Where the Soul Lives

An author sometimes helps readers gain a better understanding of his characters by giving clues of their personalities in the descriptions of the places where they live. This technique, the use of setting, is demonstrated in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, a story of the love and hate between two households: Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Descendants from these two households have engaged in bitter arguments, fallen in love, and their fates have been twisted together ever since the arrival of a gypsy orphan, Heathcliff. This extraordinary tale is told by the housekeeper, Ellen Dean, who has worked at both abodes. Bronte uses the technique of setting to enhance and reinforce the characters' personalities: Heathcliff's composition is as chilly and gloomy as Wuthering Heights; Edgar Linton is warm, dignified, and elegant like Thrushcross Grange; and Catherine Earnshaw is a combination of the two estates: warm and civilized, yet not without violent temperament.

One of the main characters, the fiendish Heathcliff, can be symbolized by the dwelling in which he grew up: Wuthering Heights, a dark, chilly, unpleasant place, located on a "bleak hill top [where] the earth [is] hard with a black frost, and the air [makes one] shiver through every limb"(51). In addition, the Heights is also characterized as a tumultuous dwelling, with "gusty wind and the driving of the snow"(66). An orphan despised since his birth, Heathcliff grows up to become a sadistic, cruel, and manipulative man. For example, Heathcliff, in a moment of rage, says to Catherine, "You are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement, only, allow me to amuse myself a little in the same style"(151). With demonic fury that parallels the tumultuous surroundings of the Heights, Heathcliff abuses Isabelle, Edgar's sister, by using her infatuation as a tool of revenge towards the Lintons; he constantly attacks Linton, his own dying son, savagely; and even his tenant, Mr. Lockwood, cannot escape his diabolic jeers. Furthermore, as a result of his frightfully intense passion towards Catherine Earnshaw, Hindley's sister, Heathcliff is prompted to despise all the Lintons, scheming to destroy them with horrible relentlessness because Catherine eventually marries Edgar Linton instead of him. Ellen Dean describes Heathcliff as having a "sarcastic, savage face"(365), even at his deathbed. Heathcliff's hostility and rough nature shun others and keeps them from approaching him, as does the "bracing ventilation", "gaunt thorns", and "atmospheric tumult"(48) of the Heights discourage visitors. Evidently, Heathcliff's disposition is like that of the Heights, "exposed in stormy weather"(46).

Quite a contrast to Heathcliff's malevolent character is the warm and gentle Edgar Linton, one whose personality befits that of his dwelling, Thrushcross Grange, a "beautiful, splendid place"(89), around which "the sky is blue, and the larks are singing, and the becks and brooks are all brim full"(171). Raised in a loving family and comfortable house, Edgar has become a well respected, dignified gentleman in the neighborhood and a "kind master"(131) to Ellen Dean. The Grange, in which all is orderly and pleasant, symbolizes the civilized and kindhearted Edgar. Instead of quarreling with Catherine, Edgar treats her with the utmost patience and affection, resolving to marry her despite witnessing her tyrannical conduct towards Ellen. Moreover, he regards those around him with kindness and hospitality--he even takes pity upon Linton, when others think of him as "the worst-tempered bit of a sickly slip that ever struggled into his teens"(275). The Grange holds elegant objects--"crimson-covered chairs and tables", a "pure white ceiling bordered with gold" and", a shower of glass drops"(89); similarly, Edgar handles his affairs with grace. Edgar is as gentle and gracious as the Grange, and he lives and dies a generous soul in the Grange, where "the air blows so sweetly"(171).

Lastly, Catherine Earnshaw, who has spent her lifetime partly at the Heights and partly at the Grange, displays herself similar in temperament to the atmospheres of both houses. Ellen describes Catherine as being a wayward, quarrelsome girl, her temper matching the "[seasons] of steady rain"(193) at the Heights; yet "she [has] the bonniest eye, the sweetest smile, and lightest foot in the parish"(83), pleasant qualities much like the Grange. She is capable of being extremely disagreeable and selfish, evident when she lavishes her love on Heathcliff despite her husband's sorrow. Yet, Catherine is also capable of gentleness and kindness--Ellen describes this trait during her narration to Mr. Lockwood: "She [seems] almost over fond of Mr. Linton; and even to his sister, she [shows] plenty of affection"(131). Like the Grange, Catherine often evinces warmth in her own feminine sense of tenderness, and she strives to be polite and civilized; but like the Heights, Catherine can be stormy and almost violently ardent at times. This trait is exemplified when, after a quarrel with Heathcliff and Edgar, she resolves to "dashing her head against the arm of the sofa, and grinding her teeth, so that [one] might fancy she would crash them to splinters"(157). Clearly, Catherine is a character combining that which is most pleasant and wonderful of Thrushcross Grange, with the harmful and turbulent characteristics of Wuthering Heights.

Without a doubt, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, along with the people who dwell in them, represent two entirely contrasting mentalities and states of mind: one of unrestrained passion and dark broodiness, the other of politely refined affection and soft tenderness. Heathcliff's love for Catherine is tinged with danger and violence; Edgar loves Catherine with gracious tranquility, and Catherine returns affection to each of them accordingly. The Grange is a symbol of civilization, warmth, and goodness; the Heights is a symbol of wildness, cruelty, and evil. Such utter difference between the environments and climates of the two households symbolizes the distinction between the temperaments of their inhabitants. Not surprisingly, this contrast results in the pain, anguish, and discontent suffered by the protagonists; yet ultimately, the violent passion that is like the howling winds of Wuthering Heights and the tender love that reminds one the sweet air at Thrushcross Grange come together, through the marriage of Catherine and Heathcliff's respective offspring, never to separate again. Through extensive descriptions of the characters' dwellings and its surroundings, Bronte helps the reader gain insight into these characters. The Grange symbolizes the glorious light of the day, and the Heights symbolizes the dark sorrow of the night--as the civilized Catherine cannot live without the wild Heathcliff, next to light there will always be darkness, and not far behind darkness there will always be light.