The characters of Wuthering Heights

All the characters of the masterpiece, their behaviour and theis features with examples extracted from the novel:



Charlotte Bronte, in defending her sister's book to the readers of her day, never defended the character of Heathcliff. "He stands unredeemed," she wrote in her preface to the novel, "never once swerving in his arrow-straight course to perdition." She went on to question whether it was even right or advisable to create such beings. Although modern readers, on the whole, are more sympathetic to Heathcliff, it's easy to understand Charlotte Bronte's position. To recite a catalogue of his sins is almost to retell the novel. You sympathize with him at first, when Hindley mistreats him and he loses Cathy, but when he returns transformed, and his plan of vengeance begins to unfold, your feelings change. You begin to question his love for Cathy. Was it selfish, not true love at all, but an obsession? Can love exist so intertwined with jealousy, hatred, and anger? Mrs. Dean says that Heathcliff is greedy, and Cathy herself tells him he's close and covetous. His name is generally surrounded with words like hell, devil, diabolical, infernal, and fiendish. Worst of all, he's unrepentant. "I've done no injustice," he says at the end of the book. The author's contemporaries were upset that such an evil character loomed so large in her book. In looking to identify the source of that sense of evil, some modern readers claim that Heathcliff represents a specifically sexual energy that Emily Bronte, a true Victorian, was bound to denounce. Simply to condemn Heathcliff, however, is to ignore the real sympathy for him, even identification with him, that Emily Bronte evokes from her readers. People have seen Heathcliff in two very different lights: 1. As a rebel. Heathcliff, a friendless laborer, is mistreated by the landed gentry. He loses his true love to a man with wealth and a higher social position. He takes revenge by seizing control of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. In this view, his revenge is an assertion of his dignity as a human being, and right is on his side. 2. As a person committed to a higher love. That is, a person committed to a love beyond the conventional notions of religion or morality. When Heathcliff identifies himself with Cathy ("I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"), this is not selfishness; he is describing a love that holds nothing back. And he remains true to his love even when Cathy has betrayed him for Edgar. When he returns from his three-year exile, he plans at first to have revenge only on Hindley and to "look in" at Thrushcross Grange and make sure Cathy is happy. But his suffering overwhelms him, and he starts to torment others, especially Isabella, Edgar Linton's sister. His revenge is thus a horrible deflection of his love for Cathy, and his greatest crime--and the source of all his later ones--is not to forgive her on her deathbed. It is only when he finds himself reconciled to her spirit that he abandons his cruelty toward Hareton and the younger Cathy.


There are, in a sense, two Catherines: the one who roams wildly over the moors with Heathcliff, who races him barefoot when she loses her shoes in a bog; and the one who returns from Thrushcross Grange a lady, afraid that the dogs, and Heathcliff too, might soil her grand new dress. There is Heathcliff's Catherine, and there is Edgar's Catherine. They are not mutually exclusive, of course; even the wild Catherine is educated (unlike the young Heathcliff), and even the dressed-up Catherine is saucy and indulgent (unlike Edgar Linton). You can see Catherine as either untrue to her own untamed nature, through pride or ignorance, or genuinely torn between two ways of being. She herself admits that Heathcliff is "more herself" than she is, and that Edgar is as different from her "as a moonbeam from lightning or frost from fire." Catherine's acceptance of Edgar's proposal, then, is a betrayal of Heathcliff and of herself. Why does she do it? Ellen says she's proud, and perhaps Cathy does want to be a great lady. Or perhaps Cathy's true desire is to free Heathcliff from Hindley's clutches. If so, her plan is foolish; neither Heathcliff nor Edgar would have gone along with it. On the other hand, there is much evidence that Cathy is truly in conflict. She tells Ellen that Heathcliff's return has reconciled her to God and humanity; yet she describes him to Isabella as a "pitiless, wolfish man." When she tells Ellen of Edgar's proposal, she wonders whether Heathcliff even knows what being in love is, and despite the unconscious cruelty of the question, you wonder, too. His love seems so much larger, so much wilder, than human love. If Cathy married Edgar for reasons other than love--ambition, or a desire to help Heathcliff--why doesn't she declare her love for Heathcliff on her deathbed? In that scene her passion is obvious, but it's as complicated as ever. In a more conventional novel Catherine would be the heroine. Though her death comes before the midpoint of the story, her capacity for love is so great that her spirit--if not her actual ghost--haunts the rest of the novel.


Readers who defend Heathcliff usually point to his mistreatment at Hindley's hands. You might think then that Hindley is the villain. However, nothing in this novel is that simple. Hindley is evil, cruel, dissolute; you can't deny or excuse his cruelty. But Hindley is also a victim--deprived of his father's love by the usurper Heathcliff, deprived of his beloved wife when she dies, and, finally deprived of Wuthering Heights itself by his enemy Heathcliff. There is no doubt that Hindley is weak-willed. He is no match for Heathcliff, when quarreling over a horse as a boy or when gambling into the night as a man. He does not have the strengths usually associated with the other members of the Wuthering Heights household.


You first see Edgar through Heathcliff's eyes, as he peeks through the window at Thrushcross Grange. Edgar is weeping after a fight with Isabella over a little dog neither has any real interest in. Ellen also initially describes him as a coward and a weakling. It's Cathy who responds to him from the beginning because he's pleasant, polite, refined, and educated (all Thrushcross Grange qualities). Later, after going to work for him, Ellen has nothing but praise for his kindness. Edgar obviously loves Cathy, even though he doesn't always understand her, and their married life seems pleasant until Heathcliff returns. Edgar is also a good father--just compare him in this role to Hindley or Heathcliff. And he is not quite the coward of Ellen's original description. When he orders Heathcliff out of his house, and Heathcliff responds angrily, Edgar strikes the bigger, stronger man. Edgar, then, is the "angel" opposed to the "devil" Heathcliff. That, at least, is one way to see him. But have you ever known anyone who was too good? Such a person might be wonderful to be with--always charming and interesting, with good looks and money. Still, he or she may lack the ability to understand one's own struggles and fears. Edgar at times does seem to lack this crucial understanding. Heathcliff speaks scornfully of leaving an ill Cathy to Edgar's "duty" and "humanity." You get the impression that Edgar isn't capable of the tumultuous passion that grips his rival.


You don't see much of Isabella before she becomes infatuated with Heathcliff, and until then you assume she's much like her brother Edgar. When Ellen goes to live at Thrushcross Grange she compares Isabella and Edgar to a honeysuckle bush embracing a thorn (Cathy). Ellen also says that Isabella is "a charming lady of eighteen; infantile in manners, though possessed of keen wit, keen feelings, and a keen temper, too, if irritated." A shallow, weak creature, Isabella deceives herself into believing that Heathcliff loves her, and she marries him despite Edgar's warnings. After their marriage, when Heathcliff persecutes her, she exhibits behavior decidedly unlike the usual Thrushcross Grange qualities associated with Edgar; she rants and raves and speaks as fondly of revenge as does Heathcliff. Finally, when she can stand his abuse no longer, she leaves Heathcliff, displaying an unexpected strength of character, and goes off to a suburb near London to have her baby by herself.


Hindley's son Hareton, the young Cathy, and Linton Heathcliff are often considered "echoes" of Heathcliff, the older Cathy, and Edgar Linton, respectively. Certainly Hareton has some Heathcliff-like qualities. He is rough, strong, foul-mouthed, brave, bad-tempered. Heathcliff himself compares his childhood to Hareton's and finds much in the boy to admire. Hareton is a more moderate character than Heathcliff. He loves Heathcliff and defends him against Cathy's attacks. Hareton's love for the young Cathy, although strong, is not like Heathcliff's wild, all-consuming passion for her mother. What are you to make of this moderation? You can see Hareton as a pale, diminished Heathcliff, a person who lacks Heathcliff's energy, craftiness, and commanding presence. Or you can see him as one of the few people in the novel who have learned to love. In the last scenes he and the young Cathy tease, not torment, each other. Perhaps it is the young lovers' example that helps Heathcliff finally discover some strange kind of peace in his own love.


Cathy can be seen, much like Hareton, as either a pale version of her mother or as another person who truly learns how to love. Cathy is spirited, but is not as wild as her mother. She may wander over the moors, or go to the forbidden Wuthering Heights, but you don't see her carelessly losing her shoes in a bog. She may get angry, but she doesn't throw the temper tantrums of the older Cathy. When Heathcliff arranges her marriage to Linton, he must take advantage of her tenderness to do so. This forces him to recognize that such soft feelings exist. Cathy may reject Hareton out of pride at first, but they are the ones finally able to escape the vicious circle of suffering in which the other characters were trapped.


Linton Heathcliff is sickly, spoiled, selfish, and sadistic. When young Cathy--the only person in years to show him any kindness--is locked up at Wuthering Heights by Heathcliff, her tears don't move him; they annoy him. Linton can be seen as an "echo" of Edgar: he looks like him, his achievements are mental rather than physical, and he does get the girl. But to push this comparison too far is unfair to Edgar. Linton seems to possess the worst qualities of Edgar and Heathcliff.


Joseph, the servant at Wuthering Heights, is a surly religious fanatic given to fits of highly articulate, if dialect-ridden, rage. (See "Glossary" for help in deciphering his speeches.) You can almost hear him bellow as you read. The question is, How seriously are you to take all his bluster? There is nothing amusing about the way Catherine presents him in her diary or the way Isabella describes his treatment of her, but Lockwood and Ellen's remarks about him are largely satirical. It may be that such a ridiculous figure is funny only at a distance.


Mr. Lockwood is the only real stranger to the moors. Presumably, he has had a life more like yours than like Heathcliff's or Cathy's. He's pleasant, courteous, and educated. Because of this, you can see him as a representative of ordinary, or conventional, judgment. Haven't you ever wanted to be free of everyone, as he does in the beginning of the book? And haven't you ever behaved as irrationally as he did when he rejected the young lady as soon as she returned his affections? So Lockwood's amazed horror at what happens when Heathcliff takes these natural impulses to their limits is your amazement and horror, too. But there is another way to look at him. Since Emily Bronte is constantly undercutting him, you can see him as cold (his love problems, unlike Heathcliff's, stem from the young lady's returning his feelings), insincere (despite his declared love for solitude, he craves company and returns to Wuthering Heights when it's clear he's not wanted), and arrogant (he assumes that the younger Cathy doesn't fall in love with him because she can't recognize "a better class of people"). Your perspective on Lockwood is especially important when you read about his dream. He pulls the icy little hand of Cathy's ghost across a jagged windowpane until blood soaks the bedclothes. Certainly this is just as horrifying as anything Heathcliff does in the book. You can see Lockwood as an average person caught against his will in the violence of Wuthering Heights, or you can view him as no better than any of the other, wilder, characters in the story. Ellen Dean's tempered, scolding tone is a counterpoint to the passionate ravings in the story she tells. She's sensible, pious without being fanatical, full of homespun wisdom, and admits her faults. She belongs to the moors; her position is never undercut the way Lockwood's is. Even Heathcliff respects her. Ellen tries to be fair, and often acts as the "bridge" between the worlds of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. She's the one who goes to see the newly married Heathcliffs; she's the one who takes Linton, and then the younger Cathy, to Wuthering Heights. So why shouldn't you take her many opinions at face value? For one thing, she makes her bias obvious from the beginning, when she refers to the Lintons as "we." She is a Thrushcross Grange-type character, so you have to question her judgments of the Wuthering Heights passions. She is especially hard on the older Cathy, harder than most readers are. Her actions often expose her limitations. Like Edgar, she tries to shelter others from the truth. She may not lie to Lockwood (and to you), but she lies to those caught up in the events of the story, especially to Edgar in the second half of the book. Her motives are good, but are her deceptions necessary or desirable? She's also a bit of a tattletale. She tells Edgar that Heathcliff and Cathy are quarreling over Isabella, and she tells him that Cathy planned her fit. Both times the results are disastrous. Again, her motives are good--she wants to prevent greater violence later--but she only makes things worse.


Other interesting articles : [Next] [1] [2] [3] [4]

Página creada y actualizada por grupo "mmm".
Para cualquier cambio, sugerencia,etc. contactar con:
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
 Universitat de València Press
Creada: 22/02/2000 Última Actualización: 07/03/2000