One of the main contrasting elements in Wuthering heights is that of the two houses and the two families, the Linton’s and the Earnshaw’s. The two houses are split into two separate groups. Thrushcross grange and the Linton’s are often seen as the symbolic setting for the ‘cultured’ and Wuthering heights for the ‘savage’. Bronte uses many different tools in order to create a divide between he two households, especially in her use of windows and language which I will go into later.
The first contact the reader has with Wuthering heights is when Lockwood, in the first chapter, visits his landlord Heathcliff. In this passage one can begin to build up an image of Wuthering heights. It seems to be a place that could be a home (p2 ‘one step brought us into the family sitting room,’… ‘one end… to the very roof’) however it seems that it is the inmates, the ones that had created this savagery who had stopped it becoming as homely as it is suggested it could be (p2 ‘I observed no signs of roasting or boiling, or baking’ … above the chimney were sundry villainous old guns’… ‘other dogs haunted other recesses’).
Many people feel that the dogs which are described on page three of the first chapter are used as a tool to represent the savagery of the occupants. Acting out the feelings that the Heathcliff family could not because of the ongoing pressures of society which, it seems, still apply- even to the savage. It seems though that it is Heathcliff who epitomises the savage aspects of the novel. He is brought in as an outsider, from Liverpool and as such is seen as ‘other’ throughout the rest of the play.
He is often described as a gypsy (p24 ‘rough as a saw edge, and hard as a whinstone! ‘ … p25 ‘its as dark almost as if it came from the devil’ … ‘dirty, ragged, black haired child’) and never fully accepted by anyone other than Catherine Earnshaw whom also becomes rather savage during the first part of the text. It is only when Catherine is taken into Thrushcross grange that she becomes more cultured (‘they dried and combed her beautiful hair, and gave her a pair of enormous slippers. ‘) This is the first encounter with the Linton family and Thrushcross grange.
As this is part of the symbolic cultured half of the novel Heathcliff and Cathy are shown to be outside, looking in through the window (P33 ‘the light came from thence… we saw’). The building is described in stark contrast to the cold unwelcoming Wuthering heights (p33 ‘it was beautiful- a splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson- covered chairs … little soft tapers’). In this first encounter we are shown the reoccurring theme of the ‘inside, outside’ divide which is created by the use of windows. We are shown this first in the form of Lockwood’s dream when Cathy is outside his window trying to get in. p17 “let me in…. I’ve been a waif for twenty years”).
Once again Cathy and Heathcliff are shown to be outside the window in chapter 6. Here it isn’t as much a rich/ poor divide as a divide of manners and social position. The Linton’s residence at Thrushcross grange isn’t far superior to that of the Earnshaw’s but it is their manners and breeding that set them apart from the inhabitants of Wuthering heights. Indeed even the names of the two houses give the impression of a strong divide between the families and settings.
Wuthering heights, as the name suggests is a symbolic place of violence, anger hatred and jealousy, (OED: Wuther, a violent or impetuous movement, a rush; a forceful blow; a gust of wind; a tremble; a rushing sound) Lockwood also states the suitability of this name (p2 ‘Wuthering heights is the name … jutting stones’). Thrushcross grange’s name conjures up images of beauty and a natural elegance especially with the use of the bird in its name. Indeed the house is described as beautiful by Heathcliff on page 33 and this appearance of pleasing worldliness applies heavily to the characters of the Linton’s.
Like the house they are materialistic and superficial, the first encounter with them showing them fighting between a dog (‘that was their pleasure! To quarrel who should hold a heap of warm hair’). The Linton family are, in the first description of them, described as rather spoilt in that despite all their wealth and lack of hardship in life they are still unhappy. Their faces are described as having ‘vacant blue eyes’ and it is only the introduction of Cathy, whom Heathcliff describes as ‘far superior’ that creates any type of emotion (p35 ‘kindling a spark of spirit’).
In fact it seems that Cathy is the outsider to both houses. She is both savage and cultured, having spent time in both the houses. She is also seen as being outside the windows of both houses, firstly as a ghost to Lockwood (p17 ‘let me in- let me in’) and then later, looking into the house of the Linton’s with Heathcliff (p 33 ‘they had not put up the shutters… we saw- ah! ‘). She has the same superficial beauty the Linton’s exhibit and yet she still retains the cruel temper that comes with being brought up in a life of savagery (p 50 ‘irresistibly impelled … yes with water’).
In this complex novel there are many contrasts but most prominently that of the two families and two houses. In both cases it is the main male character (Edgar and Heathcliff) that shows the greatest contrast to the other. Cathy, as an object of desire to both men from both houses is seen almost as the middle ground, she displays character traits of both the cultured and the savage. In her almost split personality we see the way in which Bronte used these elements to show the best and the worst in humankind.