Why is Lockwood confused at  first about the social positions of Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine?Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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After his rather odd first reception at Wuthering Heights, Mr. Lockwood who perceives Heathcliff as a misanthrope like himself, returns for a second visit from Thrushcross Grange having decided to leave his residence because a servantstirs up ashes and clutters the room.  However, once he arrives at Wuthering Heights, he again encounters antisocial conduct from its inhabitants.

When no one answers the door, Lockwood encouters the "vinegar-faced Joseph" and inquires why no one has responded.  Joseph curtly tells him that the young miss will not answer the door.  At last, a young man with a pitchfork appears and opens the door for Lockwood where he he observes the 'missis' whom Joseph has mentioned.  Although she has "a most exquisite little face," there is a look of desperation upon it.  Rudely, she refuses Lockwood any tea until Heathcliff enters and "savagely" bids her pour the man some tea.  Then, in an effort to be amiable, Mr. Lockwood says,

it is strange how custom can mould our tastes and ideas: many could not imagine the existence of happiness in a life of such complete exile from the world as you spend, Mr. Heathcliff; yet, I'll venture to say, that, surrounded by your family, and with your amiable lady as the presiding genius over your home and heart—”

To these remarks, Heathcliff responds "almost diabolically," asking who is his "amiable lady."  Mr. Lockwood has confused Catherine Linton as Mrs. Heathcliff.  But, upon closer examination, he realizes his error as Catherine is very young, and Heathcliff around forty,

a period of mental vigour at which men seldom cherish the delusion of being married for love, by girls:  that dream is reserved for the solace of our declining years.

Then, he thinks that Hareton, the young man may be the girl's husband when, in reality, they are cousins.  Without explanation, Heathcliff identifies her as his daughter-in-law, but she was married to his sickly son Linton by Isabelle Linton, who have both died.  Hareton is not identified by Heathcliff, but he is the son of Hindley and Frances Earnshaw, who are both deceased.  At Wuthering Heights, Hareton is treated by Heathcliff much as he was treated as a boy himself.