In ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, the characters face death often, which results in a type of intrigue with death that colors the novel. In this lesson, we will look at death in ‘Wuthering Heights.’
Death and Destruction
Death is all around Wuthering Heights! Things begin to go downhill for the residents of Wuthering Heights when Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw die leaving rivaling siblings to fend for themselves. In addition to mourning, the children have to learn about love in a loveless environment.
Nearly every character is afflicted with death at a young age, which creates a fixation on death for the characters. Let’s learn more about the fascination with death that plagues the characters of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
Catherine’s Impression of Death
How does the death of a parent change a child’s perspective on life? There is no doubt that her father’s death influenced Catherine. Not only did she have to deal with mourning the loss of her father, but Catherine and Heathcliff are left in the care of her abusive brother, Hindley. In addition, Catherine’s sister-in-law, Frances, dies in childbirth and Edgar’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Linton, die from an illness Catherine gave them as they were caring for her in their home.
As Catherine is contemplating her marriage proposal to Edgar, Catherine tells Nelly about a dream she has had about her death. ”I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy.” It seems strange that Catherine would consider dying during what should be a happy time in her life, but the dream serves two purposes. First of all, it is a metaphor for how Catherine feels about leaving Wuthering Heights. Secondly, it foreshadows, warns of, Catherine’s life after death.
When Catherine chooses Edgar, it prompts Heathcliff to run away from Wuthering Heights. When he returns and begins courting Edgar’s sister, Isabella, Edgar refuses to allow him back at Thrushcross Grange. As a result, Catherine stops eating and ends up going mad. When Heathcliff realizes the condition Catherine is in, he is angry with her for killing them both by betraying her heart and marrying Edgar. Heathcliff says, ”Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you – oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?”
For Heathcliff, living without Catherine is a fate worse than death. He actually feels like a part of him dies with her and begs her to haunt him rather than to leave him when she dies while giving birth to her daughter, Cathy. Apparently, Catherine takes him up on this offer and is seen haunting Wuthering Heights after her death. Heathcliff blames Edgar for her death and spends the rest of his life seeking vengeance against all of Edgar’s loved ones.
After Catherine dies, Hindley dies, Isabella dies, Edgar dies, and Linton, the son Heathcliff and Isabella have together, dies. All that revenge that Heathcliff has worked so hard for can finally be extracted, but he doesn’t want it. Instead he wants death so he can reunite with Catherine. His death finally comes and Nelly describes finding him, ”I combed his black long hair from his forehead; I tried to close his eyes: to extinguish, if possible, that frightful, life-like gaze of exultation before any one else beheld it. They would not shut: they seemed to sneer at my attempts; and his parted lips and sharp white teeth sneered too!” Heathcliff’s gaze indicates that he feels triumphant as he finally joins Catherine in death, but his final resting place is shared with Edgar.
The residents of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights deal with more than their fair share of death. Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw, Frances, Mr. and Mrs. Linton, Catherine, Hindley, Isabella, Edgar, Linton, and Heathcliff all die at an early age leaving the remaining characters to consider their own lives and deaths. It is no wonder that dreams about the afterlife invade their subconscious.
When Catherine makes the decision to marry Edgar, her thoughts are of death and the misery of leaving Wuthering Heights. When Catherine dies, Heathcliff feels as though she is taking him with her. He spends years seeking vengeance on those around him before triumphantly joining Catherine in death.