Wuthering Heights | Study Guide

Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

In 1801 the narrator, Mr. Lockwood, describes his first visit to the Wuthering Heights estate located in the English countryside. He gives only a brief insight into his character in the chapter, explaining that he was once infatuated with a woman only to lose interest when she returned his affection. Mr. Lockwood has just met his new landlord, Heathcliff, owner of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, the estate across the moors Mr. Lockwood has rented. At the main entrance, Mr. Lockwood sees "a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys" carved above the door, along with the date "1500" and the name "Hareton Earnshaw."

Mr. Lockwood describes Heathcliff as "a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman." Then Mr. Lockwood notices a dog and her puppies. When he pets the dog, she growls at him, and Heathcliff warns, "She's not accustomed to be spoiled—not kept for a pet." Left alone in the kitchen, Mr. Lockwood makes faces at the mother dog and two sheepdogs that appear. The dogs attack him, bringing even more dogs from other areas of the house that nip at his heels and pull on his coat. Heathcliff and two servants, Joseph and Zillah, have to rescue Mr. Lockwood from the dogs. Mr. Lockwood is angry about the attack, but Heathcliff scolds him instead of apologizing, saying, "The dogs do right to be vigilant."

Heathcliff offers wine to calm Mr. Lockwood. They make small talk about the rental property, and Mr. Lockwood mentions wanting to visit the next day. Heathcliff does not extend an invitation, but Mr. Lockwood decides to visit anyway.

Analysis

In Wuthering Heights, the setting reflects the characters' violent emotions. Mr. Lockwood, one of the book's narrators, claims the bleak, isolated, and brooding Yorkshire countryside is a "perfect misogynist's heaven." For those who dislike and wish to avoid other people, as Mr. Lockwood claims he does, this is the place to be. Mr. Lockwood imagines a sympathy of emotion between himself and Heathcliff, but his shallow flirtation will stand in stark contrast to Heathcliff's deep love.

Property is power in the Victorian period, and Wuthering Heights will play a central role in the plot. Mr. Lockwood observes the estate is aptly named "Wuthering ... descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather." The "few stunted firs" and "range of gaunt thorns" around the house suggest it is not an easy place for living things to grow or survive. Excessive storms and wind "slant" the trees, which will come to represent the characters of privilege as they are emotionally battered and twisted by violence. Nonetheless, the house has been built to withstand whatever wild weather it encounters. The ability or inability to withstand dangerous, passionate emotions and situations is a central issue throughout the novel.

Mr. Lockwood's choice of the word station is significant, connoting social class, an issue that concerns multiple characters as they struggle to maintain or shift their stations in society. Mr. Lockwood immediately notices Heathcliff's complicated social position; his skin color is at odds with his dress and manners.

Symbolic animals make an important appearance in this chapter. When Mr. Lockwood attempts to pet a dog and its puppies in the kitchen, assuming that they, like most domestic dogs, are tame pets, he quickly learns that his conventional expectations will not help him to understand the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights.

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