In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte uses the setting of the English Moors, a setting she is familiar with, to place two manors, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The first symbolizes man’s dark side while the latter symbolizes an artificial utopia. This 19th century setting allows the reader to see the destructive nature of love when one loves the wrong person.
The manor Wuthering Heights is described as dark and demonic. In the English moors, winter lasted three times as long as summer and the Heights and the land adjacent to it can be compared to winter, while Thrushcross Grange can be described as the summer. Bronte describes the Heights as a “misanthropist’s Heaven.” Its gate is always chained from the outside and its inhabitants on the inside are as unappealing as the house itself. Wuthering Heights produces Heathcliff, the protagonist of the story, and his “siblings”, Catherine and Hindley. These three children, brought together in unusual circumstances, have to survive the obstacles of their environment. This reality is harsh, but it explains their later behavior. Because life at the Heights often demonstrates man’s cruelty, the children can not appreciate the utopia that is Thrushcross Grange. When Heathcliff is a boy and returns from the Grange he describes his adventure;
“…We laughed outright at the petted things; we did despise them! … or find us by ourselves, seeking entertainment in yelling, and sobbing, and rolling on the ground divided by the whole room? I’d not exchange, for a thousand lives, my condition here, for Edgar Linton’s at Thrushcross Grange…” (p.52)
Wuthering Heights is a dark manor that expects the worst in man, and to its inhabitants it is the only reality they know. When Catherine marries Edgar Linton and moves over to the Grange, she is at first contented to be pampered and spoiled. Her every need is taken care of. Later, when she is confronted by Heathcliff, she is reminded of Wuthering Heights and begins to miss the place she once was so eager to leave. Catherine begins to see the Grange as superficial and confining, and at first she is only annoyed by this, but eventually the suffocating enclosure causes Catherine to lash out at her husband and all the Grange represents. Catherine, aware of her incestuous attraction to Heathcliff, believes the Grange is destroying her, and because of her disgust of the Grange and her sense of guilt, it does. In the process, Edgar too must suffer Catherine’s pain because of his love for her.
While Wuthering Heights was a symbol of darkness and winter, Thrushcross Grange could only be described as its opposite. Thrushcross Grange can be seen as a happy place that is light and summery. Its inhabitants are blissful and naive. They did not worry or have to fend for themselves because there is always money and servants to wait on them. The inhabitants of the house are ignorant of the cruelties and injustices of the outside world. When Isabella, Edgar’s sister, marries Heathcliff and is taken to the Heights, she too learns these realities and is destroyed by them. She is imprisoned in the Heights by her husband. Isabella writes Nelly and describes her depression;
“You’ll not be surprised Ellen, at my feeling particularly cheerless, seated in worse than solitude on that inhospitable hearth, and remembering that four miles distant lay my delightful home, containing the only people that I loved on earth; and there might as well be the Atlantic to part us, instead of those four miles; I could not overpass them!” (p. 137)
When Isabella moves from the Grange to the Heights, her total way of life is changed. She has no one to serve her, no one to talk to, and there is nothing to be cheerful about. It is similar to a rich man who has everything, and loses it all. She learns the meaning of evil, and Isabella is destroyed much quicker by this evil than Catherine was destroyed by the artificial atmosphere of the Grange. In time, Isabella finds the strength to run away from Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff, but her sprit is broken and she is forever changed by the truth of evil she has seen. The Grange had been a wonderful place to live, but the “fairy tale” of her existence there is broken and the tool that breaks it lies on the other side of the moors.
The land encompassing these two estates is a part of English moors. Catherine and Heathcliff play in the moors between the two estates when they are children. This is the only time when they are truly happy. Heathcliff talks of them “running in the moors… creeping through the broken hedges, and losing shoes in the bogs of the moors…” The moors are where, in the end, their ghosts return and are free to roam.
In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte is able to use the setting of the English moors to show two different aspects of the world and symbolically, the destructive nature of love. At one end there is Wuthering Heights and the evil that results in the cruelty that its inhabitants force upon each other, while the other end is Thrushcross Grange and the naivety and ignorance that results from its “utopia-like” atmosphere . For Heathcliff and Catherine, who will destroy anyone for the other, the only peace that can be reached is in the middle of the two estates where they can live by their own rules. The irony of the story is that Catherine and Heathcliff’s obsessive love not only leads to their destruction, but to the destruction of the others who loved them.