Wuthering Heights Characters
The main characters in Wuthering Heights are Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton, and Nelly Dean.
- Catherine Earnshaw is a spirited but arrogant girl. Saddened when Heathcliff leaves her, she ultimately marries the wealthy Edgar Linton.
Heathcliff is a passionate man whose deep love for Catherine develops into a desire for retribution upon her death.
Edgar Linton is Catherine’s unassuming husband. He loves Catherine and treats her well. He dotes upon his daughter, Cathy.
Nelly Dean is one of the narrators of the story. She works as a servant at Thrushcross Grange, where she tells Mr. Lockwood the story of Wuthering Heights.
Last Updated on December 2, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1712
Catherine Earnshaw Linton
Though Catherine plays an important role in the book, readers learn that she died years before Nelly Dean and Lockwood sit down for their first conversation. Catherine is the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights, an estate located in the moors of the fictional Gimmerton Valley of Yorkshire. When Heathcliff first arrives at Wuthering Heights as a young child, Catherine is unhappy with his presence; soon, however, she and Heathcliff become best friends, and as they grow up together, they fall in love. Catherine has a strong personality, and there are two sides to her: she is rebellious, impulsive, and headstrong, yet at the same time, she is also quite status-conscious and sensitive to how she appears to others. Despite her attachment to Heathcliff, Catherine marries Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange, a decision which suits her social background but not her heart. Catherine’s inner struggle does not end with her marriage to Edgar, and when Heathcliff appears in her life again, Catherine is torn apart by her dueling desires to conform to societal expectations as Edgar’s wife and to reject them to be with Heathcliff. Her inability to choose ultimately causes her health to deteriorate, and she develops a “brain fever,” dying shortly after giving birth to her daughter Catherine.
Heathcliff, the mysterious and romantically appealing antihero of Wuthering Heights, is known only by his first name. Though Heathcliff displays some deeply hostile tendencies towards other characters in the novel, his troubled past and emotional complexity make him an intriguing character. Mr. Earnshaw first encounters young Heathcliff on the streets of Liverpool and brings him home to Wuthering Heights. Mr. Earnshaw clearly favors Heathcliff over his son, Hindley; and the tensions that stem from this childhood rivalry (and, it is suggested, from the color of Heathcliff’s skin) endure for decades. Heathcliff’s love for Catherine is intense and reciprocated, but because Heathcliff has no family, and therefore, no name, wealth, nor social status, he is an unsuitable match for Catherine. When he learns of Catherine’s intention to marry Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange, Heathcliff disappears from Wuthering Heights for three years. He returns having made his fortune, and his disruptive and bitter presence drives a wedge between Catherine and Edgar and ultimately leads to Catherine’s demise. Heathcliff is broken by Catherine’s death and spends much of the novel exacting revenge on those who have wronged him, taking his rage and frustration out on anyone who crosses his path.
John Lockwood is the narrator of Wuthering Heights, but his foolishness and tendency to commit social blunders indicate early on that he may not be a reliable source of information. The novel begins with Lockwood and ends with Lockwood. As Heathcliff’s tenant, Lockwood rents Thrushcross Grange, a property adjacent to Wuthering Heights. In his conversations with the housekeeper Nelly Dean, he learns the story of Catherine and Heathcliff’s great love and the destructive consequences of their relationship, recording what he hears from Nelly in his journal. Lockwood has a series of interesting experiences during his stay in Gimmerton: he has an encounter with the ghost of Catherine, gets lost on the moors, and overhears Heathcliff attempting to communicate with the ghost of Catherine. Lockwood also develops an unexpected (and unsuitable) romantic interest in Cathy Linton, Catherine’s daughter. The novel ends when Lockwood leaves the Gimmerton valley, passing the graves of Catherine, Edgar, and Heathcliff on his way out.
The longtime housekeeper of Wuthering Heights, Nelly is an expert on the goings-on that have taken place between the Earnshaws, the Lintons, and Heathcliff. She gossips openly with Lockwood about everything she has witnessed, but she is not an impartial observer of events, and her (often judgmental) narration is clearly colored by her personal opinions of the individuals in her stories. Nelly took care of Catherine Earnshaw Linton while she was still alive, but Nelly's feelings toward Catherine seem ambivalent. At times, Nelly seems to feel affection for Catherine, but she also expresses grave doubts about her character. Nelly’s feelings towards Heathcliff are generally negative, and it is suggested that she, like Hindley, holds Heathcliff’s orphan status against him. Nelly takes care of Hindley’s newborn son Hareton when his mother Frances dies in childbirth. When Catherine marries Edgar, Nelly goes with her to Thrushcross Grange, and after the birth of Catherine’s daughter, Nelly becomes the infant’s caretaker. Nelly’s love for baby Cathy is genuine, and she conspires with Edgar, unsuccessfully, to keep Heathcliff away from Cathy as she grows up into a young girl with a mind of her own.
Hindley is Catherine’s brother, and his chronic jealousy and bitterness render him a one-dimensional and rather unlikeable character. As Mr. Earnshaw’s son, he is entitled to an excellent education and a significant inheritance upon his father’s death, but Hindley’s negative qualities show that he is undeserving of these privileges. After his father’s death, Hindley abuses Heathcliff, reducing him to the rank of a servant. Hindley eventually marries Frances, a woman he meets while away at school. When Frances dies during childbirth, Hindley is genuinely devastated, neglecting his son Hareton and gambling his money away. When Heathcliff reappears as a wealthy man, he lodges with Hindley at Wuthering Heights, eager to get his revenge by humiliating Hindley and pushing him toward further destructive behavior. Hindley eventually drinks himself to death, leaving Heathcliff in charge of both Wuthering Heights and young Hareton.
Hareton is the son of Hindley and Frances Earnshaw. Because his mother died in childbirth, Hareton is a source of pain and resentment for his father. Hindley treats his son badly, and after Hindley’s death, so does Heathcliff. Viewing Hareton as an opportunity to exact revenge on Hindley, Heathcliff halts Hareton's education, forcing him into the unrefined life of a servant—just as Hindley once did to Heathcliff. Under Heathcliff’s care, Hareton quickly changes from a sweet young boy into a rude and coarse young man. Despite Heathcliff’s abuse, Hareton retains a fierce loyalty to Heathcliff, unaware of the extent to which Heathcliff has sabotaged his prospects. Hareton undergoes a major transformation upon the arrival of his cousin, Cathy Linton, at Wuthering Heights. Though both are initially hostile toward one another, they eventually become friends, and Hareton learns to read and begins to behave civilly under Cathy’s tutelage. Though Hareton’s early life is marred by hardship and neglect, he lands on his feet by the end of the novel. He and Cathy Linton eventually marry, and their loving relationship represents the happy ending for which Catherine and Heathcliff longed.
The daughter of Catherine and Edgar Linton, Catherine Linton is often called “Cathy.” Raised by Nelly and her father, Cathy is a kind and spirited child. When Cathy is thirteen years old, she defies her father’s orders and ventures to Wuthering Heights out of curiosity. Wishing to punish Edgar, Heathcliff orchestrates a clandestine love affair between Cathy and his son Linton. After secretly exchanging many letters and meeting together, Cathy agrees to marry Linton, unaware that Linton is a weak and selfish boy who is merely pursuing her on the orders of his father. Linton dies soon after their marriage, leaving Cathy at Heathcliff’s mercy, and Healthcliff’s ill-treatment negatively affects her sweet-tempered personality, leading her to become bitter and hostile. Cathy eventually overcomes this period of hardship by forming a romantic attachment to Hareton. Though Cathy appears to have inherited Catherine Earnshaw’s strong will, Cathy is more tender-hearted than her mother. Unlike Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship, the attachment between Cathy and Hareton blossoms and flourishes because they learn to treat each other with kindness.
Along with his sister Isabella, Edgar Linton grows up in a comfortable and privileged household at Thrushcross Grange. When Hindley schemes to bring Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange together via a marriage between Edgar and Catherine, Edgar’s genuine affection for Catherine smooths the way. Edgar’s marriage to Catherine is not an uncomplicated one, particularly after Heathcliff’s return. In part, this is due to his and Catherine's fundamental incompatibility as a couple: Catherine’s strong-mindedness overpowers Edgar, and his sensitivity irritates her. Edgar’s fair complexion, gentle and refined manners, and inherited wealth make him a foil to Heathcliff in appearance, temperament, and status. Heathcliff views Edgar as a rival and resents him deeply for marrying Catherine and, in Heathcliff’s view, contributing to her death. After Catherine's death, Heathcliff is determined to exact revenge on Edgar through his daughter, Cathy Linton.
Isabella enjoys the same comfortable upbringing at Thrushcross Grange as her brother Edgar. While Edgar displays compassion and depth, especially as he grows older, Isabella behaves largely in a superficial and immature manner. She falls in love with Heathcliff when he returns to Wuthering Heights after the marriage of Edgar and Catherine, but her interest in Heathcliff is shallow, stemming largely from her desire to view him as a romantic hero and the fact that she knows Catherine cares for him. Isabella elopes with Heathcliff, but she comes to deeply regret this choice when it becomes clear that Heathcliff is not the brooding, romantic man she imagined but a sadistic and bitter man who cares nothing for her and is only using her to inherit Thrushcross Grange. Isabella eventually flees Heathcliff’s abusive treatment and moves to London, where she bears his son, named Linton Heathcliff.
Linton is the son of Heathcliff and Isabella Linton. After his mother’s death, he is brought to Wuthering Heights to live under the care of his father. Linton is a sickly child and his condition deteriorates further under Healthcliff’s neglectful and harsh treatment. Heathcliff shows no affection or regard for Linton—instead he makes Linton a pawn in his revenge against Edgar Linton, forcing him to befriend and propose to Edgar’s young daughter, Cathy. Though Linton is a victim of his father, his inherently selfish and weak personality renders him unsympathetic. He dies at a young age, trapping Cathy, his brand-new wife, under Heathcliff’s roof.
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