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Wuthering Heights

Emily Brontë

Chapters XV–XX

Summary Chapters XV–XX

In the first of the chapters in this section, we witness the event that marks the dividing line between the two halves of the novel: Catherine’s death. The episodes surrounding her passing—her dramatic illness, her confrontation with Heathcliff, Heathcliff’s conflict with Edgar, and Heathcliff’s curse upon her soul to walk the earth after her death (contrasting immediately with Nelly’s gentle claim that she at last rests in heaven) rank among the most intense scenes in the book. In fact, many readers view the second half of the novel, in which Catherine figures only as a memory, as a sort of anticlimax. While the latter chapters may never reach the emotional heights of the earlier ones, however, they remain crucial to the thematic development of the novel, as well as to its structural symmetry.

Young Catherine grows up sheltered at Thrushcross Grange, learning only in piecemeal fashion about the existence of Heathcliff and his reign at Wuthering Heights. Unbeknownst to her, Heathcliff’s legal claim on the Grange (through his marriage to Isabella) may jeopardize her own eventual claim on it. Edgar Linton, however, painfully aware of this threat, searches for a way to prevent Heathcliff from taking the property. These events underscore the symbolic importance of the two houses. Wuthering Heights represents wildness, ungoverned passion, extremity, and doom. The fiery behavior of the characters associated with this house—Hindley, Catherine, and Heathcliff—underscores such connotations. By contrast, Thrushcross Grange represents restraint, social grace, civility, gentility, and aristocracy—qualities emphasized by the more mannered behavior of the Lintons who live there. The names of the two houses also bear out the contrast. While the adjective “wuthering” refers to violent storms, the thrush is a bird known for its melodious song, as well as being a symbol of Christian piety. In addition, whereas “Heights” evoke raw and imposing cliffs, “Grange” refers to a domestic site, a farm—especially that of a gentleman farmer. The concepts juxtaposed in the contrast of the two estates come into further conflict in Catherine’s inability to choose between Edgar and Heathcliff. While she is attracted to Edgar’s social grace, her feelings for Heathcliff reach heights of wild passion.

As the second generation of main characters matures, its members emerge as combinations of their parents’ characteristics, blending together qualities that had been opposed in the older generation. Thus young Catherine is impetuous and headstrong like her mother, but tempered by the gentling influence of her father. Linton, on the other hand, represents the worst of both of his parents, behaving in an imperious and demanding manner like Heathcliff, but also remaining fragile and simpering like Isabella. Hareton appears as a second Heathcliff, rough and unpolished, but possessed of a strength of character that refuses to be suppressed, despite Heathcliff’s attempts to stunt his development.