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Wuthering Heights Gothic Elements Essay

Gothic Fiction, Romance, Psychological Thriller

Gothic Fiction

Wuthering Heights has just about all the elements of a Gothic novel, but the characters are a lot more complex than your average Gothic protagonists/antagonists. Heathcliff's motivations and responses go way beyond the flat character of the average Gothic villain. Catherine is far from the vulnerable, threatened maiden in need of rescuing. And instead of a ruined, crumbling castle, we have Wuthering Heights. Also, the novel provokes greater consideration of morality than the usual action-driven Gothic novel.

Still, Wuthering Heights has plenty of spooky Gothic features, like imprisonment, dark stairways, stormy weather, nightmares, extreme landscapes, melancholy figures, moonlight and candles, torture and excessive cruelty, necrophilia, a supernatural presence, madness, maniacal behavior, communication between the living and the dead—you get the point.

In the Gothic tradition, Brontë features tyrannical fathers and a troubled family line. In this case, the threat comes from Heathcliff, the outsider, who causes havoc by usurping the family line and taking all of its property.

Some of the darkest themes of the Gothic novel emerge with the implications of incest (through the romantic love of Heathcliff and Catherine, who may be half-brother and sister; the marriage of cousins like Cathy and Linton would not have been seen as scandalous) and the suggestion of necrophilia (through Heathcliff's perverse interactions with Catherine's corpse).

The Gothic genre often reveals larger societal anxieties. Wuthering Heights may help to reveal contemporary fears about a foreign presence in the house, threats to patrimony, or an influx of immigration (through places like Liverpool, England) in the form of the so-called "gypsy." It's important to note that Wuthering Heights was published well after the trend in Gothic novels had petered out, so several critics saw the genre—and the novel—as tired and overdone.


That Wuthering Heights is a romance is undeniable. The love between Heathcliff and Catherine transcends the boundaries between life and death, which is both creepy and aww-inspiring. While several marriages and sub-romances occur, the one between the two protagonists is far and away the most dramatic and memorable.

All the characters are driven by their appetites—desire, passion, lust, and ambition. The plot line is propelled toward the reunion of the two lovers, so that when Catherine dies halfway through the book, the reader really wants to know how the romantic story will be resolved. Heathcliff often shows up in top-ten lists of romantic fictional protagonists—often making number one. Despite being unforgivably malicious, Heathcliff is still a major hunk. (For details, see "Trivia.")

Psychological Thriller

Though Wuthering Heights could not be exclusively categorized as a psychological thriller (there are way too many Gothic elements), it strongly features the complexities of Heathcliff's character. In the tradition of this genre, Heathcliff's motivations, his tricks and schemes, and his revenge and manipulations are represented in great detail. Brontë creates enormous suspense by making the reader wonder how Heathcliff will calm his troubled soul and resolve his feelings of vengeance.


tables, and a pure white ceiling bordered by gold, a shower of glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the centre, and shimmering with little soft tapers.)

By use of contrasting settings, itis the aim of the Gothic novel to experience two distinctly separate worlds that are neither whollycomfortable nor tangible to the reader.Ghosts appear also in this novel, as they are another important feature of Gothic fiction.

But, in Emily Brontë’s novel, ghosts are presented in such a way that their true existence is

ambiguous. Some of the ghosts can be explained as nightmares or others consideredsuperstitions. Real or not, ghosts symbolize the intrusion of the past within the present and they

don’t allow people to forget they existed sometime. In chapter III, the ghost of Catherine reveals

itself to Lockwood, who stays in for the night

 because of bad weather. But the reader can’t

explain whether 

it is real or not, because Lockwood’s conscience is altered after he had readsome of Catherine’s thoughts, written on the pages of her books. His first nightmare is explained


the branch of a fir-tree that touched my lattice, as the blast wailed by, and rattled its drycones against the panes

. But when he tries to stop the annoying noise,

the intense horror of nightmare

comes over him, as somebody/something grabs his arm, sobbing

 Let me in


Let mein!


It is no one else but Catherine Linton’s ghost, as she recommends herself, who returns home,

after having lost her way on the moor, twenty years ago. Lockwood tries to explain himself whatis happening (

why did I think of Linton? I had read Earnshaw twenty times for Linton

),suggesting that he considers the vision he had as a creation of his mind. But, nevertheless, hisreaction reveals the true horror that grabbed him:

 I tried to jump up; but, could not stir a limb;and so yelled aloud, in a frenzy of fright 


The second and last appearance of ghosts in this novel is mentioned in the last chapter,enveloped in the same ambiguity as the first one was. Ms. Dean recounts how, one evening,while going to the Grange, she met a scared child and asked him what the matter was. The reasonof his fright was that he had seen Heathcliff, who died three month ago, walking with a womanunder the Nab. Once more, the vision is explained:

 He probably raised the phantoms fromthinking, as he traversed the moors alone, on the nonsense he had heard his parents and companions repeat 

. However, is generates superstition, as Ms. Dean doesn’t like being out in the

dark or left alone in the

grim house

. This last vision turns the tragic love story of Heathcliff andCatherine into a happier one, because, at least in death, they manage to be together.Mystery prevails the whole novel, especially the character represented by Heathcliff.From his very beginning, he is enveloped in secret, in unknown, in mystery. No one knows whohe is, where he comes from, what is his origin. One evening, returning from Liverpool, M.Earnshaw brings home a

dirty, ragged, black-haired child; big enough both to walk and talk 


indeed, its face looked older than Catherine’s – 

yet, when it was set on its feet, in only stared round, and repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand.

This isthe first description given about him. No information regarding him is known, only what theothers characters observe. The same ambiguity covers the way in which Heathcliff managed to

get rich and obtain the other’s esteem

and the reasons for which he returned. But the respect he