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 ‘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 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): 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 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 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, 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 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 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 socially correct choice for Catherine’s spouse.
"Mrs. Dean raised the candle, and I discerned 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. I did not marvel how Catherine Earnshaw could forget her first friend for such an individual. I marvelled much how he, with a mind to correspond with his person, could fancy my idea of Catherine Earnshaw."
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 teazing 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, on the death of Mr.Earnshaw, forcibly demotes him to the status of servant. Heathcliff later repays Hindley for his injustice by winning all of his possessions through gamboling. 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.
Hareton Earnshaw: The son of Hindley Earnshaw, raised primarily by Heathcliff. As a spite to Hareton's parent, Heathcliff deliberately raises Hareton in ignorance and ignominy. Hareton remains in this state until he meets Catherine Linton, who awakens his 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.
"Hindley was naught, and would never thrive as where he wandered."
"I began to doubt whether he were a servant or not: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."
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."
Character tree from Wikimedia Commons
Unless otherwise noted, all textual excerpts refer to: Wuthering Heights. London: Penguin Classics, 1995. Print.
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Family vs. Outsiders: How does the history of two families and an outsider who tries to reconstruct that history complicate the novel?
Heathcliff is positioned at odds with members of the Earnshaw family and the world around him. This conflict arises from several sources: first, the dark and ‘gypsy-like’ aspect of Heathcliff’s countenance sets him apart from those around him. Then, in a world where family and name matter immensely, Heathcliff essentially has no name or family to speak of. He also initially has no land, placing him distinctly in another class, and apart from the landed gentry. All of these things place him at odds with the family and society around him. The second conflict between family and outsiders, however, is the conflict between the characters of Catherine and Heathcliff, and the radically different Lintons. Although Catherine is ostensibly from the same place in society as the Lintons, she is much more like Heathcliff than like them, a fact initially placing the two of them at odds with the Lintons. Heathcliff speaks to Nelly o his and Cathy's first encounter with the Linton's noting, “Both of us were able to look in by standing on the basement and clinging to the ledge, and we saw-ah! it was beautiful-a splendid place carpeted with crimson.... Edgar and his sister had it entirely to themselves.... Isabella.... lay screaming at the farther end of the room, shrieking. . .Edgar stood on the hearth weeping silently, and in the middle of the table sat a little dog, shaking its paw and yelping, which, from their mutual accusations, we understood they had nearly pulled in two between them. . .We laughed outright at the petted things; we did despise them! When would you catch me wishing to have what Catherine wanted? or find us by ourselves, seeking entertainment in yelling, and sobbing, and rolling on the ground, divided by the whole room?" (48).
Does the novel side with societal norms or with simple human connection (s)?
How does the novel characterize Cathy and Heathcliff's relationship in contrast with Cathy's friendship with the Lintons?
Does Heathcliff's change in fortune make him less of an 'outsider'? Why or why not? Does this change intensify, or abate his conflict with the world around him?
Religion vs. Supernatural: What is real and what is imagined in Wuthering Heights?
The character Joseph is the religious figure of the novel, always reciting from the Bible and damning the other character to hell for their sinful acts. If one argued that this was a religious novel, then Heathcliff is most likely the evil spirit or even the devil, that was how he was first described to the reader, “you must e’en take it as a gift of God; though it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (36) Yet, there seems to be more influence of superstitions over the people then religious doctrines. The novel has supernatural occurrences of ghosts changing religious ideas of the afterlife, Heathcliff even asked Cathy to haunt him before her death, “Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest, as long as I am living! You said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe – I know that ghosts have wondered on earth” (169). In this quote, we see that Heathcliff’s about the afterlife are not that of Judeo-Christian ideas, they are more based in spiritual/ supernatural understandings. This struggle between Christian beliefs and superstitions of the supernatural continue throughout the novel.
What other characters in the novel struggle between religious beliefs and supernatural beliefs?
Confinement: How is physical confinement portrayed in Wuthering Heights?
Wuthering Heights opens up to a scene of physical confinement, as Lockwood is at the mercy of Heathcliff and his eerie domicile. Even the darkness of the night emphasizes the dismal quality of the Grange, “It was so dark that I could not see the means of exit” (17). His options extremely limited, Lockwood surrenders to recovering at the Grange, “I was sick exceedingly, and dizzy and faint; and thus compelled, perforce, to accept lodgings under (Heathcliff’s) roof” (18). The use of “compelled” and “perforce” emphasizes his lack of control. Furthermore, Lockwood is taken to Catherine Earnshaw’s old bedroom and upon locating the bed he notes, “In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge of a window, which it enclosed, served as a table” (19). This places him within several layers of confinement- a home seething with conflict, a forbidden bedroom shrouded by mystery, and an enclosed bed that offers Lockwood security “against the vigilance of Heathcliff, and everyone else” (19). When he awakes from a nightmare to the sound of a branch against the window, Lockwood attempts to break off the branch by forcing his hand through the glass but to only be met with “the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand” (25). The ghost of Catherine clings on to his arm and pleads, “’Let me in- let me in’”, to which Lockwood responds, “’Let me go, if you want me to let you in!’” (25) While Lockwood appears captive within the walls of the Heights, Catherine is left wandering the moors (as a spirit) for twenty years while searching for a way to be let in. Moreover, Catherine’s lack of freedom is painfully obvious, as confinement essentially defines the course of her life. In childhood, she alternates between the constraint of the Heights and the freedom of the moors. The moors present an opportunity to escape Hindley’s oppressiveness, as Nelly admits, “it was one of (Catherine and Heathcliff’s) chief amusements to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day” (46). On their first visit to Thrushcross Grange, Catherine and Heathcliff are in awe of the freedom Edgar and Isabella seem to possess. However, when Catherine is bit by the Lintons’ dog, she is restricted by her injury to a couch at the Grange, further perpetuating her physical confinement. Her choice in husband confines her to gentility of Thrushcross Grange, from which she can only escape by death.
How is mental and societal confinement represented in the novel?
What are some cases of self-imposed confinement presented in Wuthering Heights?
Human Nature: Savage vs Civilized
The characters in Wuthering Heights, although different, fall into two distinct categories of human nature. The Earnshaws are savage, some more than others, whereas the Linton’s are civilized. The Earnshaws are wild and passionate. Catherine is the most savage in the family although Hindley isn’t close behind with his vengefulness and alcoholism. Even their father had a spirited nature. Nelly is an interesting part of this family because it isn’t clear whether she falls into the savage or civilized grouping since she exhibits both at certain times in the novel. Heathcliff is undoubtedly the most savage person in the novel, along with Catherine (since they are supposedly the same soul). This wildness is untamed and impossible to contain, which causes a great deal of strife in the novel. The Lintons, however, are everything a British family of class in this time period should be. They are well mannered, civilized, and even snobbish at times, if not boring. The contrast between the two families and their human natures creates a tense atmosphere in the novel, especially once Catherine begins trying to fit into the civilized nature even though she is undoubtedly born of the savage.
What do the two human natures in the work tell you about human nature? How do theses two affect the way the novel functions? What is Bronte trying to convey with these two vastly different families?
Would Catherine be as passionate if Heathcliff had never come to Wuthering Heights? What would have happened if he never met her?
What role does suppression play in the novel? Why does Catherine suppress her true nature to try and become civilized? What does that say about human nature in general?]
Wuthering Heights Photograph from Wylio.
Unless otherwise noted, all textual excerpts refer to: Wuthering Heights. London: Penguin Classics, 1995. Print.
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