The Setting and Character Link in the Novel and Film Wuthering Heights

     Setting is an important part of literary work. It can set the tone for a scene, and even for the rest of the story. The conditions of when and where characters are existing can provide clues full of insight into their psychology. The setting for a film must do the same, however in quite a different manner since a film is not described with words, but rather it is viewed. A backdrop must not be so overbearing that it distracts from the characters; and at the same time, the setting must put the actors into the mood of their characters. The film that best illustrates the well-constructed interactions between the characters and the setting is Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler in 1939.

     Emily Brontė, author of the classic 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, uses setting as a significant determinant of mood. She surrounds the Wuthering Heights estate with a foreboding air through the use of numerous melancholic descriptions. In contrast, she gives a sense of the immaculate to Thrushcross Grange. It is interesting to notice that when the characters visit or stay at one another's homes; their mood is altered (except Heathcliff of course: upon entering Thrushcross Grange for the first time he damns it to hell).

     I thought the film Wuthering Heights contained an excellent visualization of this interaction. When I saw the house at Wuthering Heights, I was filled with the same cold and depressing feeling that the book had instilled in me. Likewise, the costly and lavish appearance of Thrushcross Grange was conductive to their high-class "goody two shoes" image. As in the novel, the Moors are the symbol of freedom and true happiness in the film version. Even though there are significant alterations from the novel to the film, the theme of the Moors being the ultimate escape from their harsh realities, is maintained. The importance of the Moors is illustrated by Cathy's (Merle Oberon) deathbed request for heather (mutant or not). In addition, she persuades Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) to bring her to the window so she can look on the Moors. This was the very last thing she did before her death. Finally, the last scene of the movie is the ghosts of Heathcliff and Cathy walking on the Moors (for better or for worse).

     In conclusion, although the film is significantly altered from Brontė's novel, the intrinsic links setting and character remain emphasized. This is vital for adding depth to the characters and the story line. It also made for beautiful scenery (even if it was on the other side of the world in relation to the English Moors).

Maggie Dale

Table of Contents