Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The constant emphasis on landscape within the text of Wuthering Heights endows the setting with symbolic importance. This landscape is comprised primarily of moors: wide, wild expanses, high but somewhat soggy, and thus infertile. Moorland cannot be cultivated, and its uniformity makes navigation difficult. It features particularly waterlogged patches in which people could potentially drown. (This possibility is mentioned several times in Wuthering Heights.) Thus, the moors serve very well as symbols of the wild threat posed by nature. As the setting for the beginnings of Catherine and Heathcliff’s bond (the two play on the moors during childhood), the moorland transfers its symbolic associations onto the love affair.
The two large estates within the book create a pocket world of sorts, where little, if anything, lies beyond their existence. Thus, windows both literal and figurative serve to showcase what exists on the other side while still keeping the characters trapped. Heathcliff can see that the chance of escaping to a higher social class is something impossible for himself, but achievable for Catherine; figuratively he exists on one side of the window, and she on the other. Yet Catherine too is held back, in her case physically. When she is sick in Chapter XII, closed windows keep her isolated and away from Heathcliff, despite her desperation to open them so she can feel closer to him, signifying her inability to be with him due to outside forces, like social class, that keep them apart. Thus, windows can offer hope for something different, and also serve as a mirror that shows just how affixed in place and trapped the characters really are.
Windows also serve as a veil between life and death. At the start of the novel, for example, Lockwood hears a branch tapping on a window, and then sees Catherine’s ghost trying to enter through it. Her apparition is trying to rejoin the space that she can no longer inhabit in death. The reader also sees this echoed in more literal terms: characters often witness, or are witnessed by others, with windows as the common thread to expand the scope of the world. An example of appears occurs early in Heathcliff and Catherine’s childhood, when they peek through the window at Thrushcross Grange and see the magnificence of the ornate place around them. The ongoing generations and cyclical trappings are finally liberated at the end of the novel, as in death, Heathcliff and Catherine need no longer be at the mercy of physical barriers.
Ghosts appear throughout Wuthering Heights, as they do in most other works of Gothic fiction, yet Brontë always presents them in such a way that whether they really exist remains ambiguous. Thus the world of the novel can always be interpreted as a realistic one. Certain ghosts—such as Catherine’s spirit when it appears to Lockwood in Chapter III—may be explained as nightmares. The villagers’ alleged sightings of Heathcliff’s ghost in Chapter XXXIV could be dismissed as unverified superstition. Whether or not the ghosts are “real,” they symbolize the manifestation of the past within the present, and the way memory stays with people, permeating their day-to-day lives.