How are Hareton and Heathcliff alike and different?
Heathcliff is driven by a need for vengeance, not just against Hindley or the Lintons, but against an entire social order that seeks to exclude him. Heathcliff embraces his otherness, and in fact makes it into a weapon. When he returns a wealthy man (how he made his fortune is never clear), he sets about inverting the social order that sought to debase him. He uses his money, and his ability to appeal to Hindley’s worst instincts, to humiliate him and become the owner of Wuthering Heights.
Hareton, Hindley’s son, is a part of this inversion. Heathcliff adopts him in the same way he himself was adopted; his project is to raise Hareton to be a barely civilized brute, and to deny him all the things Heathcliff himself was denied. Hareton himself comes to revere Heathcliff, as a kind of father figure, despite his bad treatment. They form, in short, a kind of diabolical family.
Hareton’s “redemption” by Cathy’s love is another ironic aspect of Heathcliff and Hareton’s connection—ironic in that, while Catherine‘s love was unable or inadequate to redeem Heathcliff, her daughter’s love for Hareton does redeem him. It’s possible that their budding love affair, which Heathcliff seems too bored or distracted to stop, represents a kind of “‘type” or figuration of Heathcliff and Catherine’s love.
Hareton is the son of Hindley, who is the older stepbrother who hated Heathcliff for being his father's favorite. After his father's death, Hindley abuses and degrades Heathcliff, reducing him to the level of a dirty farm laborer. Because Heathcliff's social status has become so low, Catherine decides she can't marry him despite being deeply in love with him.
When Hindley dies and Heathcliff has control of Wuthering Heights, and with it, the young Hareton, Heathcliff enacts revenge by degrading the boy just as Hindley degraded him. Hareton is brought up as an illiterate farm hand, used to cursing and rough living.
However, what makes a crucial difference between the two is love. Heathcliff is crushed twice by his beloved Catherine, first when she betrays him by marrying Edgar, and then when she dies. Without her, his life is an unbearable hell. In contrast, Hareton gets his Cathy, Catherine's daughter. At the end of the novel, Heathcliff loses the desire to enact revenge by tearing them apart. The young Cathy can be good to Hareton, for example, in teaching him to read, in a way Catherine never could never manage to be to Heathcliff. In the younger generation the possibility for redemption and healing comes to fruition.
Heathcliff and Hareton are alike in many ways both in characteristics and circumstances. Heathcliff had been a poor orphan brought into the Earnshaw household and at first treated like a son. After the death of the father, Hindley began to treat Heathcliff as a servant, almost a slave. In a similar manner, Hareton began life as the son and heir of the house, but when Heathcliff managed to basically steal the estate from Hindley, and Hindley died, Hareton became the servant, and almost slave. Both Heathcliff and Hareton were raised with little or no education or training in social graces. The difference between them is that Heathcliff allowed his circumstances to warp him, and grew up desiring little more than revenge. Even his love for Catharine was somehow swathed in darkness and contributed to her death. Hareton, although quick tempered, really has a good heart and a desire to improve himself. He is able to rise above his circumstances and the marriage between him and Catherine closes the deadly cycle of revenge and brings healing to the families involved. There love can be lived and enjoyed in a way that the tortured love of Heathcliff and Catherine could not be.
Heathcliff is all raw emotion. He feels great love or great rage, he is not a man of mediums. When his love for Catherine does not work out, he turns his love into a quest for revenge.
Hareton is much more emotionally stable. He is not ruled by his emotions, yet Cathy's love for him turns him into a better person.