Wuthering Heights

Use this comprehensive teachers' guide on Wuthering Heights to assist you in teaching this great work, with discussion questions and summaries of each chapter.
Teaching Strategies:
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Updated on: November 8, 2000
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Emily Brontë lived most of her life in England on the North Yorkshire moors like those depicted in Wuthering Heights. Not many details are known about her life. As one Brontë scholar stated, "Next to her genius, the most astonishing thing about Emily Brontë is the silence which surrounds her life." Charlotte Brontë declared that Emily's "disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favored and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she seldom crossed the threshold of home. Though her feeling for the people [all around] was benevolent, intercourse with them was never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced."

Emily Jane was the fifth of six children born to the Reverend Patrick and Maria Brontë on July 30, 1818, in the village of Bradford, Yorkshire. Three years after Emily was born, her mother died of cancer, the first of several tragedies that would befall the Brontë family. Just before Emily's sixth birthday, she and her older sisters – Maria, Elizabeth, and Charlotte – enrolled at the Cowan Bridge School. Maria and Elizabeth both fell ill, and on May 6, 1825, Maria succumbed to her illness. The other three girls then left for home, where Elizabeth died two weeks later.

In June 1826, Mr. Brontë returned from traveling with a set of twelve wooden soldiers for Emily's brother, Branwell. Led by Charlotte and Branwell, the Brontë children created imaginative stories, poems, plays, and games about a magical world they created for "The Twelves," as they called the soldiers. They founded a kingdom on the African coast with a city named Great Glass Town, complete with a government, newspapers, magazines, generals, poets, historians, publishers, and actors. Their adventures were recorded in tiny booklets, often less than two inches square, in minute handwriting. One hundred of the booklets – whose wordcount is equal to the total published works of the three sisters – have been preserved.

Charlotte discovered Emily's poems in October 1845 and convinced her sisters to collaborate on a volume of poetry. They chose to use pseudonyms to avoid the criticism and prejudice often directed towards women writers. In May 1846, Poems (by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell) was published, with the Brontës paying for the costs; only two copies were sold.

Emily began working on Wuthering Heights in December 1845. She completed it in July 1846 and began submitting it for publication (along with Anne's Agnes Grey and Charlotte's The Professor). In December 1847, the publisher T. C. Newby published Wuthering Heights. One year later, on December 19, 1848, Emily died from the effects of a severe cold. Two years later, Wuthering Heights was reissued, along with a selection of Emily's poems and a biographical notice by Charlotte.

About Emily Brontë, Virginia Woolf wrote that she had the ability to "tear up all that we know human beings by, and fill these unrecognizable transparencies with such a gust of life that they transcend reality. ...She could free life from its dependence on facts; with a few touches indicate the spirit of a face so that it needs no body; by speaking of the moor make the wind blow and the thunder roar."


Teaching Wuthering Heights

Informal Reading Inventory

For classes in which there is a wide range of ability levels teachers might first determine the suitability of Wuthering Heights for individual students. The novel may prove frustrating for some because of its difficult vocabulary and complex sentences. Also, the length of the novel may appear daunting to slow readers. An informal reading inventory will enable teachers to assess their students' ability to read and understand the novel. The inventory is essentially an open-book quiz that measures how well students can identify the meanings of words in context and understand a brief section of text. The example inventory that follows can be modified as appropriate for individual classes. It is designed to take about 30 minutes.

Informal Reading Inventory

The purpose of this inventory is to allow you to demonstrate how you respond to Wuthering Heights. This is not a test! But please do your best; your effort will help determine your daily grade.

A. Vocabulary: Define the words in bold listed below as clearly as you can. Circle your answers.

1. Too stupefied to be curious myself, I fastened my door and glanced round for the bed. (dazed, overwhelmed)

2. I perceived it to be a sort of couch, designed to obviate the necessity for every member of the family to having a room to himself. (eliminate, avoid)

3. In vapid listlessness I leant my head against the window...till my eyes closed. (a state of being without energy)

4. We were hoping that Joseph might give us a short homily. (sermon, religious instruction)

5. I insist on perfect sobriety and silence! (seriousness, peace)

B. Comprehension: Now read a selection from the novel beginning on p. 24 and ending with the words "right place" just before the break on p. 27. Record your start and finish times, and then answer the questions below. You can refer back to the text if you wish. After finishing the comprehension section, go back to the vocabulary section and re-answer any questions that you think you missed. Then answer the questions below.

Start time:_________Finish time:__________

1. After the narrator enters the bedroom, he approaches a large oak case. What does he do with it? (He enters it and closes its panels.)

2. What antique volume did the narrator's candle scorch? (A New Testament of the Bible which belonged to Catherine.)

3. Why did Heathcliff and Catherine have to have a prayer service with Joseph? (It was Sunday and too flooded with rain for them to go to church.)

4. Who is the tyrant that threatens Catherine and Heathcliff? (Hindley, Catherine's brother. Joseph, the servant, also acts cruelly toward them.)

5. What does Hindley do to Heathcliff in order to "reduce him to his right place?" (Hindley won't let Heathcliff sit or eat with the rest of the family or play with Catherine.)

6. What do you infer are Hindley's motives for acting the way he does to Heathcliff? (Hindley resents how his father had favored Heathcliff.)

To compute the speed of reading, divide the number of words in the passage by the number of minutes it takes to complete the reading: 1280 words/____minutes=____words per minute. This figure will give the teacher a general sense of a student's speed of reading the novel and, since there are about 360 words per page, how long students will take to read specific assignments. Four minutes per page or more is very labored reading; 1.5 to 2 minutes per page is about average for high-school students.

The inventory reveals the students' ability to recognize the meanings of words in context by giving students an opportunity to re-answer the vocabulary questions after reading the passage. The comprehension questions mainly assess students' ability to follow the plot of the story; only the final question is interpretive.

Responding to Students' Needs

If students have a slow reading speed and miss more than three vocabulary questions and more than two comprehension questions, it may mean that they will experience great difficulty in reading this novel. For these students, teachers should seriously consider whether their goals can be met in a better way through alternative novels. The related readings bibliography includes selections with themes related to those of Wuthering Heights, but who are able to profit from working with it, can engage in activities designed to make the novel more accessible to them. These activities which are marked with an * are included among the Before, While, and After Reading the Novel sections.


Wuthering Heights is a complex novel which evokes strong responses – both positive and negative – from readers. Students who are prepared for the narrative strategies employed by Brontë as well as the significant themes will be better able to truly judge their reactions to the novel. Connecting the novel to the students' own experiences from the beginning will also lead to more evaluative thinking and greater interest in the story and characters.

*View a video version of Wuthering Heights before reading the novel to provide a basic familiarity with the plot structure before reading and analyzing the novel.

Point of View

The chronology of Wuthering Heights is carefully planned, but the narrative time does not flow in an unbroken line from the past to the present. Rather it shifts between the present and the past and then back again several times. There are also shifts in point of view. The novel begins with Lockwood's recounting of his year at the Grange, then shifts to Nelly Dean's remembrances, and at times a third voice reports on an event at which Nelly was not present. It would be useful to prepare students for reading the novel by reviewing how point of view shapes the story we receive.

If you have already discussed point of view in other fiction, you can begin by having students freely write about how point of view affects a story. Students can list some of the works of fiction they have read and describe the point of view in each. Then they can speculate about how the story would change if it were told by another character. Students can share these writings with a partner and then small groups can make newsprint charts of the types of point of view with which they are already familiar and the way point of view affects the story and the reader's reaction to a story.

If you have more time, you might want to have students engage in several activities that demonstrate point of view. Here are some activities addressed to students; you should select and improvise as appropriate. Note: All specific activities, suggested in this guide, will be addressed directly to students.

1. Read a short story with a complex point of view; for example, "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner. Discuss in small groups how the point of view affects the reader's understanding of Emily and her lover. How would the story be different if told by Emily or Homer Barren?

2. Role play how point of view affects a person's response to a story. In groups of three, act out one of the following scenarios: two girls fighting about a boyfriend; two parents setting up a curfew with a son or daughter; two students stopped for a traffic ticket. Each person acts out a definite role in the action. Then the actors leave the room. Each one comes in separately and tells the story of what happened. After this exercise, freely write or discuss as a group how point of view affected each individual's story. The class can interview each person and ask: How were you feeling? What was going on in your mind? After this activity, you should be able to compose a statement about how point of view affects a story and what readers or viewers need to think about when hearing or reading a story filtered through another person's consciousness.

3, Read a brief newspaper article and rewrite it from different points of view. Then read your versions aloud and talk about how they are different and why.

4. Take an historical event, such as the voyages of Columbus, and speculate how point of view affects the historical account of the event. What would Europeans say about the voyages of Columbus? How would Indians tell the story of the arrival of Columbus and his men? There is a children's picture book, Encounter by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Shannon (Harcourt, 1992) which demonstrates the Indian's point of view quiet effectively.

5. Look at several photographs or paintings and talk about the artist's point of view when composing the picture. What did the artist choose to include, to emphasize, to frame? How do these choices affect the impact of the photograph on the viewer?


Before reading the novel, it is helpful to have students think about and discuss some of the themes they will encounter.

Theme #1: Family history and family relationships or sibling rivalry:

1. Wuthering Heights is the history of two families and how an outsider tries to reconstruct that history. In order to begin to understand this theme in the novel, think about your own family history.

a. Make a brief genealogical chart of three generations of your family: grandparents, parents, children.

b. Make a list of important details of about your family to include in a history.

c. Discuss: What did you leave out of your history? Why? What kind of information is difficult to explain to an outsider?

2. Much of the conflict in the novel arises from the struggle of the three Earnshaw children for their father's love. Think about sibling rivalry in literature and in your own experience.

a. Recall or tell the story of King Lear or the fairy tales, "Beauty and the Beast" or "Cinderella." Why do the sisters in the stories quarrel? How does one's place in a family affect behavior in positive and negative ways?

b. Read one of the young adult novels suggested in the bibliography. How do family embers in the novel relate to each other?

Theme #2: Romantic or ill-fated love:

Wuthering Heights is about the love between Catherine and Heathcliff. Students can better evaluate this relationship if they consider their own notions of love first.

a. Examine modern day depictions of love by looking at magazine articles, music, movies, soap operas, or popular literature. Bring in the lyrics to a love song or several magazine articles about "love." Recall the plot of a film about love. As a class distinguish between the various types of love depicted in modern culture; e.g. romantic, married, platonic, fulfilled and unfulfilled, and sensual love. List the characteristics of each type of love. Is there a type of love which is least often depicted in modern culture? What is it? Why?

b. What does it mean when lovers say they are one – no longer two separate persons? What happens when someone becomes "love sick"?

c. Read one of the young adult novels suggested in the bibliography. Examine how it depicts the theme of romantic or ill-fated love.

d. Here are some lines from the novel. Predict the speaker's character and the speaker's attitudes about love:

1) "He shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome...but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." (Catherine)

2) "If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn't love as much in eighty years as I could in a day." (Heathcliff)

Theme #3: Revenge:

Much of the action of the novel recounts Heathcliff's revenge against the Earnshaws and Lintons and raises questions about the effects of revenge.

1. Review the stories of novels, plays or films that have a revenge theme; such as Hamlet, Moby Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Medea or films such as Amadeus, Fatal Attraction, and Cape Fear. Read a short story or parable in which a character seeks revenge (for example, the section on feuds in Twain's Huckleberry Finn or Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado.") As a class, discuss: Is revenge ever justified? What is the effect of revenge on the person who carries it out? How can a wronged person secure justice?

2. Find a newspaper story about a crime committed with a motive of revenge. Speculate about what the wronged person was seeking. How will this person be affected if they get revenge? Will they be changed, and how? Will the person be satisfied?

3. Freely write about an act of revenge that you have witnessed or experienced. Speculate about he questions asked in #2.

Theme #4: Nature versus Civilization:

There is a distinction in the novel between the behavior of the Earnshaws which is driven by elemental or natural forces and the actions of the Lintons which are mannered, proper, and socialized. You can get students to begin thinking about this theme by asking them to define what it means to be natural versus civilized and how definitions of each of these states are culturally determined.

1. Think about the "back to nature" idea in our culture. Why do people like to get away to the wilderness? What do they hope to recapture in themselves when they immerse themselves in the natural world? What do we lose by living civilized lives? What do we gain?

2. Make a collage which contrasts the natural and civilized world. Freely write or discuss: what differences exist between the two worlds?

3. Read one of the young adult novels listed in the bibliography. Discuss how it addresses the them of nature vs. civilization.


The descriptive passages in the novel create the mood. From the opening – "one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun" to Lockwood's final lingering stroll in the graveyard, Brontë creates a world which is often somber, depressing, and dark. To prepare students to understand how description creates mood, you may choose one of these exercises.

1. Look at pictures of the moors in English travel books. Freely write about how it would feel to live near the moors.

2. Look at photographs and paintings of Haworth and the surrounding countryside in biographies about Emily Brontë and her family. Describe your feelings as you look at these pictures.

Historical Background

In order to understand the context of the novel, have students gather background information about life in nineteenth-century England. Topics to consider are Victorian life and manners, the impact of the industrial revolution on English town life, the class system, medical practices, life expectancy, family life, and the role of women.