Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions

1. Many of the names in Wuthering Heights are strikingly similar. For example, besides the two Catherines, there are a number of Lintons, Earnshaws, and Heathcliffs whose names vary only slightly. What role do specific names play in Wuthering Heights?

Answer for Study Question #1

Names have a thematic significance in Wuthering Heights. As the second generation of characters gradually exhibits certain characteristics of the first generation, names come to represent particular attributes. The Earnshaws are wild and passionate, the Lintons tame and civilized; therefore, young Catherine Linton displays a milder disposition than her mother, Catherine Earnshaw. Linton Heathcliff becomes a mixture of the worst of both his parents. In other words, he possesses Heathcliff’s arrogance and imperiousness, combined with the Lintons’ cowardice and frailty. Names in Wuthering Heights also serve to emphasize the cyclic nature of the story. Just as the novel begins and ends with a Catherine Earnshaw, the name of Hareton Earnshaw also bookends an era; the final master of Wuthering Heights shares his name with a distant ancestor, whose name was inscribed above the main door in 1500.


2. In many ways, Wuthering Heights structures itself around matched, contrasting pairs of themes and of characters. What are some of these pairs, and what role do they play in the book?

Answer for Study Question #2

Matched and contrasting pairs form the apparatus through which the book’s thematic conflicts play out, as the differences between opposed characters and themes force their way into action and development. Some of the pairs include: the two manor houses, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange; the two loves in Catherine’s life, Heathcliff and Edgar; the two Catherines in the novel, mother and daughter; the two halves of the novel, separated by Catherine’s death; the two generations of main characters, each of which occupies one half of the novel; the two families, Earnshaw and Linton, whose family trees are almost exactly symmetrical; and the two great themes of the novel, love and revenge. By placing these elements into pairs, the novel both compares and contrasts them to each other. The device of pairing serves to emphasize the book’s themes, as well as to develop the characters.


3. Analyze the character of Edgar Linton. Is he a sympathetic figure? How does he compare to Heathcliff? Is Catherine really in love with him?

Answer for Study Question #3

Edgar Linton is a kind, gentle, civilized, somewhat cowardly man who represents the qualities of Thrushcross Grange as opposed to the qualities of Wuthering Heights. Married to a woman whom he loves but whose passions he cannot understand, Edgar is a highly sympathetic figure after Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights. The man finds himself in an almost impossible position, seeing his wife obviously in love with another man but unable to do anything to rectify the situation. Still, he proves weak and ineffectual when compared to the strong-willed Heathcliff, and thus can exercise almost no claim on Catherine’s mind and heart.

While the reader may pity Edgar and feel that morality may be on his side, it is hard not to sympathize with the charismatic Catherine and Heathcliff in their passionate love. It is impossible to think that Catherine does not really love Edgar with some part of herself. Although she marries him largely because of her desire for his social status, she seems genuinely drawn to his good looks, polished manners, and kind demeanor. But it is also impossible to think that her feelings for Edgar equal her feelings for Heathcliff—compared with her wild, elemental passion for Heathcliff, her love for her husband seems frail and somewhat proper, like Edgar himself.


Suggested Essay Topics

1. Discuss the novel’s narrative structure. Are the novel’s narrators trustworthy? Why or why not? With particular reference to Nelly’s story, consider what might be gained from reading between the lines of the narration. What roles do the personalities of the narrators play in the way that the story is told?

2. What role does social class and class ambiguity play in Wuthering Heights? To what extent is Heathcliff’s social position responsible for the misery and conflict so persistent in the book?

3. Discuss revenge in Wuthering Heights. In what ways is it connected to love? What is the nature of love in the novel, that it can be so closely connected to vengeance?

4. Think about the influence of the physical landscape in the novel. What role do the moors play in the development of the story, and in the presentation of the characters? How does Catherine’s abiding love of the moors help us to understand her character? What do the moors come to symbolize in the novel?