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Wuthering Heights
By Emily Brontė (1818-1848)
A Study Guide
Revised and Enlarged in 2009
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Plot Summary
Setting
Characters
Type of Work
Publication Information
Themes
Climax
Narration
Imagery: Locale
Imagery: Nature
Gothic Imagery
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Author's Biography
Complete Free Text


Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003

.......In 1801 in the Yorkshire moors of Northern England, a Mr. Lockwood rents a house on a manor, Thushcross Grange, from a dark and mysterious landlord, a man about 40 named Heathcliff. He lives down the road four miles in a 300-year-old estate called Wuthering Heights. Intrigued by Heathcliff, Lockwood asks the housekeeper, 43-year-old Ellen Deanwhom everyone in the region calls Nellyto tell him Heathcliff’s story. She obliges, and he in turn writes down everything she says. Here is the story that Nelly tells and Lockwood repeats in his diary. 
.......Forty-one years before, in 1760, a gentleman in the district, Mr. Earnshaw, who owns Wuthering Heights and farms its landtravels to Liverpool on business and encounters a street waif, a dark-skinned boy abandoned by his parents. He speaks a strange language. Was he perhaps abandoned by a foreign visitor to England? Poor thing. Earnshaw cannot leave him behind. He returns with him to Wuthering Heights and raises the boy, calling him Heathcliff, along with his own childrena girl, Catherine, and a boy, Hindley. Also in the household are two servants, Joseph, a cranky old man, and Nelly Dean. Cathy resents Heathcliff at first, but in time warms to him. She is a happy, spirited, likable childbut full of the devil. Nelly says of her:

.......Certainly she had ways with her such as I never saw a child take up before; and she put all of us past our patience fifty times and oftener in a day. From the hour she came downstairs till the hour she went to bed we had not a minute's security that she wouldn't be in mischief. Her spirits were always at high-water mark, her tongue always goingsinging, laughing, and plaguing everybody who would not do the same. A wild, wicked slip she was; but she had the bonniest eye, the sweetest smile, and lightest foot in the parish.
In their playtime adventures on the moors, Heathcliff and Cathy draw close, intimate. However, Hindley, older and stronger than Heathcliff, treats him cruelly because he sees the boy as a rival for the affections of his father and sister. After his wife dies, old Earnshaw seems to prefer the company of Heathcliff to Hindley, and Heathcliff delights in his favored status while Hindley becomes all the more hostile. But Hindley’s abuse of Heathcliff meets with severe censure if old Earnshaw witnesses it. As Nelly observes, “Twice, or thrice, Hindley's manifestations of scorn, while his father was near, roused the old man to a fury.” Eventually, Earnshaw sends Hindley off to school while Heathcliff remains behind. 
.......Three years pass, Mr. Earnshaw dies, and Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights. He is now grown, about 20; Heathcliff and Cathy are just entering their adolescent years. When Hindley returns to Wuthering Heights for the funeral, he brings a wife, Frances. One of his first tasks as master of the estate is to make Heathcliff a lowly stable hand and field laborer who must now live with the servants. Cathy, howeverwho has grown into a beautiful woman full of spiritcontinues her close relationship with Heathcliff and, over the years, falls in love with him in spite of his reduced social status.
.......One day, when they visit Thrushcross Grangethe home of the snooty Linton familya bulldog bites Catherine, and she remains with the Lintons for several weeks while recuperating from her injury. After becoming acquainted with the Linton children, Edgar and Isabella, she is captivated by Edgar’s aristocratic lifestyle and elegant trappingsand by his obvious interest in her. If she were his wife, she would have all that he has. When she returns to Wuthering Heights, she exhibits dignity, refinement, and good manners, taught her by the Lintons. Everyone except Heathcliff is pleased. He thinks her newfound social savoir-faire will put her out of his reach. Though she assures him that nothing has changed between them, she nevertheless cultivates her desire to be a woman of standing who lives like the Lintons. 
.......Meanwhile, Hindley’s wife, Frances, has a child, Hareton, but dies shortly afterward. To drown his grief, Hindley turns to alcohol. He also makes Heathcliff a whipping boy, treating him even more cruelly than before. 
.......Cathythough now so passionately in love with Heathcliff that she says the two of them are “the same person”confides to Nelly that she has decided to marry Edgar Linton, who has made it clear that he wants her, because it would be degrading to marry Heathcliff. Unfortunately, Heathcliff overhears the conversation and immediately abandons Wuthering Heights. Hindley has wronged himand now Cathy. While running after him in the moors during a storm, Cathy falls ill with fever and recuperates at the Lintons. The fever infects Mr. and Mrs. Linton, and they die. 
.......With Heathcliff gone from the Heightswho knows where?Cathy marries Edgar, and time passes peacefully and happily as marriage treats them kindly. But one day, Heathcliff returns to the moors and moves into Wuthering Heights with Hindley, now an alcoholic, and Hareton. Heathcliff is cultured, educated, and wealthy, apparently having made his mark in business. He is also full of wrath and means to unleash it against all who mistreated him. First, he lends drinking and gambling money to Hindley, knowing full well it will hasten his descent into the abyss of alcohol, debt, and desperation. Then he acquires liens on Wuthering Heights and turns Hareton against Hindley.
.......When Heathcliff visits Cathy and Edgar at Thrushcross Grange, his attentions to Cathy and to Edgar’s naive sister, Isabella, infuriate Edgar. Consequently, he and Heathcliff quarrel and become fierce enemies. Vengeful Heathcliff then persuades guileless Isabella, who is taken by his dark good looks, to elope with him. He does not love Isabella; he wants only to spite Edgar and Cathy and to gain a potential legal interest in Thrushcross Grange. These events dispirit Cathy, who believes she is the root cause of all the conflict, and her health declines. To complicate matters, she is pregnant. Shortly after giving birth to a daughternamed Catherine after her motherCathy dies. Heathcliff, overcome with grief, cannot let go and prays that Cathy’s spirit will haunt him. In the meantime, Heathcliff abuses Isabellahe has loathed her from the day he met herand she escapes and takes refuge near London. Hindleybeaten down by alcoholism, debt, and Heathcliffdies a few months later. 
.......Heathcliff then sets himself to the task of raising Hindley’s son, Hareton. But he makes the boy a common laborer, treating the boy cruelly, as Hindley had once treated him. Hareton receives no schooling, no training for a respectable career. Consequently, he grows up ignorant, unloved. In London, Isabella bears Heathcliff’s child, Linton, and raises him to adolescence without ever telling him the identity of his father. After she dies, Edgar brings the boy to Thrushcross Grange, but Heathcliffhaving the law on his sideclaims Linton and takes him to Wuthering Heights. He is a sickly and ill-tempered boy, and Heathcliff despises him. But he is thinking ahead. He will have use for the boy.
.......Many years pass. Catherine becomes an engaging child loved by all around her. During this time, Nelly Dean becomes her nanny. Although unaware of Wuthering Heights and its dark history, young Cathy happens upon it while exploring the moors and becomes Linton’s friend. After Nelly forbids her to visit Wuthering Heights, she returns anyway and continues her friendship with Linton, although she looks down upon Hareton. Nelly then tells Edgar, who is in poor health, about the visits, and he puts an end to them. 
.......However, Heathcliff carries out a deceptive scheme in which he forces Linton to pretend that he loves Cathy. Secret letters are exchanged, and one day Cathy returns to Wuthering Heights to see Linton. Heathcliff  locks her in. When Nelly comes to fetch Cathy to Thrushcross Grange, he imprisons her as well, then forces Catherine to marry Linton. If Edgar dies before Lintonwho remains sickly and is in fact dying, Heathcliff will gain control of Thrushcross Grange. All goes according to Heathcliff’s plan: Edgar dies first, then Linton. 
.......Heathcliff now controls Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. He also controls Hareton and young Cathy, who have no choice but to remain with him and the housekeeper, Zillah, at Wuthering Heights in order to survive. Heathcliff rents Thrushcross Grange to Lockwood (the visitor at the beginning of the story). Here, Nelly’s narrative ends, and Lockwood ends his visit at Thrushcross Grange and goes to London. However, six months later he returns and hears the rest of the story, as follows: 
.......In time, young Cathy learns to tolerate Hareton and even teaches him lessons. Seeing the children together revives Heathcliff’s memory of his happy days with the elder Cathy. It is a memory that preoccupies him, robbing him of appetite and sleep. He even sees and speaks to ghostly images of Cathy. Eventually, he himself falls illperhaps desiring to die so he can reunite with Cathyand softens his attitude toward Hareton and young Cathy. Then he informs Nelly that he plans to make a will. One day, she discovers him dead. A physician cannot determine the precise cause. He is buried near Cathy, according to the provisions of the will.
.......Stories are told later about how people of the area see Heathcliff alone, or Heathcliff and Catherine together, walking on the moors. When Lockwood asks Nelly about young Catherine and Hareton, she reports that they now control Heathcliff’s properties and will marry on Jan. 1, then live at Thrushcross Grange. At last, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are united and at peacepresumably.

Setting

The story begins in 1801, then flashes back to the 1770's and eventually returns to the early 1800's. The locale is the Yorkshire moors in northern England. A moor is tract of mostly treeless wasteland where heather thrives and water saturates the earth. The action takes place at two estates, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, about four miles apart. When the story begins, Mr. Lockwood—a visitor to the moors—establishes the remoteness and isolation of the setting: "This is certainly a beautiful country!  In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist's heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us." 

Characters

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Mr. Earnshaw Owner of Wuthering Heights and father of two children, Hindley and Cathy. He adopts a street waif, Heathcliff, and dotes on the child, arousing jealousy in Hindley. After Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights and makes Heathcliff a common stable boy and field laborer.
Heathcliff A waif rescued from the streets of Liverpool and brought to Wuthering Heights by Mr. Earnshaw. Heathcliff grows up there, becoming an enemy of Earnshaw’s son, Hindley, but falling in love with Earnshaw’s daughter, Cathy. While Heathcliff is a small child, Hindley mistreats him. When Heathcliff is a young man, Cathy betrays him by marrying Edgar Linton. Heathcliff abandons Wuthering Heights but returns three years later a wealthy, educated gentleman. He vows revenge against all who had wronged him. 
Cathy Earnshaw’s beautiful and spirited daughter, who falls in love with Heathcliff but marries Edgar Linton instead.
Hindley Earnshaw’s son, who torments Heathcliff when the latter is a small child many years younger than Hindley. After Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights, he continues to mistreat Heathcliff.
Frances Earnshaw Hindley’s wife. Like Hindley, she maltreats Heathcliff. She dies after the birth of Hareton. 
Edgar Linton Elegant aristocrat at Thrushcross Grange whom Cathy marries to gain social position and the finer things of life. 
Isabella Linton Edgar’s naive sister. Heathcliff marries her to spite Edgar and Cathy, then treats Isabella cruelly. 
Ellen (Nelly) Dean Level-headed housekeeper at Wuthering Heights and later a nursemaid at Thrushcross Grange. Because she is at the center or on the periphery of all the action in the novel, she is the narrator of the story, telling it to Mr. Lockwood, who writes it down for retelling later.
Mr. Lockwood A visitor to Thrushcross Grange. When he becomes interested in the mysterious Heathcliff, he asks Nelly Dean to tell him the story of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights.
Young Catherine The daughter of Edgar Linton and Cathy
Hareton The son of Hindley Earnshaw and his wife, Frances
Linton Sickly child of Heathcliff and Isabella
Joseph A crabby old servant 
Zillah A housekeeper
Mr. Kenneth: Doctor who treats Cathy
Mr. Green: Attorney handling affairs for Edgar Linton and young Catherine.
Herd-boy: Child who delivers a message to young Catherine and Ellen Dean
Manservant, Grooms
 

Type of Work

Wuthering Heights is a novel of romance, revenge, and tragedy. It exhibits many characteristics of the so-called Gothic novel, which focuses on dark, mysterious events. The typical Gothic novel unfolds at one or more creepy sites, such as a dimly lit castle, an old mansion on a hilltop, a misty cemetery, a forlorn countryside, or the laboratory of a scientist conducting frightful experiments. In some Gothic novels, characters imagine that they see ghosts and monsters. In others, the ghosts and monsters are real. The weather in a Gothic novel is often dreary or foul: There may be high winds that rattle windowpanes, electrical storms with lightning strikes, and gray skies that brood over landscapes. (The word wuthering refers to violent wind.) The Gothic novel derives its name from the Gothic architectural style popular in Europe between the 12th and 16th centuries. Gothic structuressuch as cathedralsfeatured cavernous interiors with deep shadows, stone walls that echoed the footsteps of worshippers, gargoyles looming on exterior ledges, and soaring spires suggestive of a supernatural presence.

Publication

Wuthering Heights was published in December 1847 by Thomas Newby under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. The novel—assumed to be the work of a man—did not receive immediate critical claim because it offended Victorian moral sensibilities. About a year after Emily Brontė's death in December 1848, her sister, Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre), revealed Emily as the author of Wuthering Heights in a second edition of the novel, and the novel eventually received the praise it deserved.

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Themes

Theme 1: Love gone wrong. Relationships in Wuthering Heights are like the moors: dark, stormy, twisted. Cathy loves Heathcliff but marries Edgar Linton. Heathcliff loves Cathy but marries Isabella Linton. Mr. Earnshaw loves his adopted son, Heathcliff, better than his biological son, Hindley, causing Hindley to despise Heathcliff. Linton and young Cathy are forced to marry.
Theme 2: Cruelty begets cruelty. Hindley’s maltreatment of Heathcliff helps turn the latter into a vengeful monster. In developing this theme, Emily Brontė is ahead of her time, demonstrating that suffering abuse as a child can lead to inflicting abuse as an adult.
Theme 3: Revenge. Heathcliff’s desire to get even against all who wronged him is at times so strong that it subverts his other emotions, including love.
Theme 4: Lure of Success and Social Standing. Cathy marries Edgar after becoming infatuated with his image as a cultured gentleman with wealth enough to meet her every need. Isabella marries Heathcliff after becoming infatuated with an idealized, romantic image of him.
Theme 5: Class distinctions. Heathcliff’s fury erupts after Cathy decides to marry “up” into the world of the Lintons, and not down into the world of Heathcliff.
Theme 6: Fate. The entire novel depends on the forces unleashed when Mr. Earnshaw happens upon an orphan child, Heathcliff, on a street in Liverpool and returns with him to Wuthering Heights.
Theme 7: Prejudice. The upper crust, the Lintons, look down upon the lower crust, Heathcliff and his kind.
Theme 8: The moors as a reflection of life around them (or vice versa) and life beyond. The dark, stormy moors—where only low-growing plants such as heather thrivesymbolize the passionate and sometimes perverted emotional lives of the residents of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. In the gloomy wasteland, the Yorkshire folk, including Heathcliff himself, sometimes report seeing ghosts of people buried in the moors. 

Climax

Most analysts of Wuthering Heights maintain that the climax of the novel occurs when Cathy dies, unarguably a decisive turning point. However, one may fairly conclude that the climax comes earlier—in particular when Heathcliff overhears Cathy say she intends to marry Edgar Linton. This event deeply wounds Heathcliff, causes him to abandon Wuthering Heights, and triggers the dreadful events that follow. 

Narration
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.......To tell her story, Brontė uses two first-person narrators, Mr. Lockwood and Ellen Dean, called Nelly. Lockwood, who rents Thrushcross Grange, begins the narrative, part of which includes quotations of notes written by Catherine many years before her death. Nelly takes over the narration after he asks her to tell him the story of Heathcliff. In flashback, she proceeds to tell the tale. From time to time, however, Lockwood or Nelly interrupts the tale to discuss or deal with present circumstances, as in the following passage in Chapter 7:

......."But, Mr. Lockwood, I forget these tales cannot divert you. I'm annoyed how I should dream of chattering on at such a rate; and your gruel cold, and you nodding for bed!  I could have told Heathcliff's history, all that you need hear, in half a dozen words."
.......Thus interrupting herself, the housekeeper rose, and proceeded to lay aside her sewing; but I felt incapable of moving from the hearth, and I was very far from nodding. 'Sit still, Mrs. Dean,' I cried; 'do sit still another half-hour. You've done just right to tell the story leisurely. That is the method I like; and you must finish it in the same style. I am interested in every character you have mentioned, more or less.'
.......At times, the length of the story and the lateness of the hour make it necessary for Mrs. Dean, weary of talking, to halt the story. Lockwood then again briefly takes over the narration of Wuthering Heights, bringing the reader up to date on present events. Such a break occurs at the end of Chapter 9, when Lockwood says, 
.......At this point of the housekeeper's story she chanced to glance towards the time-piece over the chimney; and was in amazement on seeing the minute-hand measure half-past one. She would not hear of staying a second longer: in truth, I felt rather disposed to defer the sequel of her narrative myself. And now that she is vanished to her rest, and I have meditated for another hour or two, I shall summon courage to go also, in spite of aching laziness of head and limbs.
.......At the beginning of Chapter 10, Lockwood reports that he is sick. While bedridden, he says to himself,
I am too weak to read; yet I feel as if I could enjoy something interesting. Why not have up Mrs. Dean to finish her tale? I can recollect its chief incidents, as far as she had gone. Yes: I remember her hero had run off, and never been heard of for three years; and the heroine was married.  I'll ring: she'll be delighted to find me capable of talking cheerfully. Mrs. Dean came.
The housekeeper then resumes the story. She completes her account at the end of Chapter 30. Lockwood then becomes the narrator for the rest of the novel, but Nelly remains active as a character.

Imagery

.......Brontė's imagery undergirds the atmosphere of the novel and the moods of the characters. Here are examples.

Wuthering Heights

.......The isolated locale of Wuthering Heights reflects the alienation and isolation of Cathy, Heathcliff, Hindley, and Isabella. Mr. Lockwood calls attention to the isolated setting in the first paragraph of the story: “This is certainly a beautiful country!  In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist's heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us." 
.......The wind-swept location is also suggestive of the tempestuous relationships in the novel, as the following passage—also in Chapter 1—indicates:

.......Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff's dwelling. "Wuthering" being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: 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.
Nature

.......The weather, the landscape and other aspects of nature generally reflect the dark, somber mood of the story and the chill that sickens the hearts of the central characters. Consider, for example, the following passage at the beginning of Chapter 2:

Yesterday afternoon set in misty and cold. I had half a mind to spend it by my study fire, instead of wading through heath and mud to Wuthering Heights. . . [However] I took my hat, and, after a four-miles' walk, arrived at Heathcliff's garden-gate just in time to escape the first feathery flakes of a snow-shower. 
.......On that bleak hill-top the earth was hard with a black frost, and the air made me shiver through every limb.
Heathcliff is of course like the black frost: hard and cold. In the following passage, an overcast sky suggests the mood of Heathcliff:
He was leaning against the ledge of an open lattice, but not looking out: his face was turned to the interior gloom. The fire had smouldered to ashes; the room was filled with the damp, mild air of the cloudy evening; and so still, that not only the murmur of the beck [stream] down Gimmerton was distinguishable, but its ripples and its gurgling over the pebbles, or through the large stones which it could not cover. (Chapter 34)
Gothic Atmosphere

.......Brontė cultivates the Gothic atmosphere of the novel with imagery suggesting that preternatural forces are at work, as in the following passage:

.......The light flashed on his features as I spoke. Oh, Mr. Lockwood, I cannot express what a terrible start I got by the momentary view! Those deep black eyes! That smile, and ghastly paleness! It appeared to me, not Mr. Heathcliff, but a goblin; and, in my terror, I let the candle bend towards the wall, and it left me in darkness. . . .
......."Is he a ghoul or a vampire?" I mused. I had read of such hideous incarnate demons. And then I set myself to reflect how I had tended him in infancy, and watched him grow to youth, and followed him almost through his whole course; and what absurd nonsense it was to yield to that sense of horror. "But where did he come from, the little dark thing, harboured by a good man to his bane?" muttered Superstition, as I dozed into unconsciousness. And I began, half dreaming, to weary myself with imagining some fit parentage for him; and, repeating my waking meditations, I tracked his existence over again, with grim variations; at last, picturing his death and funeral: of which, all I can remember is, being exceedingly vexed at having the task of dictating an inscription for his monument, and consulting the sexton about it; and, as he had no surname, and we could not tell his age, we were obliged to content ourselves with the single word, "Heathcliff." That came true: we were. If you enter the kirkyard [churchyard], you'll read, on his headstone, only that, and the date of his death.

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Figures of Speech

Following are examples of figures of speech in the novel:

Alliteration
Repetition of a consonant sound

Chapter 2:......the first feathery flakes of a snow-shower. 
Chapter 5:......suspected slights of his authority nearly threw him into fits. 
Chapter 5:......heaping the heaviest blame on the latter. 
Chapter 7:......fingers wonderfully whitened with doing nothing and staying indoors.
Chapter 17:... you may fancy my first fright was not much allayed. . . .
Hyperbole
Exaggeration not intended to be taken literally
Chapter 27:....every breath from the hills so full of life, that it seemed whoever respired it, though dying, might revive.
Metaphor
Comparison of unlike things without using like, as, or than
Chapter 7:......Joseph and I joined at an unsociable meal, seasoned with reproofs. . . .   (Comparison of reproofs to condiments)
Chapter 10:....the stab of a knife could not inflict a worse pang than he suffered at seeing his lady vexed. (Comparison of the effect of vexation to a knife)
Chapter 17:... ignoble as it seems to insult a fallen enemy, I couldn't miss this chance of sticking in a dart (Comparison of an insult to a dart)
Chapter 32:....one thin, blue wreath, curling from the kitchen chimney (Comparison of a wreath to a curl of smoke)
Onomatopoeia
Word that imitates a sound
Chapter 9:......huge bough fell across the roof, and knocked down a portion of the east chimney-stack, sending a clatter of stones and soot into the kitchen-fire. 
Chapter 32:....she heard the slight rustle of the covering being removed. . . . 
Paradox
Contradictory statement that may actually be true
Chapter 5:......she was never so happy as when we were all scolding her at once. . . .
Chapter 17:... a melancholy sweeter than common joy. 
Personification
Comparison of thing to a person

"But where did he come from, the little dark thing, harboured by a good man to his bane?" muttered Superstition, as I dozed into unconsciousness. (Comparison of superstition to a person)

Simile
Comparison of unlike things using like, as, or than

Chapter 3:......a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres. (Comparison of the glare to ghosts)
Chapter 5:......We all kept as mute as mice a full half-hour. . . . (Comparison of people to mice)
Chapter 15.....he gnashed at me, and foamed like a mad dog. . . . (Comparison of a man to a dog) 
Chapter 18.....after the first six months, she grew like a larch. . . . (Comparison of a baby to a pine tree)
Study Questions and Essay Topics
  • Who is the most admirable character in the novel? Who is the least admirable?
  • In addition to love, what other emotions have a powerful influence on the central characters?
  • Write an informative essay that analyzes the personality of Heathcliff.
  • To what extent does social status affect the course of action?
  • In what ways does the setting reflect the action and the personalities of the characters?
  • Does author Brontė inject her own views into the novel or remain aloof and objective?
  • In an argumentative essay, defend the thesis that Cathy remains a pivotal character even after her death.
  • In what ways are the choices Cathy faces like those of the typical American woman of the 21st Century?
  • Heathcliff is a dark-skinned waif whom Mr. Earnshaw found on the streets of Liverpool. Speculate on where Heathcliff came from and what his parents were like. Do you believe his adult character was shaped more by the genes he inherited or by the environment in which Earnshaw reared him at Wuthering Heights? 
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