Characters of Wuthering Heights [MAJOR CHARACTERS]
The novel revolves round the character of Heathcliff and much of its passionate violence and moving suffering are initiated by Heathcliff. He is an extremely enigmatic figure. He lacks identity: his parentage and nationality are unknown and at various points in the novel he appears almost as a demon or a devil in his unreedemed villainy. The moving and one redeeming principle in his life is his relationship with Cathy. Old Mr. Earnshaw finds him starving and homeless on the streets of Liverpool and brings him back to Wuthering Heights. His parents are not known, nor is his precise age. He is named after an Earnshaw son ‘who died in childhood’, but he never becomes an Earnshaw. His name is suggestive of his nature. He is rough as heath and hard as cliff.
Heathcliff’s appearance is very striking and quite uncommon. His black hair, dark skin and bushy eyebrows make him look like a gypsy. Later he acquires the outward appearance of a gentleman but his fierce, almost animal nature does not quite leave him. There is something dark, fascinating and mysterious in his nature. Heathcliff arrives at Wuthering Heights as a force of disruption. Mr. Earnshaw dotes on him and this makes Hindley the real son hate him. Both Hindley and Catherine give him a rough welcome and do not allow him to lie in their bed. His entrance in to the heusehold is thus, ominous, disrupting the harmony and peace of Wuthering Heights. Hindley’s bitter feelings are aggravated when Heathcliff becomes Earnshaw’s favorite and this prompts him to frequently beat him. But Heathcliff bears his illt reatment with stoic patience and infinite fortitude and remains uncomplaining. After the death of Mr. Earnshaw, Hindley treats him even more harshly making him work like a servant depriving him of education and trashing him severely. All this hardens Heathcliffs nature and makes him vengeful.
His Growing Love For Catherine
During these harsh times, it is Catherine alone who is a ray of hope for Heathcliff. Together they frequently escape the gloom and confinement of Wuthering Heights and ride freely in the wild, open moorland. The atrocious behaviour of Hindley towards Heathcliff after his father’s death arouses Catherine’s sympathy for this boy who bears patiently all taunts and insults but feels them keenly. This sympathy and comradeship develops into a deep and uncommon sort of love between the two—a bond which does not break even after Cathy’s death. But Heathcliffs happiness in his love for Cathy is short-lived as there appears a rival in Edgar Linton—young, handsome, wealthy and a- gentleman—everything that Heathcliff is not. Heathcliff is increasingly jealous of Edgar Linton and is rudely shocked to overhear Catherine say that she will be degraded by marrying him. These words from his beloved Catherine mars his nature and he becomes hard, cruel :and revengeful.
Heathcliff’s Sudden Disappearance
On overhearing Catherine that it would be degrading for’ her to marry Heathcliff, he feels so offended and insulted that he leaves Wuthering Heights and simply disappears without leaving any information of his whereabouts.
His Mysterious Return
Three years later, he returns mysteriously, a changed man. He has now grown into a tall, athletic, dignified and well-formed man. He looks intelligent and bears no marks of his earlier degradation, though the ferocity still lurks in his eyes. And, to add to the mystery he is a very rich man now. His outward appearance has improved but his character has only changed for the worse. On his return he is obsessed by the motive of revenge which he has been cherishing for a long time and in pursuance of it, he reveals the darkest trait of his character. Hindley now a widower lives a dissipated life and needs money for drinking and gambling to which he is addicted. He lends money to Hindley who mortgages with him every inch of the land. At the same time he exercises his baneful influence on his son Hareton and brutalizes him. Not only does he financially cripples Hindley but inflicts on him physical injury with demonic fury. Heathcliff not only slits up Hindley’s flesh, but kicks him and tramples on him and not being, satisfied with these dashes his head repeatedly against the stones of the floor. He drags his body and spits at it. His brutality is inhuman and his revenge seems disproportionate to the wrongs done to him.
Cruel Treatment of Isabella
With Catherine’s marriage to Edgar Linton, the one redeeming feature—his love for Catherine—is frustrated and Heathcliff’s deterioration is rapid. He already harbours thoughts of revenge against Hindley and when Edgar refuses to treat him as a social equal his hatred for Linton intensified He wreaks revenge on Linton by marrying Isabella, Edgar’s sister-and cruelly ill-treating her. Isabella writes of him: “He is ingenious and untrusting in seeking to gain my abhorrence. I sometimes wonder at him with an intensity that deadens my fear; yet I assure you a tiger or a venomous serpent could not rouse terror in one equal to that which he wakens’
His Treatment of Hareton, Cathy and Linton
Having ruined Hindley, and made himself master of Wuthering Heights and of young Hareton and having driven away Isabella, Heathcliff has achieved the first stage of his revenge during the life-time of Catherine.
The death of Catherine exacerbates his evil nature. There is a gap of twelve years while the younger generation grows up. During this time, Hathcliff carries out his plan to degrade and pervert Hareton. He deprives Hareton of all refinements and education, just as he had been deprived of it by Hindley. Even his own son Linton is not spared from the cruel and brutal treatment. Heathcliff terrorizes his son and makes him a pawn in his game of revenge. To eventually grab the property of Thrushcross Grange, he forces his son Linton to write letters, meet Catherine and woo her. Finally he forcibly imprisons Catherine and gets her married to the sickly Linton who is to die very soon. On finding that Linton has allowed Catherine to escape, he severely beats the boy. Heathcliff is at his worst when even on Catherine’s request, he refuses to send for a doctor for his dying son Linton . His treatment of Catherine, the daughter of his own beloved Cathy is inexplicable. He is diabolic in his desire for revenge and nothing matters to him— not even Cathy’s daughter. He lures her to the Heights on false pretence, keeps her imprisoned, hits her severely and has her forcibly married to his sickly son Linton. He does not let her attend to her sick father and gets her back to the Heights, immediately after the funeral of her father.
Even at the end, though he gets over his feeling of hatred and revenge, he does not express any repentance. Nelly tries to make him send for a priest but he wants none of it. He is happy that in his death he will be reunited with Catherine.
Heathcliff—Devil or Demon
The opinion which the various characters express about Heathcliff in the course of the novel all point to his being a fiend rather than a human being. It is Nelly who first suggests such a sinister connection,” Is he a ghoul or a vampire….Where did he come from, the little dark thing, harboured by a good man to his bane?” (Chapter 34). Physically Heathcliff’S features display attributes of the Devil: in the first chapter Lockwood observes his black eyes and dark skin; the motif of darkness is constantly used with reference to him. Mr. Earnshaw himself introduces Heathcliff to his family as ‘a gift of God’, ‘though it’s as dark almost as if it came from the Devil’ (Chapter 4). Nelly describes his eyes as a ‘couple of black fiends’ and compares them to ‘devil spies’ (Chapter 7) and Isabella talks of them as the ‘clouded windows of hell’ (Chapter 17). Nelly frequently refers to the young Heathcliff as “it”. Hindley, as a boy calls him an ‘imp of Satan’
Though much of this image is reinforced by the superstitious Nelly, undoubtedly he is a soul possessed by violence, hatred and desire for revenge, which lead him to destroy not only the Earnshaws and Lintons but his own son too. However, such evils do not give us the whole picture of Heathcliff S nature.
Heathcliff’s Love for Catherine
It is his one redeeming quality. It is a love of unique intensity strengthened by sympathy and comradeship. It grows during their rambles in the wild moors and thrives on their common hatred of Hindley. It is an intense, passionate love which does not abate even after her death. The barriers that separate the lovers during their life-time are removed after their death, so that there is no obstacle to the union after his life. Heathcliff tells Nelly, that on his death “No minister need come; nor need anything be said over me. I tell you I have nearly attained my heaven, and that of others is altogether unvalued and uncoveted by me.”
In Defence of Heathcliff
In fact, before he disappears, though his verbal threats are evil, Heathciiff’s actions are scarcely blameworthy, We do not regret his tussle with Skulker outside Thrushcross Grange. nor the hot apple sauce poured over the priggish Edgar; his natural instincts are not essentially evil for despite his hatred of Hindley he saves little Hareton’s -life It is Catherine’s betrayal—her marriage to Edgar—that changes words into deeds and when Heathcliff returns after three years of bitter struggle to improve himself he is passionately driven by the desire to avenge himself against both the Lintons and the Earnshaws. It is with this purpose that he schemes two marriages—One of himself and Isabella—and another between his son—-Linton and Catherine, the daughter of the elder Catherine. Even then he had redeeming traits: he is not a drunkard like Hindley; his passionate love for Catherine has remained constant.
Secondly even at his worst Heathcliff retains our sympathy because there is a rough kind of moral justice in whatever he does. We may not approve of what he does, but we understand the deep and complex issues which have made him inhuman. Emily Bronte has shown Heathciff to represent in some ways at least a superior moral position to what the Linions stand for.
Thirdly, the novel does not end with the death of Edgar Linton and the marriage of Cathy and Linton; if it had, it would have been a somber and depressing book where evil triumphs. However, Heathcliff when he does finally have Hareton (the Earnshaw representative) and Cathy (the Linton representative) in his power, finds that he no longer has the desire to destroy them. He loses the will to continue the destructive process and says, “I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing.”
And he goes on to speak of the younger Catherine and Hareton, the latter a personification to him of his own youth. Hareton reminds him of his own immortal love, of his wild endeavour to hold his right, of his degradation, his pride, his happiness and his anguish. Catherine and Hareton symbolize the continuity of life and human aspirations and through them Heathcliff comes to understand the hollowness of his own triumph.
Ultimately his tormented soul finds release in death and he achieves eternal togetherness with his beloved Catherine .
Heathcliff is the central figure in Wuthering Heights. A paradoxical character, he is identified with natural forces; he loves and hates always passionately. He is not conditioned by society or civilization; he gives a robust, natural response to every challenge, an affirmation rather than a rejection of the humanity within him.
CATHERINE EARNSHAW (MRS. LINTON) (Heroine)
Catherine is the younger child of the Earnshaw family and the principal heroine of the novel—the girl who motivates Heathcliff to passionate love and equally passionate hatred. We first meet Catherine before Mr. Earnshaw goes on his journey to Liverpool. She is “A wild, wicked slip with the bonniest eye, the sweetest smile and the lightest foot in the parish (Chapter 5) She is egotistic, passionate and ambitious. She could ride any horse in the stable and it is significant that she wants her father to bring back a whip for her: the whip represents domination and Catherine proves to be obstinate, self-willed and not easily subdued.
Her Early Attachment and Deep Love for Heathcliff
It is her passionate wild nature which draws her to Heathcliff. They are two of a kind, both of them savage and untamable, escaping to the moor whenever time permits. They represent the natural forces as against the values of society. Hindley’s ill-treatment of Heathcliff, only draws Catherine closer to Heathcliff and as they grow the bond becomes an elemental force of love—a passion so strong that even while Catherine recognizes Heathcliff’s degraded social status and her inability to marry him.To her heaven is Wuthering Heights and no other place and she yearns to be united with Heathcliff even in death, so much so that she promises to haunt him and she does.
Her Dual Personality
The adult Catherine is increasingly selfish and loses her spontaneois wildness Nelly confesses that she “did not like her, after her infancy was past.” (Chapter 8). It is as a child, when she goes to the Linton house and comes back as a prim and proper lady, that begins the split in her. Her true nature is wild and rough and passionate but in the Rice of the ‘invariable courtesy’ she experiences at the Grange, she conceals her true nature, and adopts a double character. Thus, she is lady-like with the Lintons but her natural wild self at the Heights.
It is this natural self which Edgar Linton glimpses when she nips Nelly, shakes Hareton and slaps Edgar himself, so that he says to her, “You’ve made me afraid and ashamed of you.”
Edgar Linton (Husband of Heroine)
His Gentle Love for Catherine
The contrast between Heathcliff’s passionate nature and Edgar’s gentle almost passive nature is emphasized in their love for Catherine. Edgar lacks the intensity of Heathciff, but loves Catherine in his own gentle manner. His calm nature helps him put up with Catherine’s swinging moods and mercurial temperament. He shows remarkable tolerance in satisfying the wishes of Catherine in her last days. There is no doubt that Catherine does bear affection for, him, but she does him an injustice by marrying him for her own social status inspite of recognizing her irrevocable spiritual bond of heart and soul with Heathcliff. She herself tells Nelly that she loves the ground under Edgar’s feet and the air over his head but the difference between her love for Edgar and her love for Heathcliff is definitely a big one.
The Conflict between Edgar and Heathcliff
With Heathcliff’s return Edgar’s chance of, happiness with Catherine is definitely marred. He does show a lot of forbearance but realizes very soon that Heathcliff’s presence “is a moral poison” that would contaminate the most virtuous. He therefore, refuses to allow Heathcliff into Thrushcross Grange and this leads to a major scene between him and Catherine with Catherine becoming hysterical.
Edgar’s Caring Nature
When Edgar finds out Catherine’s serious state he is annoyed with Nelly for having mis-informed him and nurses her with gentle loving care. Nelly says:
No mother could have nursed an only child more devotedly than Edgar tended her… He knew no limits in gratitude and joy when Catherine’s life was declared out of danger; and hour after hour he would sit besides her tracing the gradual return to bodily health.”
Edgar’s love is deep and sincere and it is creditable that he cares for her even after knowing her preference for Heathcliff. But Heathcliff has another view of this and talks of Edgar’s concern as merely a “sense of duty” and says “he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day.” There is some truth in what Heathcliff says but one can’t doubt Edgar’s love for Catherine.
His Calm Nature
Edgar unlike Heathcliff, is not the one to work himself up into violent rage or passion. When Isabella, his sister elopes with Heathcliff, he is not passionately vengeful. Rather he calmly breaks off all ties with his sister. Yet, when she dies, he is forgiving enough to get her son Linton and is apprehensive about handing him over to Heathcliff. Even on Catherine’s death, he does not rant and rave as Heathcliff does but becomes almost a recluse, a hermit, whose only joy in life in his little daughter Catherine.
Edgar appears insipid, even unattractive at times when measured against the passionate character of Heath cliff. But this is because Emily’s sympathies itself lay with Heathcliff. Muriel Spark has this to say about Edgar’s good nature: “Alone of all the characters in Wurhering Heights, Edgar knows how to conduct himself— his traditions of behaviour are not parochial, his sense of goodness not merely superstitious. He stands for the social and domestic side of man, for the principle of co-operation. Neither is his goodness of a coldly rational order. His morality is not utilitarian. To his capricious and temperamental wife, he is affectionate, attentive and forgiving. To his daughter, he is devoted; undertaking her education; friendly and yet thoughtful for her present welfare and her future safety.”
CATHERINE (THE YOUNGER) (Daughter of Heroine)
The little Catherine whose birth brings about her mother’s deaths holds an important place in the second half of the fiction. The child of the union of Earnshaws and Lintons (Catherine and Edgar) she inherits none of their undesirable qualities and the best of their good ones. Catherine has an exquisite face, golden ringlets and beautiful eyes—the eyes of her mother, which are to constantly haunt Heathcliff later. She is described as “the most winning thing that ever brought sunshine into a desolate house.” She is lonely as a child, having no companions except her father and her nurse. But the pleasant setting of Thrushcross Grange with its green lawns and orderly flower beds make her a pleasant, cheerful, happy and contented person.
The one trait she inherits from her mother is the same stubborn will. It is this which leads her to disobey her father’s wishes and visit the Heights, where she is increasingly drawn to the sickly Linton with active encouragement from Heathcliff. It is her stubborn nature which makes her defy Nelly and deceive her by continuing to meet Linton. It is this which brings to her misery and suffering at the hands of Heathcliff. But her strong will does not bend even to the diabolic cruelty of Heathcliff. Unafraid, she challenges him, physically assaults him, biting his hand to try and escape the Heights and retains her dignity in spite of the degradation Heathcliff heaps on her after getting her forcibly married to the sickly Linton. She is clever enough to get Linton to let her escape and is thus able to assure her sick father of her well being before he dies. Her defiant spirit is unbroken by Heathcliff and ultimately triumphs over Heathcliff’s hatred and revenge by being united in love and marriage with Hareton.
Her Love and Marriage to Linton
Along with the strong will of her mother, Catherine inherits the softer, gentler nature of her father top. She is warm- hearted and sympathetic. She adores her father, loves Nelly and nurses them caringly when they are both sick. She pities the sick Linton and believes that he both loves and needs her and therefore enters into the marriage readily enough. She is top inexperienced to recognise his selfishness or Heathcliff’s cruelty and she throws her warmth and affection away on the beautiful and romantically fragile boy. Cathy’s marriage to Linton is a vicarious atonement for the sin of her mother’s rejection of Heathcliff and her marriage with Edgar.
Her Marriage to Hareton
It is through her assiduous care that the inherent good traits in the character of Hareton are reborn after a period of their inamination caused by the brutality and the savage treatment of Heathcliff. Her marriage with Hareton symbolizes the ultimate victory of good over evil,—the defeat of the disruptive forces by the cosmic spirit of orderliness and harmony.
Catherine is the symbol of reconciliation. Inheriting Edgar Linton’s gentleness without his weakness, Cathy’s spirit without her savagery, she is a fuller and more balanced human being than either.
NELLY DEAN (Narrator)
Mrs. Ellen Dean, or Nelly as she is normally addressed as, is not a major character in the normal sense since she has no crucial part in the actual events of the story but her role is of great significance in the novel. It is Nelly who is the chief narrator of the story offering us insights from the point of view of a subjective observer closely involved with a numbers of the protagonists.
Nelly Dean as a Narrator and a Judge
Nelly Dean’s omniscience as a narrator is much greater than that of a chorus in a Greek drama. She reproduces the exact speeches of the dramatis personae who love and hate and live a high strung life at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. We are introduced to Nelly as the housekeeper in Thrushcross Grange, whom Lockwood asks about the strange inmates at the Heights. Through her story we see Nelly herself emerging as a kind, benevolent, dutiful and loyal housekeeper who has no interests apart from the interests of the family she serves. She has some sympathy for Heathcliff and cares for him as a child. She recognises too his tormented anguish and deep love for Catherine and therefore allows him to have a glimpse of his beloved Catherine, when she is dead. In doing so • she seems to be betraying her master Edgar Linton, but she does it with good intentions.
A Sympathetic Listener
Nelly is a good listener and hence is a confidante of most of the protagonists. It is to her that Heathcliff bares his soul. He tells her of his plans of revenge over Isabella. He seeks her help in meeting Catherine and confides too in the end of (being haunted by Catherine. Similarly Catherine has confided in Nelly not only her love for Edgar but also her great bond with Heathcliff. The younger Catherine too has none to talk to except Nelly.
Nelly for all her warm heart and sympathy is however superstitious and it is she who first links Heathcliff to the devil and wonders whether he is a man or a fiend.
Nelly is a down-to-earth character. Brought up with the Earnshaw children as something between older sister and nurse; she later becomes housekeeper, first at Wuthering Heights and then at Thrushcross Grange. By her own account she is ‘self-educated; a poor man’s daughter’ (Chapter 7) She is an avid reader and has read most of the books in the library at the Grange. Her action is generally prompted by kindness and humanity or by the desire to avoid trouble for Edgar Linton. Her judgment may be wrong, but never her motives. She has the interests of her masters at heart. By the end of the book she has established herself as a typical old family retainer.