In Wuthering Heights, Nelly Dean plays several roles in connection with Catherine Earnshaw. She is at once, her playmate, confidante, servant and judge. Elaborate.
Wuthering Heights is a dramatic account of events that, when retold, are so intense, they seem real and current - not historical. Nelly Dean tells much of the story - as she sees it - to Mr Lockwood, the new neighbor at Thrushcross Grange and between the two of them, they tell the story that is Wuthering Heights.
Nelly is the family servant , having basically inherited the position from her own mother when she turned a suitable age. She recognizes the bond between Cathy and Heathcliff, even feeling sorry for Heathcliff when he is treated so badly by Hindley to the point that Cathy barely recognizes him. Heathcliff, asks, "Nelly make me decent. I'm going to be good" (Ch 7) and thus Nelly encourages him on Cathy's behalf, having seen her so hurt by Heathclif's behavior, but her efforts only serve to intensify the hatred between Hindley and Heathcliff as Hindley thinks of him as nothing more than a "brute of a lad." Nelly also helps Cathy and Heathcliff in their efforts to see each other and to keep them from Hindley's cruelty.
Cathering Earnshaw is the famous "Cathy" with whom ultimately Heathcliff becomes so obsessed. Aware of their different stations in life, Cathy will never consider Heathcliff as a potential husband even though it is clear that she is "much too fond of Heathcliff" and "quite the little mistress". Nelly sees Cathy as"a wild wick slip but....with the sweetest smile" (Ch 5)
Whilst relating the story of Wuthering Heights to Mr Lockwood, Nelly is aware that she is something of a "gossip" and does not want to miss out any detail in her story, especially of her attempts to protect Cathy and Heathcliff. Nelly is aware of Cathy's shortcomings and her pride and when Cathy swallows her pride she will share her secrets with Nelly, " as there was not a soul else." (Ch 8)Nelly serves to show Edgar Linton Cathy's passionate side as she loses control in front of him and he is shocked. Nelly hopes he will "take warning and begone" recognizing that Cathy is dreadfully wayward." Her efforts are in vain though and Edgar is "doomed, and flies to his fate"as he and Cathy become "lovers. "
It is not long before Cathy tells Nelly that Edgar has asked her to marry him. Nelly does advise Cathy and tries to make Cathy understand the folly of marrying him "to be the greatest woman of the neighborhood" and especially because Cathy can't help but feel "in my soul...I'm convinced I'm wrong." The reason is of course because Heathcliff "is more myself than I."(Ch 9)Heathcliff has heard only the part where Catherine said it would "degrade" her to marry Heathcliff.
It is clear to Nelly that Cathy is offended by Nelly's suggestions that she is deserting Heathcliff and Cathy's intentions to "aid Heathcliff"..."with your husband's money" (Ch9) seem plausible to Cathy. She wil not hear of Nelly's attempts to show her that she is "a wicked, unprincipled girl." Nelly has had enough and shall keep no more secrets!
Nelly nurses Catherine after a fever and is well entrenched into the family. She sees herself as the conscience of the Earnshaws as she urges them to display more compassionate and reasonable behavior, to no avail.