The Earnshaws, who live at Wuthering Heights, are a dysfunctional family. Mr. Earnshaw picks up Heathcliff, an orphan waif, on the streets of Liverpool and adopts him. Mr. Earnsahw ends up favoring Heathcliff over the older son, Hindley, which causes resentment. After Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley gets revenge by treating Heathcliff abusively. After Hindley's beloved wife dies, Hindley becomes a raving alcoholic who threatens people with violence when he is at the height of drunkenness, even down to his very young son. The household is, to put it mildly, violent and chaotic, and to add to the mix, the old servant Joseph makes Catherine and Heathcliff's lives even more miserable with his fire and brimstone evangelicalism. Not surprisingly, Catherine and Heathcliff, who bond together very closely, spend most of their time out on the moors.
The Lintons, in contrast, have an orderly, genteel household at Thrushcross Grange, and the parents are kind to their children. When Catherine and Heathcliff, out rambling, peek in the windows of the Linton house, Heathcliff is surprised and impressed to see crystal chandeliers and beautiful furniture, a contrast to the rough stone and wood interior of Wuthering Heights.
Catherine and Heathcliff, however, perceive the gentle and polite Lintons as weak and whiny milquetoasts. Although Catherine marries Edgar, she sees him as a pallid, spineless substitute for Heathcliff. Peace is kept in the household by both Isabella and Edgar catering to the imperious Catherine's every whim.
The adult Catherine and Heathcliff, who have been schooled in a rough, abusive environment, are far tougher than the Lintons, and they don't fear being rude, aggressive, and cruel. Catherine tries to warn Isabella that Heathcliff will crush her under his heel, but Isabella, who has been sheltered, does not believe this until it is too late.
The novel shows the older Lintons as too sheltered to find happiness with Earnshaws, while Catherine and Heathcliff are too hardened to be happy with Lintons. It will take the second generation to heal the wounds of the first.