A character analysis of Wuthering Heights must begin with the villainous Heathcliff. Of all the messed up cast living in the world of Emily Bronte, Heathcliff reigns supreme.
Nothing sums up Heathcliff’s character better than his marriage night with Isabella. He explains to Nelly, in an effort to excuse himself from wrongdoing, “The first thing she saw me do, on coming out of the Grange, was to hang up her little dog…” (141). You have to be a sick man to hang your fiancée’s puppy on your wedding night.
This incident goes largely unnoticed in relation to his other criminal acts:
- He swindles Hindley out of his estate.
- He infringes on Edgar and Catherine’s marriage.
- He forces Hareton to be a servant in his own house.
- He abuses and neglects his wife.
- He abuses his son, Linton, whom he despises.
- He locks Nelly in a room for 5 days.
- He locks Catherine Linton in a room until she agrees to marry his son, whom he despises, while Catherine’s father is on his death bed.
- He uncovers Catherine Earnshaw’s coffin and bribes the sexton to remove one side of it.
- He bribes Edgar’s lawyer to not show up at Thrushcross Grange until Edgar is dead.
- He forces young Catherine to live at Wuthering Heights, friendless.
- He refuses to treat his dying son.
These are just the highlights.
In defense of Heathcliff, he is mistreated by Hindley, Edgar, Isabella, and even Catherine; that does not, however, justify his cruel vengeance.
The Rest of the Cast
I find most of these characters to have few redeeming values. Heathcliff and company make the Manson family look like the Brady Bunch.
Catherine Earnshaw – She marries Edgar Linton, not because she loves him, but because his wealth and reputation give her the chance to bring Heathcliff happiness and success. On the night of her engagement, Heathcliff overhears her disparage his appearance, causing him to flee the Heights. After she is married, Heathcliff returns, and the two remain close.
Hindley Earnshaw – Catherine’s older brother becomes jealous of his father’s favoring of Heathcliff. After Mr. Earnshaw’s death, Hindley banishes Heathcliff to the servants’ quarters and forbids his mingling with Catherine. After the death of his wife, Hindley becomes a drunk, derelict, and a gambler.
Mr. Earnshaw – Mr. Earnshaw is not in the running for father of the year. He brings home a waif from Liverpool and treats him better than his own children. Although he is to be commended for his charitable treatment of an orphan, it’s his poor parenting that allows a rift to develop between Heathcliff and Hindley.
Hareton Earnshaw – He swears a lot. His behavior is somewhat excusable. He has been raised by the aforementioned sociopath, Heathcliff. He does redeem himself at novel’s end by becoming a respectable human being.
Edgar Linton – his initial snobbishness toward Heathcliff fuels the latter’s revenge. He marries Catherine, not because she’s a lady, but because she’s beautiful. This is evident the night they profess their love for each other: Catherine throws a temper tantrum, including grabbing Edgar’s face in anger. Edgar walks out, threatening to never return. As he approaches the gate, he turns and can’t help notice Catherine’s beauty. They make up.
Edgar does prove himself a worthy, albeit, physically weak husband, who slaps Heathcliff and runs away to get servants so Heathcliff doesn’t beat him up. After Catherine dies, Edgar demonstrates an inner fortitude, heretofore unseen. He provides Catherine a good home, yet is too weak to prevent Heathcliff from encroaching on his property and family.
Isabella Linton – She may be the dumbest girl in all of literature. The man to whom she pledges her life hangs her puppy on the day they are to elope. She still marries him.
Catherine Linton – The daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Linton’s disobedient, petulant nature condemns her to a forced marriage with the most despicable man to ever grace the pages of Gothic literature (and it’s not even Heathcliff). Luckily, her whiny husband dies and she redeems the family with a good second marriage.
Linton Heathcliff – Linton inherits the worst traits of both his parents. He is whiny, weak and stupid like his mother. He is imperious and demanding like his father. Linton is so annoying that I began to enjoy reading about Heathcliff torturing him.
Joseph – I’ll let Nelly Dean summarize Joseph’s character (mainly because I can’t understand a word he says): “He was, and is yet, most likely, the wearisomest, self righteous pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself, and fling curses on his neighbors” (55).
Zillah – The maid at Wuthering Heights puts to use the Nazi mantra “I was only following orders” to excuse her ill treatment of Hareton, Catherine, and Linton.
Nelly Dean – Nelly narrates most of the novel and shows favorable bias toward Heathcliff and Edgar, frequently mentioning their good looks. It’s important to remember that Nelly is nearly the same age as Catherine Earnshaw whom she criticizes frequently and is perhaps jealous of. She also wasn’t a very good servant. If she had done her job properly, the whole Heathcliff-Isabella fiasco would have been avoided and Catherine would have never been put in danger.
Mr. Lockwood – Lockwood lives vicariously through the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, unable to man up and find a wife and a life. He’s the modern day equivalent of the 30-year old man at the night club.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins. 1992.
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This post is part of the series: Wuthering Heights Study Guide
- Wuthering Heights Chapter Summaries
- An Analysis of Wuthering Heights Characters
- Wuthering Heights Quotes with Analysis
- Understanding Symbolism in Wuthering Heights