- 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 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. This 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 ‘gipsy.’ These distinctions, coupled with his lack of manners or regard for others, make Heathcliff a societal misfit, with no clear place, and someone who could 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): Serves as the only daughter of the Earnshaw household and close in age to Heathcliff. She is therefore the daughter of landed gentry with a clear place in society, and 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 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 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, as she tells 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 while contradictorily claiming to be easily smitten, and seeking 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 develops eventually 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 in the estate neighboring Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, 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 societal choice for Catherine’s spouse.
"In other words, I must wish for Edgar Linton's great blue eyes, and even forehead" (58).
- 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.
Unless otherwise noted, all textual excerpts refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Wuthering Heights.