Heathcliff: Found wandering on the streets of Liverpool by Mr. Earnshaw, who then takes the child of about seven or eight home with him. Heathcliff is treated with favoritism by Mr. Earnshaw, provoking hatred of Heathcliff from Earnshaw’s eldest son, Hindley. This hatred results in Heathcliff’s ill treatment and demotion to servant by Hindley after Mr. Earnshaw’s death. Ill treatment, and lack of education turn Heathcliff’s already moody temperament to evil, and the beginning of the novel chronicles Heathcliff’s descent into villainy. Although Heathcliff’s origin is never clear, he is described throughout as ‘dark’ and a ‘gypsy.’ These distinctions, coupled with his lack of manners or regard for others, make Heathcliff a societal misfit with no clear place, and someone who would have been viewed in Victorian times as an ‘Other.’
"He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentlemen- that is, as much a gentlemen as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss, with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure- and rather morose- possibly some people might suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride" (5).
Catherine (Cathy) Earnshaw (later Linton): The only daughter of the Earnshaw household, and close in age to Heathcliff. As the daughter of landed gentry she has a clear place in society, and as such is later schooled in ‘polite behavior’ by the Lintons. Throughout the novel she is described as ‘headstrong,’ ‘passionate,’ haughty,’ and ‘wicked.’ Catherine is characterized as having little regard for the feelings of others, and as being accustomed to having her own way. The violent and passionate side of her nature clashes with her place in society, and with the schooling she has had with the Lintons. These dual traits in her character, and her headstrong selfishness, put her at odds with the ideals of the Victorian age, and identify her with feminism, and later with the ‘New Women.’
"Her spirits were always at high-water mark, her tongue always going- singing, laughing, and plaguing everybody who would not do the same. A wild, wick slip she was- but, she had the bonniest eye, and sweetest smile, and lightest foot in the parish; and, after all, I believe she meant no harm; for when once she made you cry in good earnest, it seldom happened that she would not keep you company, and oblige you to be quiet that you might comfort her" (42).
Ellen Dean (Nelly): A servant first of the Earnshaw household, then of the Linton. Nelly was raised with Heathcliff, Catherine, and Hindley Earnshaw, and seemed to enjoy the position of both their servant and playmate. Indeed, when she grew up, she served the dual role of servant and adviser/confidant for several other characters. Nelly is the principle narrator of the novel, telling the story to Mr. Lockwood, and it is through her eyes that we see the other characters. She is portrayed as wiser and more well educated that the normal servant of the day, and thus, as with several other characters, her place in society is nebulous.
"She was not a gossip, I feared, unless about her own affairs, and those could hardly interest me" (33).
Mr. Lockwood: The narrator of the frame tale. Lockwood meets Heathcliff, Hareton, and young Catherine when he moves into Thrushcross Grange as a tenant, and it is to him that Nelly tells the story of the events twenty years previous. Lockwood is a self-proclaimed misanthrope who contradictorily claims to be easily smitten, and seeks the company of his inhospitable neighbors frequently, presenting the problem of whether he lacks self-awareness, or is merely a picture of societal norms, so unlike many other characters in the novel.
"By this curious turn of disposition I have gained the reputation of deliberate heartlessness, how undeserved, I alone can appreciate" (6).
Young Catherine Linton (later Heathcliff): The daughter of Catherine and Edgar Linton, born on the night her mother died. Catherine is raised in a very sheltered fashion by her father and Ellen Dean. In her teen years she meets Linton Heathcliff, and is forced to marry him by his father. On her young husband’s almost immediate decease, she is forced to continue residing at Wuthering Heights, where she eventually develops a relationship with Hareton Earnshaw, and subsequently announces her intention to marry him. Formally, Catherine can be seen as an echo of her mother, who, through a more selfless character, as well as chance, avoids the same fate, and marries her true counterpart.
"She was slender, and apparently scarcely past girlhood: an admirable form, and the most exquisite little face that I have ever had the pleasure of beholding: small features, very fair; flaxen ringlets, or rather golden, hanging loose on her delicate neck; and eyes- had they been agreeable in expression, they would have been irresistible" (11).
Edgar Linton: Grew up at Thrushcross Grange, the estate neighboring Wuthering Heights, courted, and married Catherine Earnshaw, and fathered her daughter, young Catherine. Edgar represents a member of the civilized, Victorian society; polite, educated, refined, and lacking in fiery temper. He is Heathcliff’s direct opposite, and, with his wealth and standing, the socially correct choice for Catherine’s spouse.
"... a soft featured face... pensive and amiable in expression. It formed a sweet picture. The long light hair curled slightly on the temples; the eyes were large and serious; the figure almost too graceful" (67).
Isabella Linton (later Heathcliff): The younger sister of Edgar, who develops a fatal attraction to Heathcliff, and eventually marries him. She soon regrets her choice and runs away, dying some years later, far away from home. Isabella, like Edgar, represents the civilized Victorian society that the Earnshaws should be a part of. Her attraction to, and marriage with Heathcliff displays the realistically bad results attending attraction to a Byronic hero.
"We had all remarked, during some time, that Miss Linton fretted and pined over something. She grew cross and wearisome, snapping at and teasing Catherine, continually, at the imminent risk of exhausting her limited patience. We excused her to a certain extent, on the plea of ill health- she was dwindling and fading before our eyes" (101).
Hindley Earnshaw: The brother of Catherine Earnshaw, and the father of Hareton. Hindley hates Heathcliff and following Mr.Earnshaw's death, forcibly demotes him to the status of servant. Hindley dies young, a drunken wreck of a man, deprived of his inheritance, driven to a status lower than that at which he was born, by the man whose status he had hoped to ruin forever.
"Hindley was naught, and would never thrive as where he wandered" (41).
: The son of Hindley Earnshaw, raised primarily by Heathcliff. As a spite to Hareton's father, Heathcliff deliberately raises Hareton in ignorance and ignominy. Hareton remains in this state until he meets Catherine Linton, who awakens in him a desire for learning. His natural goodness and intelligence then unite to improve his character, and at the end of the novel, his and Catherine's engagement has been announced.
"... his dress and speech were both rude, entirely devoid of the superiority observable in Mr. and Mrs. Heathcliff; his thick, brown curls were rough and uncultivated, his whiskers encroached bearishly over his cheeks, and his hands were embrowned like those of the common laborer; still his bearing was free, almost haughty, and he showed none of a domestic's assiduity in attending on the lady of the house" (11).
Linton Heathcliff: The son of Heathcliff and Isabella Linton. Linton, a sickly, delicate boy, is raised by his mother until her death, at which time he falls under his father's care, where he stays throughout his teen years and until his death before the age of twenty. Because of ill treatment and sickness, Linton becomes quarrelsome and self-centered. Towards the end of his life, he is forced by his father to marry his cousin, Catherine Linton, and it is while under her care that he dies.
"Linton's looks and movements were very languid, and his form extremely slight; but there was a grace in his manner that mitigated these defects, and rendered him not unpleasing" (216).
[OS] Character tree from Wikimedia Commons
[OS] Unless otherwise noted, all textual excerpts refer to: Wuthering Heights. London: Penguin Classics, 1995. Print.
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