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.
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon

Pitting nature against civilization, Emily Brontë promotes the Romantic idea that the sublime—the awe-inspiring, almost frightening, beauty of nature—is superior to man-made culture. She makes this point by correlating many of the characters with one side or the other and then squaring them off against each other. For instance, Heathcliff, whose origins are unknown and who roams the moors, is definitely on the nature side, while his rival, the studious Edgar Linton, is in the civilized camp. Other pairings include Hareton Earnshaw vs. Linton Earnshaw; Catherine vs. Isabella; and Hareton vs. Cathy. In all of these cases, Brontë makes one character a bit wild (perhaps by showing them in tune with animals and/or the outdoors and/or their emotions), while portraying the other as somewhat reserved and often prissy or fussy.

But nothing is black and white in Wuthering Heights. Many of the characters exhibit traits from both sides. While Brontë argues that nature is somehow purer, she also lauds civilization, particularly in terms of education. Hareton Earnshaw personifies this combination of nature and civilization: Brontë associates the young orphan with nature (he is a coarse, awkward farm boy) as well as civilization (inspired by his desire for young Cathy, he learns how to read). This mixture of down-to-earth passion and book-centered education make him, arguably, the most sympathetic character in the book.

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Nature and Civilization Quotes in Wuthering Heights

Below you will find the important quotes in Wuthering Heights related to the theme of Nature and Civilization.
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 3 Quotes
Terror made me cruel; and finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes.
Related Characters: Mr. Lockwood (speaker)
Related Symbols: Wuthering Heights
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Having read Catherine's diary and fallen asleep, Lockwood dreams that he hears a tapping at the window and is grabbed by the "little, ice-cold hand" of Catherine's ghost. He attempts to pull away but the hand won't let him go, begging to be let in; terrified, Lockwood rubs the hand against the broken window pane until eventually it lets go. This disturbing sequence is one of the most obviously gothic moments in the novel. It is ambiguous whether Catherine's ghost is "real" or whether it is only a figment of Lockwood's imagination, conjured by the fact that he fell asleep reading her diary. However, when Heathcliff arrives in the room after hearing Lockwood's screams, it is clear that Catherine's ghost is a very real presence to him.

The graphic violence in the dream is made even more unsettling by the fact that Catherine's ghost is in the form of a child, with a "little" hand. Lockwood's willingness to viciously harm the child in his terror suggests that even highly "civilized" people have a capacity for brutality and passion beneath the veneer of good manners. Meanwhile, the ghost itself displays Catherine's contradictory qualities: it is simultaneously stubborn and powerless, threatening and vulnerable.

This passage also emphasizes the dividing line between Wuthering Heights and the moor outside. The ghost is desperate to be let in, but there is clearly a powerful force keeping it outside. This division between inside and outside is represented by the jagged glass of the broken window pane, which Lockwood makes violent use of in order to keep the ghost out.

Chapter 8 Quotes
Doubtless Catherine marked the difference between her friends, as one came in and the other went out. The contrast resembled what you see in exchanging a bleak, hilly, coal country for a beautiful fertile valley; and his voice and greeting were as opposite as his aspect.
Related Characters: Ellen "Nelly" Dean (speaker), Catherine Earnshaw Linton, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton
Related Symbols: The Weather
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine has been cruel to Heathcliff, calling him "foolish," and when Edgar arrives, Heathcliff leaves in a storm of anger. Nelly, narrating the story to Lockwood, frames the difference between the two men in terms of nature, a typical descriptive strategy in the novel. Heathcliff is compared to "a bleak, hilly, coal country"––not unlike the actual landscape of the Yorkshire moors. This underlines the close association between Heathcliff and the Yorkshire wilderness.

Edgar, meanwhile, is compared to a "beautiful fertile valley." Though "fertile" could be a reference to the Lintons' wealth, this description is also notably feminizing. This passage confirms the fact that Catherine is growing more and more attracted to the idea of a future with Edgar, and again, the notion of fertility is important, as it prefigures both a life of prosperity and the birth of Catherine and Edgar's beautiful daughter, Cathy.

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.

My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods; time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff!
Related Characters: Catherine Earnshaw Linton (speaker), Ellen "Nelly" Dean, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton
Related Symbols: The Weather
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, one of the most famous of the novel, Catherine compares her relationships with Edgar and Heathcliff to different aspects of nature, concluding that her love for Heathcliff is permanent, and even declaring that she herself is Heathcliff. By comparing her feelings for Edgar to foliage, Catherine does not disparage these feelings, and the metaphor suggests that her relationship with Edgar will be more pleasant and prosperous than a marriage to Heathcliff could possibly be. 

At the same time, Catherine's description of her love for Heathcliff as resembling "the eternal rocks beneath" hints that their union is essential and fated. This sense of inevitability implies that––despite all that keeps them apart––they are destined to be together, and Catherine's mention of the rocks beneath prefigures the ending of the novel when she and Heathcliff are buried in the same place, finally together and at peace. 

The phrase "I am Heathcliff" is remarkable, and can be interpreted in a number of ways. On one level it might be considered the ultimate romantic statement, representing the absolute union of two people. On the other hand, it is also somewhat sinister and uncanny, especially situated in a novel that includes ghosts, doubles, and incestuous love. Such a declaration would have been especially alarming to Victorian readers, who would find it extremely strange for a woman to be saying that she is the man she loves. 

Chapter 24 Quotes
One time, however, we were near quarrelling. He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of heaven's happiness: mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above; and not only larks, but throstles, and blackbirds, and linnets, and cuckoos pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells; but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze; and woods and sounding water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk: I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine.
Related Characters: Catherine/Cathy Linton Heathcliff Earnshaw (speaker), Linton Heathcliff
Related Symbols: The Weather
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

Cathy has confessed to Nelly that she secretly spends time with Linton and enjoys his company; in contrast to the bitter hatred between their parents, they get along well. She describes a mild disagreement they had over their respective visions of heaven: Linton dreams of a peaceful, summery day, while Cathy prefers the idea of a lively, blustery scene, similar to the Yorkshire moors. Once again, Bronte represents her characters' personalities through descriptions of the natural landscape. Linton is shown to be serene and quiet, reflective of his non-threatening, shy, feminine character. Cathy, on the other hand, resembles her mother in her love of the harsh Yorkshire outdoors, representative of her inner wildness. 

This depiction of Cathy is also reminiscent of her mother Catherine's contrary beliefs about happiness and the afterlife. Earlier in the novel, Catherine tells Nelly that she has "no business being in heaven," with the parallel implication that she has "no business" marrying Edgar and adopting his pleasant, refined lifestyle. Instead, Catherine believes she ultimately belongs with Heathcliff; her version of heaven (like her daughter's) resembles the rugged, stormy moors, and indeed that is where she ends up after death––haunting Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff. 

Chapter 27 Quotes
Catherine's face was just like the landscape—shadows and sunshine flitting over it in rapid succession; but the shadows rested longer, and the sunshine was more transient.
Related Characters: Ellen "Nelly" Dean (speaker), Catherine/Cathy Linton Heathcliff Earnshaw
Related Symbols: The Weather
Page Number: 303
Explanation and Analysis:

It is August, and Nelly and Cathy have ventured out onto the moors to meet Linton. Nelly describes the vibrant summer landscape before immediately moving on to describe Cathy's face, which matches the natural scene. Once again, Bronte draws a parallel between the weather and Cathy's personality, and the strong affinity between Cathy and the moors links her to her mother, Catherine. Additionally, this description echoes Cathy's description of heaven, which she envisions as a wild, lively, blustery climate.

Note also that Nelly describes the sunshine as resting only a moment on Cathy's face, while the shadows last longer. This seems to be a description not only of Cathy's personality but also life and happiness in general. Wuthering Heights is a novel filled with conflict and suffering, which in many ways contains a rather dark, disturbing view of life. Cathy and Linton symbolize the best we can hope for in life, which is not––as Linton hopes––an entirely peaceful, pleasant existence, but rather moments of freedom and happiness within an otherwise turbulent world. 

Chapter 32 Quotes
The task was done, not free from further blunders; but the pupil claimed a reward, and received at least five kisses; which, however, he generously returned. Then they came to the door, and from their conversation I judged they were about to issue out and have a walk on the moors.
Related Characters: Mr. Lockwood (speaker), Catherine/Cathy Linton Heathcliff Earnshaw, Hareton Earnshaw
Page Number: 351
Explanation and Analysis:

Cathy has been taking care of Hareton while he recovers from a shooting accident, including teaching him to read. While previously Cathy has acted cruelly toward Hareton, making fun of his illiteracy, this part of the book represents a transformation in their relationship. (Indeed, the transformation is so total that at first Lockwood does not even recognize this "pupil" as Hareton, and only understands the situation once Nelly explains it to him.) The newly mature Cathy has seen that her previous behavior was unfair, and she and Hareton come to love each other in a way very unlike Catherine and Heathcliff's love; unlike the older generation, Cathy and Hareton's relationship is gentle, productive, and viable. There is, of course, still a major similarity between Cathy and Hareton's relationship and that of Catherine and Heathcliff, though: despite the stark differences between them, they are united by their love of the wild moors. 

In many ways, this union is possible because Cathy stops looking down on Hareton and comes to see him as her equal. At the same time, she nonetheless remains in an authoritative position as his teacher and caregiver, and her dominance subtly reverses the expected power dynamic between a man and woman. Note the similarity between the love born in this situation and the story of Jane Eyre, written by Emily Bronte's sister, Charlotte: in that novel, Mr. Rochester is at first cruel to Jane, but when he becomes blind and Jane has to care for him, they fall in love.