Wuthering Heights

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Revenge and Repetition Theme Analysis

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Gothic Literature and the Supernatural Theme Icon
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Love and Passion Theme Icon
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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.
Revenge and Repetition Theme Icon

Nearly all of the action in Wuthering Heights results from one or another character's desire for revenge. The result are cycles of revenge that seem to endlessly repeat. Hindley takes revenge on Heathcliff for taking his place at Wuthering Heights by denying him an education, and in the process separates Heathcliff and Catherine. Heathcliff then takes revenge upon Hindley by, first, dispossessing Hindley of Wuthering Heights and by denying an education to Hareton, Hindley's son. Heathcliff also seeks revenge on Edgar for marrying Catherine by marrying Cathy to Linton.

Yet while Heathcliff's revenge is effective, it seems to bring him little joy. Late in the novel, Cathy sees this, and tells Heathcliff that her revenge on him, no matter how miserable he makes her, is to know that he, Heathcliff, is more miserable. And it is instructive that only when Heathcliff loses his desire for revenge is he able to finally reconnect with Catherine in death, and to allow Cathy and Hareton, who are so similar to Heathcliff and Catherine, to find love and marry.

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Revenge and Repetition Quotes in Wuthering Heights

Below you will find the important quotes in Wuthering Heights related to the theme of Revenge and Repetition.
Chapter 3 Quotes
The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small—Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton.
Related Characters: Mr. Lockwood (speaker), Catherine Earnshaw Linton, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton
Related Symbols: Wuthering Heights
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Having attempted to leave Wuthering Heights after an unsettling dinner, Lockwood is attacked by the dogs and suffers a nosebleed, forcing him to stay the night in a bedroom that Heathcliff does not normally let anyone use. Describing the room, Lockwood notes that it is damp and fairly empty, and on the window ledge he notices multiple versions of Catherine's name scratched onto the paint. The name signals that, as Lockwood will soon find out, the room is haunted by the ghost of Catherine. 

The fact that there are three different versions of Catherine's name––with the different surnames Earnshaw, Heathcliff, and Linton––highlights the legacy of Catherine's passionate and fickle emotions. At the same time, the names also emphasize the fractured nature of women's identities in the 19th century. When a woman married, she gained not only a new spouse and lifestyle but also essentially became a different person, with a new name and identity. The decision of who to marry was thus of pivotal importance for women, and Catherine's conflict over who to choose was thus inevitably tied to an identity crisis about who she was. Lockwood's description of her handwriting––"all kinds of letters, large and small"––further conveys this sense of inner conflict and turmoil. 

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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 11 Quotes
Well, if I cannot keep Heathcliff for my friend—if Edgar will be mean and jealous, I'll try to break their hearts by breaking my own. That will be a prompt way of finishing all, when I am pushed to extremity!
Related Characters: Catherine Earnshaw Linton (speaker), Heathcliff, Edgar Linton
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Edgar has broken up a fight between Catherine and Heathcliff by forcing Heathcliff to leave Thrushcross Grange, and in response Catherine throws a tantrum to Nelly, threatening to make herself ill if she is prevented from seeing Heathcliff. During this speech Catherine in many ways resembles a child, refusing to compromise or concede that her demands might be unreasonable and selfish. Also like a child, Catherine has very little authority or control over her life because she is a woman, and as a result she sees harming herself as the only way to influence the situation.

As it turns out, this strategy is highly effective, and Catherine does end up gaining power over the others through this tactic of manipulation. Her childishness and stubbornness in this section of the novel are reminiscent of the ghost's tiny hand, which will not let go of Lockwood until it gets what it wants. 

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. 

I forgive what you have done to me. I love my murderer—but yours! How can I?
Related Characters: Heathcliff (speaker), Catherine Earnshaw Linton
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

On her deathbed, Catherine begs Heathcliff to forgive her; he responds by saying that he forgives what she has done to him but not what she has done to herself. It is due to Catherine's own willpower, after all, that she ended up falling ill by self-starvation. Heathcliff's dramatic language blurs the line between sentiment and reality; Catherine has literally murdered herself, but Heathcliff's murder in this passage is only figurative, because he does not wish to live without her. This ambiguity also confirms the eerie, supernatural idea that Catherine and Heathcliff are in fact one person.

Heathcliff's words reflect the complicated doubling between his character and Catherine, and a sense of Catherine's fractured personality. He says he loves his own murderer––Catherine––but that he cannot forgive Catherine's murderer––who is, of course, also Catherine! The notion that Catherine has multiple identities is reminiscent of the moment when Lockwood discovers the three different versions of her name scratched into the wall. Bronte implies that, through Catherine's stubborn struggle against the limits imposed on her by society, her personality becomes fractured.

Chapter 17 Quotes
I've recovered from my first desire to be killed by him-I'd rather he'd kill himself! He has extinguished my love effectually, and so I'm at my ease.
Related Characters: Isabella Linton (speaker), Heathcliff
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

Isabella, soaking wet and dishevelled, has arrived at Wuthering Heights in a crazed mood. She announces to Nelly that Heathcliff has "extinguished" her love for him and that she plans to run away from Thruschcross Grange, believing that Heathcliff wouldn't bother following her. The change Isabella has undergone is striking; introduced in the novel as a model of civilized, refined femininity, she now seems wild, fearless, and unhinged, highly reminiscent of Catherine. Isabella emphasizes this total transformation with the words "recovered" and "extinguished." Although she hardly seems happy, the phrase "at ease" suggests she has found a kind of freedom in relinquishing her emotional attachment to Heathcliff.

This passage is also striking for its mention of violence. It would have been strange to hear Isabella speaking of murder and suicide at an earlier point in the novel, but life at Wuthering Heights has clearly had a menacing effect on her. Once again, Bronte presents love and death as intimately connected, suggesting that passionate love inevitably leads to a desire for death. 

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. 

Chapter 29 Quotes
I got the sexton, who was digging Linton's grave, to remove the earth off her coffin lid, and I opened it. I thought, once, I would have stayed there, when I saw her face again—it is hers yet—he had hard work to stir me; but he said it would change, if the air blew on it, and so I struck one side of the coffin loose, and covered it up—not Linton's side, damn him! I wish he'd been soldered in lead—and I bribed the sexton to pull it away, when I'm laid there, and slide mine out too. I'll have it made so, and then, by the time Linton gets to us, he'll not know which is which!"
Related Characters: Heathcliff (speaker), Catherine Earnshaw Linton, Edgar Linton
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:

Edgar Linton has died, and Heathcliff tells Nelly that he bribed the sexton burying Edgar's body to open Catherine's coffin and promise to eventually bury Heathcliff beside her. This is one of the most morbid moments in the novel, where Heathcliff's desire to be with Catherine's dead body has somewhat necrophilic overtones. Heathcliff's longing for Catherine literally becomes a longing for death. This passage also confirms the importance of death as the moment when Catherine and Heathcliff's union will finally be unchallenged, and Heathcliff's hope is that their remains will literally become one, indistinguishable from each other.

This passage also shows again how Heathcliff's passion extends both towards love for Catherine and vengefulness towards those whom he feels have wronged him. Thus his tampering with Catherine's grave is not just a morbid desire for union with his lost beloved, but also a spiteful gesture towards the recently-deceased Edgar.

Chapter 33 Quotes
'It is a poor conclusion, is it not?' he observed, having brooded awhile on the scene he had just witnessed: 'an absurd termination to my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished! My old enemies have not beaten me; now would be the precise time to revenge myself on their representatives: I could do it; and none could hinder me. But where is the use? I don't care for striking: I can't take the trouble to raise my hand! That sounds as if I had been labouring the whole time only to exhibit a fine trait of magnanimity. It is far from being the case: I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing.
Related Characters: Heathcliff (speaker)
Related Symbols: Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange
Page Number: 369
Explanation and Analysis:

Heathcliff and Cathy have argued about her inheritance and her relationship with Hareton. Heathcliff almost hits her, but is stopped by the fact that Cathy's eyes remind him of his beloved Catherine. In this speech, he reflects on the fact that his violent thirst for vengeance is steadily dissolving. He expresses mixed feelings about this: he is frustrated that all the work he put towards revenge is for nothing, but can't deny that he no longer sees any point in destroying the lives of his enemies.

Here Bronte avoids presenting too neat a resolution or happy ending. Heathcliff himself maintains that he has not suddenly become "magnanimous"––indeed, this would contradict everything we know about his personality––but simply declares that he no longer cares about getting revenge. This sense of exhaustion foreshadows the fact that Heathcliff will soon die, and that both he and the other characters will finally be left at peace.