Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange initially appear to have totally opposing appearances, reflective of the characters who occupy them, their social and monetary status. The descriptions are symbolic of occurrences later in the novel, including a reference to a significant conflict, expressed through apparently mundane aspects of the two houses: the dogs. Characteristics such as the weather and the literal positions of the buildings enhance the depictions and further add to their significance.
Wuthering Heights is introduced as being exposed to ‘atmospheric tumult’; it is situated on the moors and experiences extreme conditions, which is immediately comparable to its occupants’ unpredictable tempers, notably Heathcliff and Hindley. The house has been ‘built strong’ which is mentioned in direct relation to the inclement weather but is also suggestive of the strength of character Heathcliff possesses and will need to utilize, as his life will be far from easy. On the other hand Thrushcross Grange is positioned in a valley sheltered by trees; the atmosphere is far from tumultuous, and accordingly the characters are generally of a more peaceful disposition.
The initial appearance of Thrushcross Grange is one of comfort and ease; the colour ‘crimson’ helps to emphasise the warmth emitted from the building literally as well as metaphorically, and the rest of the room is richly decorated. This is particularly noticeable when compared with the bleak setting of Wuthering Heights, where the colours are dark, the ornaments ‘villainous’ and the structure ‘primitive.’ When the interior appearances of the houses are analysed in conjunction with the physical positions it suggests that the Earnshaws are originally of a higher status than the Lintons, part of a decaying aristocracy, with their money inherited as opposed to earned, whereas the Lintons with their overtly polished decoration are likely to be middle class and part of the nouveau-riche culture evolving in Britain during the nineteenth century.
Heathcliff is relatively inarticulate about his feelings and is closed emotionally; the building he occupies caters for this disposition: ‘the narrow windows are set deep in the wall.’ Heathcliff himself finds it hard to express his inner desires just as the other characters have trouble deciphering them. The lack of access to Heathcliff’s character, metaphorically blocked by the small windows of Wuthering Heights, is important as throughout the novel Heathcliff is the character who breaks down barriers, yet appears to have set them up very effectively to disguise himself. However, Edgar has no trouble expressing his love for Catherine and this is comparable to the windows at Thrushcross Grange, easy to look through and discover the inner happenings.
One aspect common to both settings is the presence of the dogs in the two houses. Although dogs are seemingly ordinary creatures to occupy houses, they appear to have greater significance in the two descriptions, being representative of future happenings in the novel. The dogs in Wuthering Heights are depicted as threatening creatures, similar to wolves; indeed they are later described as ‘four-footed fiends.’
The alliteration used in this phrase contributes to the ferocious nature of the animals and is representative of the initial impression Lockwood perceives. The dogs do not simply occupy the kitchen but ‘haunt’ it, giving a yet more terrifying impression. This verb is particularly appropriate as later in the novel Catherine returns to haunt Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights, suggested initially by the obscure and confusing dreams Lockwood experiences involving the possibility of her ghost.
The scene Heathcliff depicts at Thrushcross Grange contains ‘a little dog…yelping’, which he and Catherine decide is due to the fact that Edgar and Isabella ‘had nearly pulled [it] in two between them.’ This description of the dog is highly symbolic: firstly, it shows the characters of Edgar and Isabella totally contradicting the serene nature of Thrushcross Grange, with one ‘shrieking’ and the other ‘weeping silently.’ Perhaps more importantly, the dog could be representative of Catherine, and her instrument Heathcliff, who for this purpose can be seen as one person. This demonstrates the impact which Catherine and Heathcliff have on the Lintons, which is really the whole novel, and is a dispute which is only solved in death.
There are points in both descriptions that apply to Heathcliff, due to the fact that one house is largely representative of him and the description of the other is narrated by him. The trees surrounding Wuthering Heights are described as ‘craving alms of the sun.’ This is symbolic of the craving Heathcliff feels for Catherine, he wishes for her warmth to shine on him; she is the ray of sunlight in his life. In his own description of Thrushcross Grange Heathcliff exclaims to Nelly Dean that he would ‘not exchange, for a thousand lives, [his] condition…for Edgar Linton’s at Thrushcross Grange.’ This statement is tragically ironic: if only Heathcliff could foresee the overpowering desire he would experience to be in exactly Edgar’s position in future years: as Catherine’s husband.
The contrasting descriptions of the two houses, which are the primary settings in the novel, not only emphasise the opposing appearances of the characters which live within, but also have deeper significance in the novel as a whole. Heathcliff is the best example of a character being aversely affected by implications contained in the two accounts of the buildings. The opposing settings reflect the differing natures of the characters and set the tone for a novel filled with antagonism and struggle.