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Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

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What are the contrasts between the Earnshaw and Linton families' traits and treatment of others?

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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...

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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. 

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The Linton family is more established as a member of the gentry class than the Earnshaws are. The two houses of each family represent opposing worlds and values as well. The Earnshaws are ruled by their passions while the Lintons are cultured and refined. The atmosphere at Wuthering Heights is chaotic while Thrushcross Grange is peaceful and well-ordered. The Linton children are raised to be well-mannered young people, but they are considered spoiled by others.

Catherine Earnshaw symbolizes wild nature, being characterized as a wild, tempestuous girl. She becomes aware of the social differences in society, and this leads her to marry Edgar Linton instead of Heathcliff. Catherine is free-spirited, beautiful, and sometimes arrogant. Her inability to decide what is more important to her brings misery to the two men who love her.

Hindley Earnshaw is jealous of Heathcliff and comes to hate him because Mr. Earnshaw shows his favoritism toward Heathcliff. He creates chaos in the lives of those living at Wuthering Heights because of this jealousy.

Edgar Linton grows to become a respected member of society even though he's characterized as a weak, spoiled child. He is a gentleman in every sense of the word. He is graceful and well-mannered as an adult and shows himself to be a kind, gentle man. Although he's "almost the ideal gentleman", he is also a coward. He is humiliated by Heathcliff in Chapter XI when he shows he's afraid to fight Heathcliff. He also refuses to force Catherine to choose between himself and Heathcliff. He truly loves his wife, but he cannot control her.

Isabella Linton,also characterized as a spoiled child, is described by Nelly as having a "keen wit, keen feelings, and a keen temper, too, if irritated". She is childish even as an adult and has a silly romantic nature. This is shown when she marries Heathcliff even though the two of them aren't suited for each other. She refuses to help Hindley kill Heathcliff even though Heathcliff has cruelly abused her. She shows a sense of self-preservation when she escapes to Thrushcross Grange and then later to London.

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