Wuthering Heights opens with Mr. Lockwood, a new tenant at Thrushcross Grange, writing in his diary about his visit to his landlord, Mr. Heathcliff. While entering Wuthering Heights, Lockwood notices but does not comment upon the date "1500" and the name "Hareton Earnshaw" above the principal door. Lockwood, an unwelcome guest, soon meets Joseph, a servant, and a pack of dogs that have overrun the farmhouse. Although he receives no encouragement from his host, Lockwood decides to make a return visit.
Wuthering Heights opens with a date that signifies the setting as well as the form of the narrative. The present is 1801; however, the primary story line has taken place years ago. Most of the action in the novel occurs in Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, or the moors in between the two houses. All three locations are "completely removed from the stir of society," and each house symbolizes its habitants: Those at Wuthering Heights tend to be strong, wild, and passionate whereas those at Thrushcross Grange are passive, civilized, and calm. Heathcliff is the personification of Wuthering Heights.
Readers are introduced to Lockwood, an unreliable narrator who tries to make sense of his surroundings and his landlord. In doing so, his impressions provide readers with the first glimpse of Heathcliff, the main character. Lockwood's perceptions are simultaneously significant for the reader while being wholly inaccurate for himself as a character. For example, he mentions twice that Heathcliff does not extend a hand to him, yet Lockwood still considers Heathcliff a gentleman. Lockwood also notices that "grass grows up between the flags, and cattle are the only hedgecutters" but erroneously assumes that Heathcliff has a "whole establishment of domestics." At the close of the chapter, Lockwood recognizes that Heathcliff has no desire to see him again, yet he plans to visit again nonetheless. Lockwood draws comparisons between Heathcliff and himself, and the line "I have gained the reputation of deliberate heartlessness" foreshadows the telling of past heartless actions by Heathcliff.
Lockwood is clearly blind to the reality of the situation, although the extent of his misinterpretations is not fully realized. He is the first of many narrators to tell the story from a point of view that is neither omniscient nor unbiased. In Wuthering Heights, stories are often told within stories, with much of the information being revealed second-handed. Lockwood is an outsider who serves as the impetus for Nelly first to tell the story of Heathcliff and Catherine, and then to relate the story of their respective children.
In addition to Lockwood and Heathcliff, two servants are introduced in Chapter 1. The first is Joseph, an old man with a nasty disposition who has a sense of religious fanaticism; the other is only referred to as a "lusty dame" and is later identified as Zillah.
These characters are presented realistically, and other signs of realism are the depictions of the dogs and the details of the farmhouse furnishings. Brontë provides these kinds of details throughout the novel because having a sense of realism and authenticity is an important aspect of Wuthering Heights. Another important aspect is ownership of property, and even though the name "Hareton Earnshaw" is not explained, the family name plays an important part of Wuthering Heights. Because the opening chapter raises more questions than it answers, it serves as a hook to capture the attention of readers and encourage them to continue reading.
misanthropist a person who hates or distrusts other people.
perseverance continued effort in spite of discouragement.
Go to the deuce go to the devil.
causeway a raised way over wet ground.
flags paving stones.
soliloquize to talk aloud to oneself.
ejaculation words spoken suddenly with emotion.
wuthering exposed to the open air; here, used to describe the architecture of the farmhouse that endures assaults of nature (wind, snow, and rain).
grotesque artwork that distorts the usual human or animal form.
griffins animals with the head and wings of an eagle and the hind legs and tail of a lion.
countenance outward appearance.
gaiters leg coverings that reach to the mid-calf.
gypsy a member of a traditionally nomadic, or wandering, ethnic group.
vis-à-vis face to face.
physiognomy facial features.
signet a mark left by a ring whose upper surface contains a signet, or seal, once used as a signature for marking documents.