Wuthering Heights is a tragic novel written by Emily Bronte. Today, it is presented as classical literature and does not lose its relevance. Along with the popularity of the book, a tragic love story between Catherine and Heathcliff remains one of the most notable stories for readers around the world. Besides, the novel has many memorable and unique style elements that make it accepted by critics and adored by the audience. Symbolism is one of the most notable features, and Bronte devotes attention to different types of symbols, from the weather and scenery to ghosts. There are many symbols that exist in the book, all of them carry a certain meaning, they are related to characters, and play their roles in the story. Wuthering Heights is an exceptional novel that contains deep meanings because Bronte reveals many significant topics, such as love, family, good and evil by using symbolism.
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The Usage of Symbolism in Literature: Emily Bronte’s Approach
Initially, it is important to understand what the symbols appear in the novel, in what way, and why the writer uses them. Emily Bronte uses symbolism as a literary device in which words, people, markings, places, or abstract concepts are used to signify something other than their literal meaning. Bronte effectively uses a plethora of symbols in her novel Wuthering Heights and this literary device, indeed, adds depth, uniqueness, and richness to her work (Stock, 2016). In addition, symbolism allows Bronte to transmit information to an audience in a lyrical manner rather than saying it directly, and it becomes the Wuthering Heights’ calling card.
The weather and natural elements, such as snow and wind, tend to have significance in many different novels. They create the atmosphere that the writer wants to show. Weather represents various emotions and tones of circumstances. The author has expertly employed the sad fallacy, employing weather patterns to reflect feelings and happenings at any particular period. For instance, rain and blowing wind represent a storm of rage and fury, meanwhile, peace, hope, and goodness are all represented by a refreshing wind (Tytler, 2016). Moreover, the weather can have a symbolic impact on the characters’ emotions. Rain and snow are symbols of ferocious emotions. Thus, the coldness of Heathcliff’s heart is symbolized by snow. Hence, the weather, indeed, affects the atmosphere and emotions of the characters.
The Moors as a Symbol
The moors play a significant role in the novel; they are matter to the main characters, as well. Catherine and Heathcliff spend much of their infancy meandering around the moors, which represents their wild side. The moors are a mystical, liberating, and boundaryless environment for Catherine and Heathcliff. Wandering on the moors is associated with the ultimate freedom for them. Subsequently, both characters are buried on the moors, owing to their affection for them and the wildness they represent. However, the moors have varied meanings to different people, and as much as the moors represent freedom and comfort for ones, they are also full of mystery and mysticism and occurs as a threat and danger for others. For example, the moors are a perplexing expanse for Lockwood; he finds it nearly impossible to travel on the moors on his own. He is confused by the moors, especially when it snows. Lockwood perceives them as “One billowy white, ocean,” (Bronte, 1847, p.101). Therefore, this observation leads to the conclusion that Bronte wanted to present the moors as a symbol with different meanings for characters.
Ghosts as a Symbol
Wuthering Heights is not focused on any supernatural events and does not present a fantasy genre. Nevertheless, Bronte does include several interactions between ghosts and characters of the novel, and Bronte’s ghosts are enigmatic figures and can be related with rational rather than supernatural explanations. Ghosts provide a symbolic meaning and create a mysterious atmosphere. Besides, the ghosts in Wuthering Heights represent the lovers’ lack of closure. Heathcliff wants to believe in ghosts and the afterlife because he believes it will ensure Catherine’s survival. He pleads to be haunted after Catherine dies: “I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad!” (Bronte, 1847, p.25). In this way, ghosts in Wuthering Heights are not presented as typical Gothic fiction devices, since they appear to be more related to romantic relationships than evil. Joseph, who is a superstitious character in the novel, may be the only one who sees the ghosts as ominous. Furthermore, rumors appear at the end of the book; they say that Heathcliff and Catherine’s ghosts haunt the moors at night. Although the authenticity of such events is disputed, it is undeniable that Heathcliff’s life has had an impact on those who are still alive.
Symbolism in Characters: Religious Context
Furthermore, some critics state that Wuthering Heights carries the theme of heaven and hell. According to Gilert et al. (2020), it happens partly because all of the narrative voices insist on framing both action and description in religious terms from the outset of Lockwood’s first journey to the Heights. Partly because one of Catherine’s first big addresses to Nelly Dean raises questions about hell and heaven. Moreover, the image of Satan also takes place in Wuthering Heights, and Heathcliff’s character can be considered for this representation. For instance, once Isabella asked, “Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not is he a devil?” (Bronte, 1846). Critics have suggested the idea that Wuthering Heights is about a fall. They have argued about the nature of it and its moral implications for a long time. Critics discuss the following questions: Is Catherine’s downfall the traditional protagonist’s downfall? Is Heathcliff’s demise, his distorted “moral teething,” a re-enactment of Catherine’s? Which of Wuthering Heights’ realms does Bronte want to represent the genuinely “fallen” world? (Gilert et al, 2020). The audience does not usually see the religious context since such topics are presented through the prism of characters’ speeches and circumstances in their lives. Consequently, Bronte has succeeded in using symbolism through her own characters.
In summary, when analyzing all symbols and characters that Emily Bronte included in Wuthering Heights, it becomes clear that symbolism, in some way, provides connections between events throughout the whole story. This literary device actually presents a deeper connection between characters, as in the case of the common affection of Catherine and Heathcliff to the moors. Symbols represent a plethora of themes and ideas that the writer wanted to present. What is more, they present them at a more advanced and extraordinary level. Overall, the usage of symbolism helped Wuthering Heights to become an exceptional novel that people read to this day.
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Bronte, C. (2016). Wuthering heights. Hodder Education.
Gilert, S., Gubar, S., & Appignanesi, L. (2020). In the Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (pp. 248-308). Yale University Press.
Stock, K. (2016). Learning from fiction and theories of fictional content. Teorema: Revista Internacional De Filosofía, 35(3), 69-85.
Tytler, G. (2016). Weather in Wuthering Heights. Brontë Studies, 41(1), 39–47.