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What We Learn From the Dogs in Wuthering Heights

Updated on December 12, 2016
Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green is an avid reader and discusses literary gems she's discovered with fellow enthusiasts.

The more one reads Wuthering Heights, the more one is struck at how Emily Bronte gave great thought to the overall structure of this work. Nothing appears to have been random but rather, carefully crafted.

Dogs are mentioned frequently throughout the novel and they appear to not only denote innate traits of the main characters but are also used to portend events yet to unfold. In a series of master strokes Bronte uses the dogs to set the mood and foreshadow both good and bad.

By taking a closer look at these creatures, we gain deeper insights into a masterpiece that fans never tire of dissecting.

Lockwood Describing Heathcliff

The ‘walk in’ was uttered with closed teeth, and expressed the sentiment, ‘Go to the Deuce’

Symbolism of Teeth

Right at the start of the novel, when Lockwood approaches his landlord Heathcliff, Heathcliff snarls at him and tells him to "walk in" but this is said with closed teeth.

This is exactly how a dog looks when it is threatening: lips curled back and baring closed teeth and growling. And it's an interesting word-choice by the author, painting a vivid picture for readers and hinting of the unleashed violence that Heathcliff is capable of.

Additionally, it may well be a foreshadowing of the teeth that Lockwood will soon encounter inside Wuthering Heights.

Not Anxious to Come in Contact With Their Fangs, I Sat Still

How Lockwood Describes the Dogs

  • The canine mother is described as huge and sneaking wolfishly.
  • Other dogs are said to "haunt" recesses.
  • Sheepdogs are said to be grim and shaggy.
  • Other dogs are said to be fiends.

These attributes could just as well be describing some of the human inhabitants at the Heights.


Dogs Perfectly Reflect the Atmosphere at the Heights

Within minutes of entering, Lockwood tries to caress a canine mother, a bitch pointer that has left her pups and is sneaking wolfishly to the back of his legs, and as he relates: her lip curled up, and her white teeth watering for a snatch.

While Heathcliff goes down into the cellar to get some wine, Lockwood is left alone with the mother dog and two grim-looking sheep dogs that watch all his movements intently. Lockwood foolishly makes faces at the trio, and the mother dog becomes so infuriated, she leaps onto his knees. This sets off other dogs. Half-a-dozen four-footed fiends emerge out of hiding places and attack Lockwood, biting at his heels and coat-laps, and he has to resort to using a poker to fend them off.

It has oft' been said that dogs take on the personality of their owners and in this case, the dogs not only portray the suspicion and potential for violence of the master of the Heights but also the tense, unfriendly and hostile atmosphere that Lockwood finds within the Heights.

A completely different feeling would have been evoked if the dogs had been friendly and trusting but Bronte skillfully uses the dogs to paint a powerful picture, and thus we see why she interwove them so skillfully in this first chapter.

The herd of possessed swine could have had no worse spirits in them than those animals of yours, sir.

— Lockwood

Snow & Dogs Prevent Lockwood Escaping the Heights

Further Descriptions

Lockwood calls Gnasher and Wolf hairy monsters.

Gnasher and Wolf Attack Lockwood in Chapter Two

When Lockwood next visits, he enters the same room he was in before and we learn that the canine mother is called Juno and mounts sentinel inside the house. On this visit, Lockwood actually calls the dog (he seems a glutton for punishment) and Juno moves the tip of her tail.

A snowstorm prevents Lockwood from leaving but because of the inhospitable way he's been treated, he refuses to spend the night. Thoroughly disgusted, he attempts to depart. He takes Joseph's lantern explaining he will return it but Joseph claims he's stealing it and sicks the dogs on him.

We now learn the names of some of the other dogs at the Heights: Gnasher and Wolf. The name Gnasher, of course, conjures up the image of teeth and the name Wolf also paints a picture of stalking and danger. The dogs fly at Lockwood's throat and knock him to the ground. While he says they seem more intent on stretching their legs, he is still pinned down and is ultimately forced to spend the night.

Bronte again uses the dogs to portray how while Lockwood is tolerated, he is most certainly not truly welcome at the Heights.

Even Leaving the Heights is Fraught With Danger

Dogs in Chapter Six: A Tug of War and an Attack

An interesting event unfolds and at first blush, it doesn't seem to have relevance but when one considers what comes later, this scene portends conflict.

Heathcliff and Catherine have snuck over to Thrushcross Grange to see how the Linton youths, Edgar and his sister Isabella, have spent their Sunday. The two have fought over a dog and nearly pulled it apart.

This is relevant to the narrative in two ways. It foreshadows that later in the story, there will be a tug-of-war between Edgar and Isabella when Isabella marries Edward's rival, Heathcliff.

And Edgar and Isabella, while raised in a civilized family, themselves are acting as two dogs would, fighting over some object and both pulling on it. Once again Bronte uses the behavior of dogs to spotlight similar tendencies in humans.

Heathcliff Describing Skulker

The dog was throttled off; his huge, purple tongue hanging half a foot out of his mouth, and his pendent lips streaming with bloody slaver.

Skulker Attacks Catherine

Upon being discovered by Edgar and Isabella, Heathcliff and Catherine flee but she is attacked by the Linton's bulldog, Skulker.

Once again a dog has a name that indicates violence but what is even more interesting is that the name Skulker conjurs up the image of a skull. Why did Bronte choose this name? Does the name, in fact, portend something more in relation to Catherine?

Let's do a break-down: the dog latches onto Catherine's ankle, preventing her from fleeing with Heathcliff and this foreshadows what will unfold in Catherine's life. Because she has to stay at the Grange and recover from the damage the dog inflicted on her ankle, she forms a friendship with Edgar and Isabella that will ultimately change the course of her life. She later marries Edgar instead of Heathcliff, which determines where she will live. Through this marriage, she is not free to leave the Grange and run off with Heathcliff, even when her heart belongs to him.

The name conjurs up an image of a skull and obviously, death, and it seems apparent that Bronte carefully chose this name because of what ultimately befalls Catherine at the Grange. And as expected, Catherine does die at the Grange.

So the bite serves as a warning, that while the Grange seems so benign and Catherine is drawn to it and its inhabitants, if she chooses Edgar over Heathcliff, her choice will come back to bite her. And indeed it does; it ultimately destroys her.

How Heathcliff is Likened to a Dog Throughout the Novel

As one of the most important characters in this work, it comes as no surprise that Bronte also makes use of comparisons and description to spotlight the animalistic tendencies in Heathcliff's nature.

  1. Like a stray dog, Heathcliff is found by Mr. Earnshaw wandering the streets of Liverpool, hungry, homeless, and ownerless.
  2. Heathcliff is brought home just as a stray pup would be, tucked into Earnshaw's coat.
  3. Hindley calls Heathcliff "dog."
  4. Hindley seizes Heathcliff by the collar and throws him into the back kitchen, in the same fashion one would do when disciplining a dog.
  5. Lockwood likens Heathcliff to a dog when describing a scene between Heathcliff and his daughter-in-law, calling it a cat-and-dog combat.
  6. When Heathcliff is holding dying Catherine and as Nelly approaches, she says he gnashes at her and foams like a mad dog.
  7. When Heathcliff learns that Catherine has died, he howls like a canine.
  8. Isabella tells Heathcliff to stretch himself out over Catherine's grave as a dog would and die.
  9. Isabella tells Hindley how, while he was in a drunken state, Heathcliff attacked him and how his mouth watered to tear Hindley with his teeth.

Haunt me but... be with me always... don't leave me. I cannot live without my life, I cannot live without my soul.

— Heathcliff

When Heathcliff Learns of Catherine's Death

At a Glance

Dogs
Attribute
Kind
Juno
attacks
bitch pointer
Gnasher
threatens
 
Wolf
threatens
 
Skulker
attacks
bulldog
Throttler
will attack if ordered to
bulldog
Fanny
pet
 
two dogs at the heights
grim
sheepdogs

Other References to Dogs & Inherent Symbolism

  1. Heathcliff and Catherine hide in the arch of a dresser, which is likely the same arch in the dresser that Juno chose as a safe place to shelter her puppies. Like young pups, they stay out of the way to escape Joseph and Hindley's wrath.
  2. Joseph finds them and tears down the curtain they have erected and insists they sit and read religious texts. They have just endured his three-hour sermon trapped in the freezing garret and now this! Heathcliff and Catherine throw their Bibles, not into the fire but into a dog kennel. The dog kennel aptly portrays how frustrated, helpless, and trapped they feel.
  3. Heathcliff and Catherine gambol over the moors, just as dogs would, spending hours out-of-doors exploring.
  4. Hindley has his son Hereton cropped as a dog would be and he says that it makes a dog fiercer.

A Dog Welcomes Heathcliff... as Does Catherine

Right before the great reconciliation scene between Heathcliff and Catherine, a large dog is observed at the Grange and instead of barking, it wags its tail at Heathclliff. This foreshadows the reception Heathcliff will receive from Catherine.

Catherine is dying and these two are as stormy as always, but they are finally together in a passionate scene, where they reaffirm their feelings openly, hold each other and kiss repeatedly. Readers are left in no doubt as to their love for each other. While sad, this scene is satisfying because Heathcliff finally gets to hold his love.

Dogs Being Hanged & What This Portends

Dogs are used to symbolize Isabella's entrance and exit from Wuthering Heights.

Heathcliff hangs up Isabella's little dog, Fanny, on the same night that she elopes with him. In sharp contrast to the names of some of the other dogs, the name Fanny evokes a picture of a harmless creature.This action by Heathcliff serves as a warning of his future treatment of Isabella and shows how she will feel helpless and strangled in a loveless, abusive relationship with Heathcliff.

On the day Isabella escapes from Wuthering Heights, she passes by Hareton, who is hanging a litter of puppies from a chair back. Once again the dogs are used to show that innocence dies at the Heights and those who live there grapple against powerful forces and are at great risk.

Bronte may have also used the dogs to show that what was young and carefree has been lost and is in the process of dying out. Heathcliff and Catherine were like young pups but Catherine has died. She was life to him and because of that his spirit and his life are slowly being snuffed out, as well. Their innocence and love is being extinguished in the earthly realm.

Hereton's dogs attack Cathy's.
Hereton's dogs attack Cathy's.

Dogs & The Second Generation

In chapter nineteen Cathy, (Catherine's daughter) sets out from the Grange with her dogs and they are attacked by Hereton's dogs.

This is an interesting twist and once again, it is not just random storytelling but holds meaning. Cathy and Hereton have to intervene to separate the two packs of dogs, thus this foreshadows that while Cathy and Hereton are initially unfriendly and snipe at each other, they will make peace and love will develop between them.

This attack between the dogs aptly symbolizes the animosity between the two households but how because of the next generation, it finally comes to an end.

Love Blossoms & Heals All

Before you read this article, did you think about the significance of the dogs in Wuthering Heights?

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Beginning & Ending

As can be seen, dogs play an important part throughout this story. It was genius on Bronte's part to choose them. Dogs, as man's best friend, are capable of great love and loyalty (as is demonstrated by Heathcliff's unswerving devotion to Catherine) but they also can be wild and dangerous creatures. Bronte shows that humans, for all their external polish, are every bit as capable of cruelty, and knowing cruelty at that. Heathcliff had none of the usual advantages but he was capable of deeper love and fidelity. How fitting that the story not only opens but concludes with dogs as essential elements to both drive, illuminate, and resolve the plot and to send a strong message that humans are not that far removed from animals.

© 2016 Athlyn Green

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    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 5 months ago from Philippines

      I love dogs and it is very interesting to see the role dogs played in this complex book. It is also a revelation to me that dogs have so many sides to them, just like people. I only see dogs as pets but indeed, they can, as you say, "take on the traits of their owners," and I have seen this happen but always thought it was a coincidence. Interesting to see that dogs are the secret outline of this complicated novel, and that the nature of man and dogs is secretly outlined in this book. Also interesting is the fact that the author so skillfully used dogs to craft the forebodings of her story.

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