"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte is one of the most popular novels of the 19th century and uses elements of the Romantic and Gothic movements to weave a multi-generational story of love, revenge and the supernatural. One of the most distinctive elements of "Wuthering Heights" is its complex narrative structure. Understanding this structure can open up a world of meaning to the discerning reader.
The novel opens with and is framed by the narration of Lockwood, a man who is staying in Thrushcross Grange, a large house and manor, for relaxation and rest. Lockwood first meets his landlord, Heathcliff, and is immediately taken with the strangeness of both Heathcliff and his family situation. Lockwood is forced to stay at Heathcliff's home, Wuthering Heights, for the night, and during his stay he notes that Heathcliff lives with a young woman half of his age, a young man who seems to be both a family member and a servant, and an older servant. Lockwood is shown to a room covered in graffiti and piled with books, in which a person named Catherine has written about her life. The books and writing are rather old. In these early sections, we learn that Heathcliff and Catherine had some sort of relationship, but it is unclear exactly who she is and why she is significant. Lockwood's narration plunges the reader into the story in a bewildering and immediately intriguing way; like the reader, Lockwood is confronted with a strange and dramatic situation that he doesn't understand.
Nelly, Isabella and Zilla
After Lockwood finally makes it to Thrushcross Grange, he meets Nelly, an old servant who had previously worked for the family at Wuthering Heights, before Heathcliff took over. She tells Lockwood the story of Heathcliff's childhood as a foundling brought to Wuthering Heights by the benevolent Mr. Earnshaw, who already had two small children: Catherine Earnshaw and Hindley Earnshaw. While Catherine immediately takes to Heathcliff and welcomes him as a playmate, Hindley resents him for usurping both his father's and Catherine's affection. Heathcliff is described as a quiet, scheming and deeply traumatized child. Catherine is a capricious, selfish and passionate child, and it is clear that she and Heathcliff have a special connection. The characters of Isabella and Zilla also contribute pieces of the puzzle by describing what happens to Catherine and Heathcliff as adults. While Catherine defiantly marries the wealthy neighbor's son, Heathcliff goes off to make himself wealthy to impress Catherine.
Multiple Points of View
Because we get the narrative of the novel through stories, sometimes the reader is given the same scene from a different point of view. For example, Catherine's death and a fight between Hindley and Heathcliff are both told from two different points of view, which provides a richer view of each character and a wider perspective of events.
"Wuthering Heights" is told through flashbacks in the form of stories related by characters. This makes the novel's time-frame nonlinear and provides the reader with pieces of the puzzle a little bit at a time; the entire story is not clear until the end of the novel, when we return to the "present" moment and see what has happened to the children of Catherine and Heathcliff.