Sample Questions

1) Discuss the role of Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights.

  • In a novel the effect of a narrator gives the reader an intimate but subjective account of events. It removes the omniscience of the author and the possibility of objectivity. We can take nothing for granted and must be wary of forming judgements on the basis of what we are told and how we are told it.
  • Why should Bronte choose Nelly Dean as the narrator of Wuthering Heights? As a respected, educated servant, she is socially mobile. This enables her access to events and conversations. She is both a part of and removed from the action.
  • However, more importantly, she provides a contrast to the extreme emotions exhibited by Heathcliff and Cathy, making them believable. Remark upon the episode depicting Heathcliff’s grief after Cathy’s death. "Her life closed in a gentle dream - may she wake as kindly in the other world" is Nelly’s word on the death while Heathcliff responds in a "sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion", "May she wake in torment…Catherine Earnshaw…do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you". The force of Heathcliff’s emotion affects the reader more because of Nelly’s sober, startled reaction that is juxtaposed with it. Similar is the role of Nelly when Cathy’s declares her love for Edgar and Heathcliff. Catherine speaks in metaphors and with the false certainty originating in passion: "Nelly, I am Heathcliff… so don’t speak of our separation again – it is impracticable; and…". Nelly responds, "If I can make any sense of your nonsense, Miss…you are ignorant of the duties you undertake in marrying" and so on, in sober guidance. Close attention to the text shows how the pitch of Heathcliff and Cathy’s language in relation to Nelly’s is more taut and intense. Without her scepticism and baffled reactions, the reader would find it difficult to maintain empathy for and belief in these characters.
  • By making an ‘ordinary’ woman relate extraordinary scenes, Bronte is also able to comment on conventional expectations of behaviour. Bronte gives herself license to make observations about social behaviour and their often rotten core with an ingenious vagueness and ambiguity. See also Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) for a similar technique of multiple narrative layers used partly to protect the unconventional views of a woman writing novels when women could not openly challenge society and male dominance in writing.


2) What is the significance of location for Wuthering Heights?

  • What is the effect of the title of the novel? It elevates the importance of location and intimates that this significantly affects the characters and events. Also gives greater significance to Wuthering Heights and its inhabitants.
  • Consider the depiction of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The former is representative of nature, the latter of culture and sophistication. Show how this is achieved in the imagery with the use of quotation.
  • Then detail the implications of location for the characters of the novel:

a) The nature that surrounds each place is echoed in the inhabitants’ natures.

b) Location is also a dynamic force, serving to affect and turn characters too: Isabella becomes bolder and less refined when at the Heights; Heathcliff becomes a ‘gentleman’ when away from the raw uncivilized Heights.

  • Just as the erection of any boundary is undermined, so Bronte stresses the interplay between location and character, and how places serve to affect and feed emotions and behaviour. But this interaction is always under stress, and is epitomized in the title, with the openness and vagueness of the word Wuthering opposing the remoteness implied by Heights.



3) Wuthering Heights has been described as irreligious. Do you agree?

  • Joseph is the voice of conventional, organized religion, but he is portrayed as a pious and cruel man. Therefore this may suggests that Bronte is critical of Christian teaching or at least the men who represent it.
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