Is Wuthering Heights a novel about love? If so, what kind? If not, what is its primary theme?
Wuthering Heights is not just a novel about love but also about hatred and revenge. It is a novel depicting intense feelings whether love or its contrary. Both the feelings of love and hatred are demonstrated strongly in the novel. Heathcliff’s love for Catherine is just as intense as is his hatred for the Lintons, Hareton and all others who he believes have wronged him. The LOVE That Heathcliff feels for Catherine is romantic love born of childhood partnership. In their childhood, Heathcliff and Catherine have cared for each other and been partners in good and bad since their father’s death. The elder Earnshaw loves his kids and Heathcliff as much as he should. However, the love that Catherine feels for Edgar Linton is not as romantic or emotional. She appreciates his wealth and his conduct and whatever love she has in her heart for him is because of his status. Both the features are missing in Heathcliff and that is why Catherine cannot imagine a happy life with him. Heathcliff despite being a good friend is a savage and the charm that Edgar’s status adds to his personality is neither in Hareton, nor in Heathcliff.
Heathcliff has been a good friend but he is complex and Catherine knows it. After having accepted Edgar’s proposal to marry him, Catherine herself confesses how close she and Heathcliff have remained. ” I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.” (Chapter IX) So, Catherine loves Heathcliff but cannot accept it.
In Edgar, she can imagine a better life away from the complexities life is riddled with at the Heights. At the centre of the novel is still the love that Catherine and Heathcliff have in their hearts for each other. If Catherine cannot find a gentleman in Heathcliff, she cannot find the friend in Linton. Heathcliff cannot see anyone in place of Catherine and even if he marries Linton’s sister, he is unable to accord to her the same position and the love that he did to Catherine.
Catherine remains inseparable from his soul even after her death and that is why more than anything love is the strongest and central theme in the novel. Even if its end be dreadful, Heathcliff’s love is extraordinary and not commonly found in other literary works. Since the beginning to the end, Heathcliff’s longing for Catherine continues to bear heavily on his heart. His lost love lives in his heart as a bitter pain till his death. Even in his life, he contemplates being united with his lover after death. His sobbing bitterly and asking Catherine to be back on the night of Lockwood’s nightmare shows how intensely he longs to be reunited with her.
However, if Heathcliff’s love is strong and forms an important theme in the novel, so are his hatred and the sequence of revenge that he starts after his and Catherine’s separation. His hatred for Hindley and the other inhabitants of ‘Heights’ is genuine. He also hates the Lintons deeply whom he holds responsible for his loss. He is an orphan and hardened due to the conditions he has seen since his childhood. During his childhood he is arrogant and grows up into a brute who seeks nothing but revenge from the inhabitants of Heights and Grange. Once Catherine has left him for Edgar, he contemplates revenge. He is gone for three years and is back as a rich gentleman. His clever plot to marry Isabella is aimed at gaining the ownership of Thrushcross Grange. Afterwards his cruelty begins and people living at the Heights get to bear his wrath. Similarly, Hindley’s hatred for Heathcliff is just as intense. He believes Heathcliff has usurped his father’s love and is nothing but an unwanted burden on the family.
Emily Bronte has managed to portray all these themes while maintaining the centrality of love in the novel. Her work is exquisite in this regard. The central character, who appears to be so evil on the outside is so much full of love for someone at his heart. This distinct contrast is an important feature of the novel that distinguishes it from other works. However, apart from these themes, life and death, the supernatural and the science of relationships have been portrayed with just as much strength in the novel. One can find several themes running through the novel and each portrayed with equal precision and beauty. Still, the central theme is the alchemy of love and the hatred inside Heathcliff is the residue of it.