Wuthering Heights is a story of people behaving badly. If all of English gentry were so utterly psychotic, selfish, and inward focused as depicted in this book, England would have never had an empire. I've heard second hand from a literature professor that students either like or hate Wuthering Heights, few are indifferent. I'm in the hate Wuthering Heights category. If it weren't for its reputation as a classic of English literature I would have given it only one star. As a matter of fact, if the book hadn't been selected for discussion by a book group I belong to, I would have never finished the book.
So how can I explain the thinking of people who place this book in the Western Literary Canon? At a basic level it is about a passionate, yet thwarted, love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys them and many around them. The parts of the story that are hard to stomach are the stark depictions of mental and physical cruelty. And it's more than just a part of the book; the cruel and insensitive human relations continue page-after-page for the whole book except for the very end. Since it's a product of the 19th Century we can rest assured that in the end the book will be resolved in a satisfactory moral lesson.
So what moral lessons do I find in this book?
1. Decisions made based on class can lead to regrettable results. Class is a major consideration in Catherine's decision not to marry Heathcliff. This becomes a regretted decision because of the shifting nature of social status demonstrated by Heathcliff's up-and-down trajectory from homeless waif to gentleman.
2. Mistreatment of children can lead to multiple generations of negative relationships. Heathcliff is mistreated as a child and ends up dedicating his life to achieving revenge.
3. An isolated ingrown upper class leads to weak leadership. The characters in this book all seem to be dying young, and are emotionally fragile. The primary marriage candidates in this book are first cousins. (It's interesting to note that the Brontë sisters all died young. I wonder if there were married cousins in their ancestry.)
4. In the end, love can conquer all.
Some symbolism I noticed in the book:
1. The weather becomes threatening whenever a crucial plot encounter was about to occur (dark and stormy night style).
2. The surrounding moors offer a threatening environment that lends additional suspense to the story's action.
3. Ghosts appear throughout the narrative in Wuthering Heights which creates a foreboding atmosphere (but they are presented in an ambiguous way so their reality remains in question).
4. The threats from nature and the supernatural implied by the above symbols transfers its symbolic associations onto the Catherine-Heathcliff love affair.
I guess if you like gothic novels, this one fits the bill. But frankly, if you like this book I think there's something twisted about your personality. That's said with a smile ; ) on my face.