“I got the sexton, who was digging Linton’s grave, to remove the earth off her coffin lid, and I opened it. I thought, once, I would have stayed there, when I saw her face again—it is hers yet—he had hard work to stir me; but he said it would change, if the air blew on it, and so I struck one side of the coffin loose, and covered it up—not Linton’s side, damn him! I wish he’d been soldered in lead—and I bribed the sexton to pull it away, when I’m laid there, and slide mine out too. I’ll have it made so, and then, by the time Linton gets to us, he’ll not know which is which!” “You were very wicked, Mr. Heathcliff!” I exclaimed; “were you not ashamed to disturb the dead?”

When Heathcliff narrates this ghoulish scene to Nelly in Chapter XXIX, the book enters into one of its most Gothic moments. Heathcliff, trying to recapture Catherine herself, constantly comes upon mere reminders of her. However, far from satisfying him, these reminders only lead him to further attempts. Heathcliff’s desire to rejoin Catherine might indeed explain the majority of Heathcliff’s actions, from his acquisition of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, to his seizure of power over everyone associated with Catherine.

He tries to break through what reminds him of his beloved to his beloved herself by destroying the reminder, the intermediary. Readers can see, in the language he uses here, this difference between the objects that refer to Catherine and Catherine herself. When he opens her coffin, he does not say that he sees her again. Instead, he says, “I saw her face again,” showing that her corpse, like her daughter or her portrait, is a thing she possessed, a thing that refers to her, but not the woman herself. It seems that, in this extreme scene, he realizes at last that he will never get through to her real presence by acquiring and ruining the people and possessions associated with her. This understanding brings Heathcliff a new tranquility, and from this point on he begins to lose interest in destruction.