she must marry Edgar in order to rescue Heathcliff from Hindley. This speech challenges the impression that Catherine has taken a liking to Edgar because she is fickle or drawn to his elegant lifestyle; at least according to her, she marries him because she hopes that it will enable her to help stop Hindley's vengeful treatment of Heathcliff. Such a choice illustrates the highly limited agency of women at the time. Without attaching herself to Edgar, Catherine is powerless to help Heathcliff. Indeed, the main part of what keeps Catherine and Heathcliff apart is the economic class system that restricts the freedom of certain people while giving others unlimited authority.

Chapter 15 Quotes
You teach me how cruel you've been—cruel and false. Why do you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry, and wring out my kisses and tears; they'll blight you—they'll damn you. You loved me—then what right had you to leave me? What right—answer me—for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.
Related Characters: Heathcliff (speaker), Catherine Earnshaw Linton
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine, who is dying, has agreed to see Heathcliff for the first time since Edgar separated them and since she has grown ill. During their conversation, Catherine and Heathcliff express both their anger and enduring love for each other. It is clear that they feel deeply resentful of one another, blaming the other for their separation. Heathcliff's words reflect one of the key themes in Wuthering Heights: that when people behave cruelly, there is usually a reason behind it. Bronte suggests that most of the time cruel behavior is motivated by pain, powerlessness, and the subsequent desire for revenge. 

Heathcliff's speech also illuminates the eerie power of his and Catherine's love. This power is shown to be greater than "God or Satan," and in saying that even death would not have separated them, Heathcliff confirms the idea that his and Catherine's love is eternal, almost supernaturally disrupting the barrier between the dead and living. Furthermore, his comment that by breaking her own heart, Catherine has also broken his, emphasizes the notion that they are supernaturally connected to the point that they are the same person. Heathcliff's reference to Catherine's will is also important, as Catherine's stubborn willpower is a recurring motif within the novel. It is important to note, however, that Heathcliff misunderstands her actions; he cannot see that she chose to marry Edgar in order to help Heathcliff escape Hindley. 

Chapter 20 Quotes
My son is prospective owner of your place, and I should not wish him to die till I was certain of being his successor. Besides he's mine, and I want the triumph of seeing my descendant fairly lord of their estates: my child hiring their children to till their father's land for wages. That is the sole consideration which can make me endure the whelp: I despise him for himself, and hate him for the memories he revives!
Related Characters: Heathcliff (speaker), Edgar Linton, Linton Heathcliff
Related Symbols: Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

Nelly has tried to reassure Linton that he shouldn't be afraid of his father, but Heathcliff turns out to behave incredibly cruelly towards his son, treating him in the same hateful way as he treated Edgar and Isabella. Linton resembles Edgar in his looks and demeanor, and doesn't seem to bear any similarity to Heathcliff at all. This makes it even more disturbing that Heathcliff is so insistent on the hereditary connection between him and Linton, emphasizing this relationship with the words "my son," "mine," "my descendent," and "my son." Clearly, Heathcliff wishes to enact his revenge through Linton; indeed, Heathcliff himself admits that this is the only reason why he tolerates Linton's presence. 

This passage thus confirms the importance of vengeance in the novel, and specifically reveals how Heathcliff wishes to overcome the humiliation he experienced through his class position by seeing Linton become the owner of Thrushcross Grange. The fact that he describes Linton as belonging to him suggests that he sees Linton himself as property, akin to the properties of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights.