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Wuthering Heights — Character Analysis

Here’s a breakdown of the major characters in Wuthering Heights, including Cathy, Heathcliff, Edgar, Isabella and Nelly. It’s perfect for students studying the text at GCSE, A Level and beyond, particularly on the following exam boards: AQA, WJEC, CCEA, Edexcel, Eduqas, OCR, Cie (Cambridge). Enjoy!

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Nelly Dean

  • A servant at Wuthering Heights who then switches to Thrushcross Grange, she meets Lockwood at the beginning and recounts the story of Cathy and Heathcliff.
  • Very admirable lady; Lockwood repeatedly calls her a ‘worthy woman’.
  • She raises Hareton and is very fond of him, although gets separated from him to be a servant at Thrushcross Grange, which is very disheartening as she raised him as her own.
  • Themes: class, surrogate maternal figure (parallel to Bronte’s mother dying when she was three)

Lockwood

  • A tenant of Heathcliff’s taking refuge in an isolated part of the country due to a public humiliation regarding a lady he admired.
  • Wealthy and highly educated character whose interest is piqued by Wuthering Heights. (joint narrator with Nelly)
  • Themes: isolation, class difference, frame narrative

Hindley

  • Mr Earnshaw’s son, has a lifelong rivalry with Heathcliff and treats him terribly.
  • Once Mr Earnshaw dies he is the new land owner and forces Heathcliff to earn his keep as a servant.
  • He marries Francis (likely that she didn’t have name nor money according to Nelly) and is truly in love with her, although she dies giving birth to Hareton.
  • Hindley to relieve his grief turns to alcohol… becoming a loose canon. He squanders his money with the new Heathcliff, losing his inheritance of WH.
  • Themes: class, alcoholism, bullying, superiority of the upper classes, xenophobia, male power/dominance

Cathy (Catherine Earnshaw)

  • Mr Earnshaw’s daughter, has a lifelong affinity for Heathcliff and they understand each other well.
  • She was a free-spirited child; enjoying running barefoot and bonnetless through the moors.
  • As she grows older she familiarises with the social implications of being with Heathcliff and decides to marry the refined and wealthy Edgar Linton. This is detrimental to her happiness as she never stops loving Heathcliff.
  • Cathy dies giving birth to her daughter, who is also called Cathy after her.
  • Themes: Love, wildness, nature vs nurture, class difference, privilege, social duty/responsibility, sickness, generational differences, expectations of women / female roles

Heathcliff

  • An orphan that was found in the docks in Liverpool by Mr Earnshaw.
  • Byronic anti-hero who is a ‘dark-skinned gypsy’ in appearance — he looks and behaves very differently from the others, though Cathy matches his behaviour in her wild free-spirited youth.
  • Extremely enigmatic as we are unaware of his origins, and also when he disappears in the centre of the narrative it is unclear where or how he gets his money, but he comes back extremely wealthy and influential.
  • He is consumed by love (for Cathy) however is later consumed by vengeance and rage (for Hinley, Isabelly, Edgar, Linton, young Cathy).
  • Even though he is an extremely malicious character on many accounts, he also evokes pathos due to society’s ill treatment of him and his deprivation of Cathy’s love as they grew older. An equivocal character who is brilliant but flawed, some critics like him while others cannot forgive his ill treatment of Isabella and his penchant for revenge.
  • It is crucial that Heathcliff ultimately succeeds in acquiring both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange by the end of the novel — he goes from being the lowest to the highest class, a land owning aristocrat.
  • Themes: Anti-hero (characters which show heroic traits but very flawed- rags to riches), Byronic hero, revenge, wildness, bitterness, xenophobia, love, passion, intelligence, class difference, male power

Mr Earnshaw

  • Took Heathcliff in and loved him as his own after finding him (foundling) at the docks of Liverpool.
  • Heathcliff was clearly his favoured child, which led Hindley to hate him.
  • Once he died all hell broke loose as Heathcliff lost his protector.
  • Themes: Openness, Upper Classes, Family, Parenting

Edgar Linton

  • Refined gentleman, bearing an enormity of wealth and status (of aristocratic heritage).
  • Ostensibly the perfect suitor for Catherine Linton — he has land, a good name, proper manners, wealth and culture (unlike Heathcliff).
  • Kind father to his daughter Cathy, although dies during her teenage years.
  • Foe of Heathcliff’s and young Catherine pays the price after her father dies and she moves to Wuthering Heights.
  • Themes: Aristocracy / Upper Classes, Gentlemanliness, Male roles, Love vs Duty, Weakness, Sickness, Kindness

Isabella Linton

  • Sister to Edgar Linton. Very sensitive “petted- [thing]”. Falls for Heathcliff during the novel, and naively marries him.
  • Heathcliff has no interest in Isabella and simply uses her in order to inherit Thrushcross Grange. He is quite cruel to her, because of his lack of love and his bitterness towards her brother.
  • After realising her mistake, she questions Heathcliff’s nature; ‘is he a man’? She moves to London and has a child “Linton Heathcliff”.
  • Themes: Female roles / Expectations of Women, Aristocracy, Domestic Abuse, Beauty, Love, Independence

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Photo by Marcus Cramer on Unsplash

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