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Thomas Michaels

Mrs. Streblow

AP English Literature and Composition


Summary of J. Hillis Miller’s

“Wuthering Heights: Repetition and the ‘Uncanny’”

Miller’s essay on Wuthering Heights is, in fact, an essay on topics larger than just the

book itself, much like the book is larger than simply its plot. Miller takes several steps outward,

critically analyzing not just the book, but all interpretations of the book, general centrality, and

literature itself, all with a common motif of impossibility.

The analyses begin with Miller arguing that Wuthering Heights is a very successful book

with its details (which are often emblems) and narrative techniques, also stating that the book

follows the conventions of “Victorian realism.” Miller then delves into his first main focus of his

essay, which is the idea that Bronte sets up the novel suggesting that there is a single explanation

for all of the questions raised and an answer for what all of the details represent found in some

single source. Miller explains that this source does not exist. He shows how the reader is forced

into interpreting everything as a spectator along with Lockwood. Next, Miller describes how

literary compositions are used in the novel mentioning Catherine’s Diary found within the

library, the Reverend’s sermon, and others, and explaining how they are all interpretations or

involve interpretations of other works. He gives more examples of composited interpretations

within interpretations and how this makes reading Wuthering Heights a task of navigation

through various interpretations. Miller explains that many of the techniques Bronte uses to create

this unique reading experience that is Wuthering Heights, have been around for many years.
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However, the way Bronte uses these techniques is what makes the novel special and makes the

reader have to move slowly through the story, gradually learning more and more.

Miller next transitions into discussing the public’s interpretations of Wuthering Heights,

beginning with Charlotte Bronte’s essay, which precedes the novel in many editions. Miller says

that the essay blurs the boundaries of where the novel actually begins, since Charlotte’s writing

style is so similar to Emily’s. He then addresses the content within the essay, stating that her

preface establishes a common theme for many critical analyses of Wuthering Heights – throwing

out previous critics’ ideas as wrong, and claiming to have the one, real solution. Charlotte does

this 4 times within her preface in the way she addresses various early critics of the novel. This

program has been followed abundantly by many critics, and Miller claims that all of these

interpretations are wrong. Miller explicates this, clarifying that they are all wrong if they claim

that their method of interpretation solves everything because there is no single solution or ‘single

secret truth’ to Wuthering Heights. This principle is what keeps readers continuously coming

back to the novel to reread. Any hypothesis that includes single answer for the novel will

ultimately prove to be incomplete and leave something important unaddressed. This situation

leads the reader to endlessly continue to try and interpret.

The next idea Miller addresses is Bronte’s use of repetition with paired oppositions.

Every element of the book is another form of another – the two Catherines, for example. Miller

claims that these pairs tend to divide further, subdividing as variations of the same original,

although none of these can be traced back to any single beginning. The subdivision process is an

effort towards reunification, but it only results in further division, says Miller. He then claims

that it could be beneficial to read Wuthering Heights by taking one of these paths of opposition

and forming a hypothesis, and seeing how far it can hold. Miller says that this pushing to the
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limit forces the reader to “confront his mortality,” and realize that there is no complete

understanding available for the novel.

Miller then moves into a hypothesis of his own, in which he tries to apply metaphors to

the story. He begins by applying an economic metaphor in which a monetary system is set up

where everything is stamped with the image of a face of the “Queen to Heathcliff’s Jack.” He

then looks at the problems that arise from this and the point at which this metaphor fails.

Miller’s interpretation and its limitations leads right back to the idea of a lack of central

origin for the novel. He explains that every emblem in the novel seems to lead down a path

towards understanding and at the same time sets up a barrier. This results in the ‘death of

experience’ because there is always something that is unreachable, but at the same creates a

tendency of repetition that holds off this death. The glimpse offered at possible oneness of the

novel comes from an actual ‘state of twoness’ within. Ultimately, the center of Wuthering

Heights is a duality, not a singularity.

The effect on the reader is that he/she feels a range of emotions depending on what he/she

decides to do. To interpret without pursing to where the interpretation fails is to leave a task

unfinished. To ‘pierce all the way in’ is also something to feel guilty about, Miller says.

The essay concludes with Miller saying that the repeating duality of Wuthering Heights

ultimately results in a story that does not die and is constantly resurrecting.

Personally, I very much enjoyed Miller’s essay. I thought it was very thorough, and I

always enjoy when an analysis steps back as broadly as this one did. For this reason, my favorite

part of the essay was probably the ending. Miller is obviously a masterful writer and the way he

tied everything together and made further assertions about literature was very exciting and an all-

around enriching way to end the decently long journey of the essay. Also the idea of repetition,
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while separating it from a source was fascinating about, and I think that Miller argued it