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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Family (105)

Updated: June 9, 2019
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Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

Here are several activities for individuals and small groups that will focus and sharpen students' reading and understanding of the novel.

1. *Focus on reading the more significant sections of the novel and replace the other sections with chapter summaries such as those in the beginning of this guide. Alternatively, write the summaries and share them with the rest of the class. (Note to the Teacher: The student summary writing can be done cooperatively in pairs of a more able and a less able student.)

2. *Generate in class a running plot line of the material covered each day. Use the plot line to make predictions about what will happen next in the novel as preparation for subsequent reading. Also use the plot line as a basis for asking more analytical questions about character motivation and actions.

3. * Follow a systematic strategy in handling difficult vocabulary words in the novel, such as:

a. Try to figure out the meaning of the word

1) from the meaning of the sentence or paragraph,

2) from examining it for familiar parts.

If there is still too much uncertainty, then

b. Look up the word in a dictionary and choose the meaning most appropriate to the context.

If the word is one to worked on further, then

c. Record the word and its meaning in a vocabulary notebook.

Because there are so many potentially unfamiliar words in this novel, apply steps b and c only to those words that are necessary to getting the basic story line.

4. *Use a reading strategy while reading Wuthering Heights aimed at reading efficiently and effectively:

a. Skim the chapter to get a feel for the main developments in the plot by reading the first sentence of each paragraph.

b. Go back and read the chapter swiftly. If you encounter difficulty, just read on. The meaning will gradually become clearer as you read.

c. Answer the questions given by the teacher or generated by the class by skimming to find the relevant section in the text and reading that section carefully. Use a word attack strategy to identify the meanings of all unfamiliar words in that section so that you have a thorough understanding.

5. Construct a plot line for each of the stories in the novel: the story of Lockwood's brief tenancy at Thrushcross Grange; and the history of the Earnshaw and Linton families. Consider the connection between these two stories. How does one plot mirror the other? What is the action of the Lockwood plot? Compare it to the action of the Heathcliff plot?

As you are reading, watch for the event that marks Heathcliff's loss of drive towards revenge. Speculate about why this happens. Does it have anything to do with an identification between Hareton and himself as a young man? Or is it connected to associations stirred by Lockwood's stay in Catherine's old room? Another intriguing question is the relationship between Lockwood and Heathcliff. Why did Brontë choose to begin the story with Lockwood? In what ways do the two characters mirror each other?

6. An important consideration in this novel is how much we trust the perceptions of the narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean. Make a list of the actions of these characters. Compare your list with a partner and analyze how the character's actions reveal motives and attitudes.

At crucial times in the story, Nelly actually knows more than the other characters or otherwise significantly affects the action and outcome of events. While reading, list all the actions caused by Nelly. Begin to think about the meaning of her involvement in the action. What doe it tell the reader about her? Do we trust her story of the family histories?


The novel can best be read and discussed according to the significant divisions outlined in the synopsis: the prologue, the history of the family, the epilogue. These questions and activities can be used for whole class and small group discussions as well as adapted for journal or free writings.

Prologue – Chapters 1-3

1. What is Lockwood's first reaction to Heathcliff? What connections does Lockwood think exist between them? What do Lockwood's comments about Heathcliff tells us about him? (Lockwood thinks that he and Heathcliff are alike, both misanthropists. Lockwood is afraid of human involvements and attachments, which is why he has chosen to live in such an isolated place as the Grange. In a perverse way he seeks out Heathcliff's company because Heathcliff wants to have nothing to do with him.)

2. How does the opening set the tone for the novel? Note the use of words like solitary, misanthropist, and desolation in the first paragraph. What mood does Brontë create with these words? (Sense of mystery, isolation)

3. How is the description of Heathcliff significant? ("He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman.") Note identifications between Heathcliff and animals in the opening scene. (Even Heathcliff identifies with his dogs – "Guests are so exceedingly rare in this house that I and my dogs, I am willing to own, hardly know how to receive them.")

4. After his second encounter with the inhabitants at Wuthering Heights, what conclusions does Lockwood begin to draw about their characters? (Heathcliff is savage; Cathy is a witch; and the rough Hareton is ready to fight at any imagined slight.)

5. Why is Heathcliff so moved by Lockwood's dreams? (This passage initiates one motif in the novel: The importance of dreams as a pathway to associations and knowledge not available to the rational mind. Students should watch for other references to dreams: Catherine's dream of being returned to her childhood room; Nelly Dean's fear of dreams. There is a connection between "elemental" natures like Catherine's and Heathcliff's and the subconscious world of dreams. How could Lockwood's account of his dream be the catalyst that diverts Heathcliff from his revenge?)

Synthesis: Prologue – Chapters 1-3

Discuss the significance of each of the following quotes. In what ways do these quotes begin to shape our understanding of the characters or the themes of the novel?

1. "Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman." (This description suggests the two side of Heathcliff's nature: the sensuous, natural man over which has been superimposed the manners and niceties of the social and civilized world.)

2. "Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes." (Lockwood's nightmare reveals his fear of human relationships; instead of helping the poor, wandering child, he desperately wants to free himself from its grasp. Lockwood doesn't want the demands that come with relationships.)

3. "Come in! Come in!...Cathy, do come. Oh do – once more! Oh! my heart's darling! Hear me this time, Catherine, at last!" (Lockwood overhears Heathcliff's anguished plea to Catherine to reveal herself. What is Heathcliff feeling at this moment? How does this speech compare with the portrayal of Heathcliff so far as a misanthropist, a man who doesn't have any feelings?)

History of the Family

This section covers chapters 4 through 31 in the novel. Because these chapters fall fairly consistently into units of three chapters each, we have subdivided the reading and discussion questions accordingly. The reading can be assigned in small or large units, and the questions adapted for class discussion or journal writing.

Chapters 4, 5, 6

Early history of the Earnshaw family

1. What are Heathcliff's origins? How does Heathcliff fit into the family? (Heathcliff is abandoned on the streets of Liverpool; although he is older than Catherine at the time Earnshaw brings him to live with the family, he never refers to his childhood. The deprivation and alienation of this period mark his character and explain why he is unable to form loving relationships. Heathcliff becomes Earnshaw's favorite, Cathy's close friend and soul mate, and Hindley's rival.)

2. How is Catherine described by Nelly? Is there any suggestion that Nelly is exaggerating or emphasizing certain traits over others? (Nelly describes herself as a "faithful servant," who is partial to the master. When she judges Catherine as unruly, it's because she makes too much trouble for Mr. Earnshaw. Also Nelly feels somewhat equal to Catherine since she has been raised as a member of the family and she doesn't like to be ordered around by Catherine. Resentment and jealousy characterize Nelly's relationship to Catherine.)

3. How does Hindley treat Heathcliff when he returns as master of the home after his father's death? (He makes Heathcliff take the role of a servant, deprives him of an education, and tries to limit his interactions with Catherine.)

Synthesis: Chapters 4, 5, 6

How do these quotes help us to understand the characters?

1. "I found that they had christened him `Heathcliff;' it was the name of a son who died in childhood, and it served him ever since, both for Christian and surname." (The name "Heathcliff' suggests nature: the heath and the cliff, the moors and the rocks. It is also significant that Heathcliff does not have a proper surname; his identity or legal connection to the family is not legitimized. He will always be an outsider.)

2. "He complained so seldom, indeed, of such stirs as these, that I really thought him not vindictive. I was deceived completely, as you will hear." (Nelly continually fails to understand Heathcliff's true character even though his actions repeatedly disappoint her expectations. Why?)

3. "Her spirits were always at high-water mark, her tongue always going – singing, laughing, and plaguing everybody who would not do the same." (Nelly's description of Catherine indicates high spirits, but not necessarily bad behavior. Nelly complains that Catherine is not more sensitive to the feelings of others, but her behavior seems natural for a child. Think about Nelly's point of view. She would be about the same age as Catherine but she had a lot more responsibilities. Why might Nelly resent Catherine's freedom and place in the family? Compare this to Nelly's description of Heathcliff: "He seemed a sullen, patient child, hardened, perhaps to ill-treatment.")

4. "It is but a boy – but he scowls so plainly in his face; would it not be a kindness to the country to hang him at once, before he shows his nature in acts as well as features?" (This quote shows the emphasis upon outward appearance revealing the inner nature of a person. Heathcliff's features show he will be a villain. The teacher might ask students to talk about the self-fulfilling prophecy and how character judgments work upon a person to create behavior.)

Chapters 7, 8, 9

The triangle of Catherine, Heathcliff and Edgar Linton

1. How is Catherine changed by her stay at the Lintons? (She acquires the manners of a lady and enjoys nice clothing and the society life of the Lintons.)

2. What are Heathcliff's reactions to these changes in Catherine? (He envies Linton his blond good looks, his social standing and inheritance; he vows he will have revenge on Hindley for depriving him of his status and equality to Catherine.)

3. How does Hindley react to his wife's death? What connections can you see between his and Catherine's and Heathcliff's behaviors? (Hindley's excessive sorrow matches the extreme behavior of all the Earnshaws. Compare his actions to Linton's reaction to Catherine's death.)

4. How does Catherine feel about Heathcliff? (The students should closely examine Catherine's speeches on pp. 82-84.)

Synthesis: Chapters 7, 8, 9

Explain the significance of these quotes.

1. "I shall not stand to be laughed at, I shall not bear it?" (Heathcliff's pride begins to erect barriers between him and Catherine. Note: this passage should be should be returned to later to compare how Hareton reacts to the taunting of Cathy and Linton.)

2. "It struck me soon...there would be more sense in endeavoring to repair some of his wrongs than shedding tears over them." (Here is another instance of Nelly's loyalty to Heathcliff. She is prepared to overlook his ill nature because she sees him as the underdog. There is an identification in Nelly's mind between herself and Heathcliff. Students might begin to consider how Brontë manipulates our feelings towards Heathcliff. Why might we feel Heathcliff has been wronged? How does Brontë sustain our sympathy for Heathcliff?)

3. "Catherine and he were constant companions still as his seasons of respite from labor, but he had ceased to express his fondness for her in words, and recoiled with angry suspicion from her girlish caresses, as if conscious there could be no gratification in lavishing such marks of affection on him." (Heathcliff is constantly aware of the distance between their two stations in life and distrusts Catherine's affection. What effect do you think this distrust will have on their relationship? To what extent should Heathcliff distrust Catherine?)

4. "I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind." (This is the dream that Nelly refuses to hear. What could it be? What clues are there in Catherine's speech?)

5. "Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind – not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being." (Catherine sees herself and Heathcliff as one. Does she love Heathcliff or her self in him?)

Chapters 10, 11, 12

Catherine and Edgar Linton's Married Life

1. In what ways is Heathcliff changed when he returns to Wuthering Heights? Why does he return? (Great physical changes are evident, but it soon becomes clear that he is not reconciled to losing Catherine. He begins to plan to revenge himself on the whole Earnshaw and Linton clan.)

2. What is Catherine's reaction to Isabella's infatuation with Heathcliff? (Jealousy, irritation; Catherine does not want to share Heathcliff with anyone. She embarrasses Isabella in front of Heathcliff.)

3. How does Nelly interfere in Catherine's affairs and how does she react to Catherine's hysteria and prediction that she will become dangerously ill? How culpable is Nelly for not informing Edgar about Catherine's illness? (Nelly actually precipitates the violent confrontation between Edgar and Heathcliff when she reports to Edgar the quarrel between Heathcliff and Catherine about Isabella.)

4. When Catherine becomes dangerously ill, to what time in her life does her mind return? Why? (Girlhood: a time of unrestrained emotions, a time when she was not caught in a conflict between the two sides of herself which are represented by Edgar and Heathcliff.)

Synthesis: Chapters 10, 11, 12

Explain the significance of these quotes.

1. "I've fought through a bitter life since I last heard your voice, and you must forgive me, for I struggled only for you!" (Heathcliff has done everything to make himself worthy of Catherine.)

2. "Tell her what Heathcliff is – an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone." (Can we trust Catherine's description of Heathcliff to Isabella? What are her motives? If this is a true description, why is she attracted to him? If they are "one" as she said earlier, what does this say about her?)

3. "You are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement, only allow me to amuse myself a little in the same style, and refrain from insult as much as you are able." (Heathcliff resents Catherine's' marriage to Linton and the way she tries to control him. He recognizes her manipulation and would like to pay her back for some of his suffering.)

Chapters 13, 14, 15

Catherine's Illness

1. Why does Heathcliff elope with Isabella? What does she discover about his nature? (Heathcliff sees Isabella as a tool to work out his plan of revenge against Linton. He feels total aversion for Isabella who reminds him of his rival.)

2. What happens when Catherine and Heathcliff meet again? (They both blame each other for the failure of their relationship. Catherine accuses Heathcliff of killing her and Heathcliff asks "Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy?")

Synthesis: Chapters 13, 14, 15

Explain the significance of these quotes.

1. "I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush their entrails! It's a moral teething; and I grind with greater energy, in proportion to the increase of pain." (Heathcliff has lost all human feeling; he enjoys the suffering of his victims. Juxtapose this speech with his declarations of "deep" love for Catherine. Can he love only one person and despise everyone else? Can Catherine and Heathcliff create a universe of love which excludes everyone else?)

2. "I thought I prevented another explosion by my compliance; and I thought, too, it might create a favourable crisis in Catherine's mental illness." (Nelly justifies her compliance with Heathcliff. How culpable is she in this decision?)

3. "Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of you own will, did it." (Heathcliff blames Catherine for their broken hearts; his life will be a living death without her.)

Chapters 16, 17, 18

Aftermath to Catherine's Death

1. What is Nelly's first thought after the death of Catherine and the birth of a baby girl? What does this continue to show about her feelings for Catherine? (She expresses no sorrow. Check her reactions when Catherine falls into a faint on p. 159. She is concerned about the master being left without an heir. It is cold-hearted but consistent with her attitude towards Catherine for Nelly to be worrying over legal considerations at this moment.)

2. What is Heathcliff's reactions to Catherine's death? (Anger and desolation.)

3. What is Isabella's response to Heathcliff's misery over the death of Catherine? How much satisfaction does she enjoy? (She taunts and torments Heathcliff that his love killed Catherine, but she is not satisfied with Heathcliff's suffering since she has not had a direct hand in causing it.)

4. What type of person is the child Cathy? How is she like or unlike her mother? What is her reactions when she first meets Hareton and learns he is her cousin? (Nelly describes Cathy's childhood. Cathy seems to be a happy, loving child. She is surprised to learn Hareton is her cousin since he is so rough and uncouth.)

Synthesis: Chapters 16, 17, 18

Explain the significance of these quotes.

1. "I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!" (Heathcliff desires torment for himself and Catherine rather than being left alone in the world. How consistent is this with the desire of a lover for his beloved?)

2. "I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death, and flung it back to me." (How does Isabella's description of how Heathcliff destroyed her love affect our assessment of his character and love of Catherine? Note the contrast between Nelly's behavior towards Isabella and her behavior to Catherine during her illnesses.)

3. "Well, Miss Cathy, if you were aware whose house this is, you'd be glad enough to get out." (Nelly's hint leads to revelations about Cathy's connections to the Earnshaw family. Is this Nelly's intention?)

Chapters 19, 20, 21

"Courtship" of Cathy and Linton

1. What type of child is Linton? How much of his father, Heathcliff, is in his personality? How does his physical condition affect his father's reaction to him? (He resembles the Lintons closely and is sickly and frail – all characteristics which do not endear him to his father.)

2. How does Heathcliff plan to use Linton? (He wants to secure the Linton lands and property through the marriage of Linton and Cathy; his triumph over his enemies will be complete.)

Synthesis: Chapters 19, 20, 21

Explain the significance of these quotes.

1. "Do you know that, twenty times a day, I covet Hareton, with all his degradation?" (Hareton reminds Heathcliff of himself as a boy and how circumstances worked against him. But even though he pities him, he keeps Hareton in ignorance and poverty.)

2. "I began to dislike, more than to compassionate, Linton, and to excuse his father, in some measure, for holding him so cheap." (Nelly continues to make poor judgments. Why is it right or not right for her to expect different behavior from a selfish, weak child who is being manipulated?)

Chapters 22-28

Edgar's death and Cathy's downfall

1. Why does Nelly allow Cathy to visit Linton? (In hopes that Linton will not be as sick as Heathcliff says. Also, there may be some deeper motive depending on how complex the reader sees Nelly to be – perhaps she desires to see Cathy romantically involved.)

2. How does Linton get Cathy to want to visit him again? (He appeals to her pity; her desire to comfort him.)

3. Why is Cathy vulnerable to Linton's appeal for pity? (She thinks she can successfully nurse Linton back to health; she wants to mother him – to turn him into a pet.)

4. Why does Edgar agree to allow Cathy and Linton to meet on the moors? (Edgar, not knowing about Linton's true character and state of health, hopes that Linton will give Cathy some solace when Edgar is gone; also Edgar hopes that Cathy will be able to stay in Thrushcross Grange if she marries Linton, who will inherit it when Edgar is dead.)

5. Why do Cathy and Nelly consent to go to Wuthering Heights? (Cathy gives in to Linton's pleas because he is so upset.)

6. How does Heathcliff show his cruelty to Cathy? (He locks her up, slaps her, and prevents her from going to her father on his deathbed.)

Synthesis: Chapters 22-28

Explain the significance of these quotes.

1. "I can get over the wall," she said laughing. "The Grange is not a prison, Ellen, and you are not my jailer...And I'm certain Linton would recover quickly if he had me to look after him...I'd make such a pet of him, if he were mine." (This expresses Cathy's sense of independence and power. Nelly can't control her, but she is intent on controlling Linton.)

2. "I thought it over aloud, in my master's presence; walking straight from her room to his, and relating the whole story; with the exception of her conversations with her cousin, and any mention of Hareton." (If Nelly had leveled with Edgar at this point about Cathy's growing involvement with Linton and Linton's weak and peevish nature, then perhaps Edgar would not have allowed Cathy and Linton's involvement to progress to its dismal outcome.)

3. "Have you never loved anybody in all you life, Uncle? Never? Ah! you must look once – I'm so wretched – you can't help being sorry and pitying me." (This scene contrasts with the scene in the Phantom of the Opera in which Christine Daae throws herself at the mercy of the monstrous Erik. He, by contrast, has pity on Christine. Heathcliff cruelly rejects Cathy's plea. Heathcliff's obdurate inhumanity even to the children makes him one of the most thoroughly villainous characters in literature.)

Chapters 29, 30, 31

Cathy at Wuthering Heights

1. When Heathcliff comes to get Cathy to take her back to the Heights, what does she tell him that leads Nelly to say that Cathy seemed to have "entered the spirit of her future family?" (Cathy tells Heathcliff that they will have revenge in knowing that Heathcliff has the greater misery and is as lonely and envious as the devil.)

2. After Linton dies why does Cathy treat Joseph, Hareton, and Zillah so contemptuously? (She resents them for not offering her any support while Linton was dying.)

3. Why does Hareton burn his books in the fire? (Cathy has mocked his stumbling attempts to read.)

Synthesis: Chapters 29, 30, 31

What is the meaning of this quote?

"She has no lover or liker among us – and she does not deserve one...She'll snap at the master himself, and as good as dares him to thrash her; and the more hurt she gets, the more venomous she grows." (This view of the servant Zillah gives an image of how Cathy is responding to the alien atmosphere of Wuthering Heights. The reader must decide to what extent this image is distorted by Zillah's point of view.)

Epilogue: Chapters 32, 33, 34

Cathy and Hareton; the death of Heathcliff

1. How does Cathy show her sorrow for mocking Hareton's reading? (She tries to get him to read again by leaving her books about.)

2. What role does Nelly play in the reconciliation of Cathy and Hareton? (Nelly is the go-between for the two young people. She allows them to be together and encourages Hareton to be friends with Cathy, and then she delivers a present to Hareton from Cathy.)

3. What is the physical reason for Heathcliff's death? (He did not eat or drink for four days.)

Synthesis: Chapters 32, 33, 34

Explain the significance of these quotes.

1. "Con-trary!" said a voice, as sweet as a silver bell, "that for the third time, you dunce! I'm not going to tell you again. Recollect, or I pull your hair!" (Cathy teachers Hareton how to read and lovingly and playfully criticizes him with mock severity. This scene suggests how the horror of the power and love relationships of the older generation have been transformed into a romantic idyll.)

2. "The crown of all my wishes will be the union of those two. I shall envy no one on their wedding day – there won't be a happier woman than myself in England!" (Nelly reveals that she fulfills her own longings for romantic intimacy through the love of Cathy and Hareton.)

3. "I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing." (Heathcliff does not show any magnanimity in his not destroying the lives of Cathy and Hareton. Rather, his energy for cruelty has faded as he has become more obsessed with the "ghost" of Catherine.)

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