Setting has always been, and will continue to be a key element in any story. It has the unique ability to bend and sway the reader’s emotions accordingly with the slightest alteration of atmosphere. In addition, it possesses the even more remarkable power to reflect, and aid in the analysis of each character’s behavior and motivation. These same qualities make the settings found in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, both necessary and intriguing. The first setting the reader encounters is the estate of Wuthering Heights.
It is approached with the perspective of an outsider, Mr. Lockwood. Upon Mr. Lockwood’s first visit to Wuthering Heights, he observes the significance of the name Wuthering as “being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather”. This statement does not simply describe the surrounding environment. It mirrors the mood of the house and its inhabitants. Lockwood goes on to comment, “bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed”.
However, standing out from among the rest, the most brilliantly symbolic foreshadowing is expressed with the description of “a range of gaunt thorns, all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun”. Bronte’s imagery here captures the essence of each character. Each one resembling the starved, desperate branches craving light in their dark world. Wuthering Heights as a setting, beyond any doubt, truly provides the reader with an array of beautifully crafted, subtle parallels to the central theme and characters.
However, it is upon deeper analysis that one recognizes a second, more deeply buried source of theme and symbolism. This underlying source is Thrushcross Grange. On the surface, with its crimson fabrics, gold encrusted ceiling, and shimmering chandeliers, Thrushcross Grange appears to be the perfect haven. Its residents are always kept tidy. Its gardens are always tended. Yet, regardless of the number of inhabitants it possesses, Thrushcross Grange emits a constant feeling of desertion and artificiality. The reader feels as if they have come upon a dream state. This is felt when Catherine lodges there for a short period.
Once she arrives back into her natural setting, all of the charm, grace, and sophistication she absorbed during her stay soon melts away, revealing once more her true nature. Young Cathy is not contented for very long in Thrushcross Grange either. Once old enough to become aware of the rest of the world, she is no longer satisfied with the secluded world that Thrushcross Grange provided for her. When comparing the two, Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, one might easily assume that each is the opposite of the other; and, that they represent the good and evil forces within the novel.
This assumption, however, would be a faulty one. In fact, although opposites they may be, they are each equally dangerous and unfit environments. Wuthering Heights, for obvious reasons, is the most readily associated with the evil force. Its violent, spiteful, and vindictive environment stand out to the reader as an unsuitable habitat for any functional relationship. It is best described when Lockwood comments on it being “a perfect misanthropist’s heaven”. Thrushcross Grange however, is an evil force in an entirely dissimilar way.
It appears at first glance, to be a haven. However, posing as a shield from the world, it imprisons its residents in the multitude of suppressed emotions and sheltered minds. Ultimately, each character falls victim to their own environment. Without an equal balance of refuge and passion, survival for any character is made impossible. However, such a balance finally forms between young Cathy and Hareton, which enables them to survive peacefully with each other as the last to carry on the Earnshaw name.