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Brontë Boundaries: Does Emily Brontë’s use of Symbolism, Setting, Point of View, Dialogue, and Repetition Help to Contribute to the Overall Meaning of the Boundaries Created by Differing Social Classes in Wuthering Heights?

Hannah Collopy

AP Literature

Grant Country High School

Mr. Gibbons


The purpose of this particular novel analysis essay will be to specifically explore, as well as seek to answer the question of whether or not British author Emily Brontë’s use of a multitude of literary devices helps to contribute to the overall meaning of the classic nineteenth century gothic novel, Wuthering Heights. The overall meaning has to do with the various boundaries that are created with differing levels of social class or status that is present within the novel. This novel analysis essay, in addition, will discuss the way that this prominent theme of varying social positions creating boundaries is developed in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in terms of literary devices such as symbolism, setting, point of view, dialogue, and repetition. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights was chosen for this novel analysis essay specifically because of the novel’s strong overall meaning and the plethora of literary devices that Emily Brontë used within it to convey the overall meaning effectively and concisely.

Does Emily Brontë’s use of various literary devices including symbolism, setting, point of view, dialogue, and repetition help to contribute to the emphasis of social class and its importance in Wuthering Heights?

Joyce M.S. Tompkins of the Encyclopædia Britannica writes that Emily Brontë was an “English novelist and poet who produced but one novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), a highly imaginative novel of passion and hate set on the Yorkshire moors.” (Tompkins, 2016.) Brontë published Wuthering Heights under the pen name Ellis Bell, and though it was her only novel, it is widely regarded as a timeless literary classic. This novel tells the story of two families, the Earnshaw’s and the Linton’s, and their struggles and experiences with love, passion, hate, and revenge. These feelings are partly caused by the differences in social class or status between the characters that prevent them from succeeding in life. The difference in social class or status serves as an overall meaning for this novel which is illuminated through Emily Brontë’s use of various literary devices, including symbolism, setting, point of view, dialogue, and repetition, proving that human achievement can be compromised due to the boundaries of opposing social statuses which is conveyed through the use of various literary devices.

The first literary device used in Wuthering Heights that helps contribute to the overall meaning that will be discussed in this essay is symbolism. The symbol being discussed is Catherine Earnshaw’s childhood bedroom at Wuthering Heights, which represents how unavailable she is to Heathcliff because of their difference in social class or status. In chapter three of Wuthering Heights, Mr. Lockwood becomes stranded at Wuthering Heights during a bad storm and has no other choice but to spend the night on the property. The following is an excerpt from the novel:

While leading the way upstairs, she recommended that I should hide the candle, and not make a noise; for her master had an odd notion about the chamber she would put me in, and never let anybody lodge there willingly. I asked the reason. She did not know, she answered: she had only lived there a year or two; and they had so man queer goings on, she could not begin to be curious…The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small—Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton. (3.13)

Zillah has placed Mr. Lockwood in Catherine Earnshaw’s childhood bedroom to sleep in for the night and has warned him to make himself unseen and inconspicuous, as Mr. Heathcliff would not approve. Mr. Heathcliff has kept Catherine’s room in the same condition it was since she had last used it, preserving the bedroom as well as preserving the memory of her. Mr. Heathcliff would not approve of Mr. Lockwood sleeping in Catherine’s room because in his mind, it is almost as if Mr. Lockwood is sleeping with Catherine, something that would be accepted by society had it occurred, which further emphasizes the difference in social class when compared to Heathcliff. Heathcliff never got to do that because of their difference in social class and . In the end of the novel, Mr. Lockwood returns the moors to see Nelly who catches him up on the events that have happened since his departure. The following is an excerpt from chapter 34:

The lattice, flapping to and fro, had grazed one hand that rested on the sill; no blood trickled from the broken skin, and when I put my fingers to it, I could doubt no more: he was dead and stark…I tried to close his eyes: to extinguish, if possible, that frightful, life-like gaze of exultation before any one else beheld it. (34.210)

The lattice that is referred to in this excerpt is the same lattice located in Catherine’s bedroom where Mr. Lockwood saw what appeared to be her ghost. Mr. Heathcliff has an aversion to people staying in Catherine’s old room because it represents what he could never have: her. If Heathcliff himself could never have Catherine because of his social status, then nobody else could either. When Heathcliff passes away, Nelly describes him as having a look of extreme happiness on his face, presumably because he is finally able to be “with” Catherine in the afterlife, and his social standing is no longer a factor. Having Catherine’s old room as a final resting place is a symbol of this, and creates a relationship boundary due to his lower social class.

The second literary device used in Wuthering Heights that helps to contribute to the overall meaning is setting which highlights the differences in social class. The setting in which the novel takes place is divided between the Earnshaw estate, Wuthering Heights, and the Linton estate, Thrushcross Grange. Though the two mansions are not located too far away from each other, they are vastly different. Mr. Lockwood describes Wuthering Heights in the following excerpt that illuminates how the setting represents differing social class and how it contributes to the overall meaning of the boundaries it creates:

Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones…I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door. (1.3)

Thrushcross Grange is described in this excerpt that also illuminates how the setting displays differing social class and how it contributes to the overall meaning of the boundaries it creates:

It was beautiful—a splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson-covered chairs and tables, and a pure white celling bordered by gold, a shower of glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the centre, and shimmering with little soft tapers. (6.31)

Wuthering Heights has an appearance that is common within gothic literature, and Thrushcross Grange is described as a classy, expensive, and sophisticated living space. Wuthering Heights itself is located on top of a hill and is always being exposed to bad weather and storms. Thrushcross Grange is located in a valley at the bottom of the hill, avoiding all the inclement weather. One estate represents gloom, misfortune, abuse, and ultimately a lower social class while the other estate represents class, fortune, refinement, and a higher social class. Catherine even goes to Thrushcross Grange to learn proper etiquette and to become a lady. Heathcliff is stuck at Wuthering Heights awaiting her return, where Catherine becomes a completely different person who ignores Heathcliff and treats him as a lesser person. This portrays Wuthering Heights as an undesirable living space. The setting of the novel, the two estates, clearly displays the differences between the social classes with the appearance, geographical location, and the families that reside in each. The two houses create a physical and a metaphorical boundary with the aforementioned components.

The third literary device used in Wuthering Heights that helps convey the overall meaning of differences in social class is point of view. Wuthering Heights is primarily told through the eyes of two narrators: Ellen “Nelly” Dean and Mr. Lockwood. However, Mr. Lockwood is only repeating what Nelly has told him of past events and that is not necessarily reliable. The story of the Earnshaw family begins when Mr. Earnshaw informally adopts Heathcliff after he finds him on the street while on a business trip. Mrs. Earnshaw dies “less than two years after” (4.25) and Nelly assumes a maternal position in the household and by assuming the role of a mother, Nelly loves the Earnshaw children as if they are her own, swaying her opinion and possibly causing some stories to be told untruthfully. Nelly has grown up with the Earnshaw children as her mother was their servant before her, and she is arguably jealous of Catherine and her lifestyle, which is why she admires her so much. Nelly is not always considered a reliable narrator in that she excuses Catherine’s violent and manipulative behavior because she wants to be her. This jealously occurs because of the difference in social class and by dedicating her whole life to serving the Earnshaw’s, she missed out on having a family of her own. Nelly never mentions a husband or children in the novel, which is indicative of her social class, other than her occupation of being a servant. Nelly will never be able to have a real family of her very own because of her social status and her presence that is constantly needed at the estates, which is a lifestyle boundary.

The fourth literary device that is used in Wuthering Heights to convey the overall meaning of differences in social class is dialogue. The class or status differences are especially evident in the masters or mistresses versus the children and the servants, and how their speech insinuates how superior they feel. Graeme Tytler speaks on this in the article “The Power of the Spoken Word in Wuthering Heights” (Tytler, 2014.) Tytler writes: “When on the night shortly before his death, Mr Earnshaw asks Catherine: 'Why canst thou not always be a good lass, Cathy?', her retort is clearly an attempt to justify her rebelliousness with this insolent modification of his diction: 'Why cannot you always be a good man, father?' (WH, p. 37). “ (Tytler, 2014.) Mr. Earnshaw is disapproving of Catherine’s insolent behavior and believes that it is childish, thus, speaking to her eloquently to make her feel inferior, indicating his social class and how he feels individuals in the same social class should behave. Tytler also writes about how Joseph, the other servant at Wuthering Heights speaks: “Joseph displays both his essential insubordination as a servant and his inveterate misogyny when, for example, shortly after Isabella’s arrival at the Heights as Heathcliff’s bride, he vociferously repeats with a mixture of outright contempt and feigned incomprehension her words ‘parlour’ and “bed-room’ (WH, p. i25f. ) as places she has asked him to show her to.” (Tytler, 2014.) Joseph does not understand Isabella’s requests because he is not as educated as she is and cannot understand what she is asking for. Isabella is used to servants who wait on her unconditionally and to anything to please her, which is indicative of her social class. Isabella gets frustrated and “dumbs down” her speech just so he could follow orders. His lack of understanding and education, as well as his poor speech and grammar, is indicative of his lower social class. Mr. Earnshaw’s speech is also indicative of his social class, proving that the differences in social class create a communication boundary between the two classes.

The fifth and final literary device that is used Wuthering Heights to convey the overall meaning is repetition. Within Wuthering Heights, many elements of the novel are repeated, mirrored, or presented in doubles or cycles. The characters in this novel are constantly making the same mistakes as the previous generations or share the same detrimental characteristics. Memory and the feeling of nostalgia is arguably one of these characteristics. Graeme Tytler writes the following in the essay “The Workings of Memory in Wuthering Heights.” (Tytler, 2012.):

As a novel much concerned with the vagaries of the human mind, Wuthering Heights gives appropriate scope to the workings of memory. For example, it may be assumed that excessive nostalgia is one of the principal reasons why Catherine and Heathcliff each eventually succumb to mental illness. The harmfulness of nostalgia can even be sensed in Edgar Linton’s retreat from normal life after Catherine’s death. But if remembering too well may have baneful consequences, so, too, in some measure, may forgetfulness, especially as an expression of thoughtfulness. (Tytler, 2012.)

Characters in this novel, like Heathcliff, for example, are unable to move forward in their lives because of their constant involvement and concern of the past, or lack thereof. Heathcliff, having been mistreated by Hindley Earnshaw as a child after Mr. Earnshaw’s passing, is reciprocating the same abuse in his adulthood. The mistreatment itself stemmed from Heathcliff’s unknown heritage, a detrimental factor in regards to his social status. Marielle Seichepine expands on this in “Childhood and Innocence in Wuthering Heights” (Seichepine, 2004.) in the following excerpt:

In the mid-eighteenth century writers began to deal with the theme of childhood. This interest increased with the rise of the middle class, which considered children as heirs. In Wuthering Heights, childhood plays a large part and pervades the novel with its presence. (Seichepine, 2004.)

After establishing himself and returning to Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff treats Hareton Earnshaw, Hindley’s son, the same way he was treated as a child, expressing his bitterness. Heathcliff does the same thing to Cathy Linton as she reminds him too much of her mother, thus, treating her poorly. Heathcliff shows disdain towards these characters because of his past experiences, and Heathcliff would not have felt this adversity if it were not for his unknown heritage that creates a lesser status and social class. Hindley would not have abused Heathcliff if he were fairer skinned and had a traceable family tree, preventing his negative childhood and his negative feelings toward Hindley and eventually, towards Hareton. If Heathcliff had born into wealth or a notable family, Catherine would be more willing to marry him, preventing her marriage with Edgar Linton and the conception of Cathy Linton and in turn, preventing his disdain towards Catherine and Cathy (for she would be nonexistant.) The remembrance of the past and bad experiences stemming from his low social status causes Heathcliff to treat others poorly. This repetition of memories and reminders of his low socioeconomic status causes a boundary in terms of progression.

In conclusion, in Emily Brontë’s literary classic, Wuthering Heights, many prominent themes and overall meanings are present, and boundaries produced by differing socioeconomic statuses is one of these themes. Emily Brontë is able to achieve this through the use of various literary devices, including symbolism, setting, point of view, dialogue, and repetition, displaying many boundaries in terms of relationships, physical and metaphorical, lifestyle, communication, and progress.

Works Cited Editors. (n.d.). Emily Brontë Biography. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from

Tytler, G. (2014). The Power of the Spoken Word in Wuthering Heights.

Tytler, G. (2012). The Workings of Memory in Wuthering Heights. Bronte Studies, 37(1), 11-18.

Tompkins, J. M. (n.d.). Emily Bronte | British author. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from

Seichepine, M. (2004). CHILDHOOD AND INNOCENCE IN WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Bronte Studies, 29(3), 209-215.

Wion, P. K. (1985). The absent mother in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. American Imago, 42(2), 143-164


Brontë, E., & Merkin, D. (2005). Wuthering Heights. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics.

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