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A Comparison of Characters in E. Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
by C.R.M. Nilsson

A very common technique in the art of story telling is to let opposites stand against each other. In Wuthering Heights, it’s very common with contrasts and opposites. Everything and everybody is compared with one another; Wuthering Heights with Thrushcross Grange, Heathcliff with Edgar Linton, Hareton with Linton etcetera.

Hareton Earnshaw is one of the many victims in Heathcliff’s crusade against Hindley Earnshaw and the Linton family. He’s a very intelligent boy who Heathcliff keeps in ignorance (he never learnt how to read or write as a child), just because Hareton is intelligent and it distresses Hareton to be ignorant in that matter. By doing this, Heathcliff takes revenge on Hindley – Hareton had all the premises for success before Heathcliff held him back. Hareton’s full of pride and hides behind anger when he’s embarrassed. But he at least makes an attempt to become a better person.

Linton Heathcliff, however, would be the opposite. I would not go so far as to call him stupid, but I get the feeling that he is not quite as intelligent as Hareton. I also find him more weak-willed and easily manipulated – despite the fact that he is an extremely manipulative person himself. Where Hareton is harsh, he is soft and where Hareton is dark, he is fair. He is educated and well-spoken, but like Hareton he has been ruined in a way. It seems to me that Isabella spoiled him a lot and that he was born with a frail constitution, unlike Hareton who seems to be strong and healthy.

In fact all of the Lintons seem to be of a weaker constitution than the Earnshaws and Heathcliff. Somehow I get the impression that the Lintons actually are city dwellers, who have moved out to the countryside. The Earnshaws seem rougher around the edges although it’s a bit of cliché to say that rich countrymen would be less refined than their counterparts in the city. Isabella Linton and Catherine Earnshaw would be prime examples of this. In the beginning of the book Catherine is a wild child; running about the moors with Heathcliff and not being very lady-like. She does not appear to be somebody who would be well-received in higher society. Meanwhile Isabella would probably fit in well at some social event and be more at home in a salon, playing the piano for an audience, than to be rummaging around the countryside.

It would appear that Catherine is tamed after being with the Lintons for a while. To the appearance and behaviour she’s transformed into a lady, but she never quite loses any of that wildness. Another thing that comes to mind when you compare the Lintons to the Earnshaws, is that even though the Earnshaws are physically stronger, they are also more emotionally unstable. Isabella and Edgar die from diseases, while it seems like the Earnshaws will themselves to die, for lack of better phrasing. Hindley is an alcoholic, who locks everybody out of the Heights and they find him dead when they finally gain entrance again. Catherine becomes ill after throwing a temper tantrum when Edgar bans Heathcliff from the Grange. Even Heathcliff, though he’s not a real Earnshaw, seems to will himself to die by not ingesting anything for days.

In fact it is almost as if the Grange is the sane and the normal, while the Heights represent the not so sane and the abnormal. The inhabitants Thrushcross Grange represent a stable family in the 19th century with both Edgar and Isabella being model children. However, I imagine that characters such as Heathcliff and Hindley horrified the 19th century reader because of how they both display uninhibited cruelty. As a modern reader, it seems that we are more sympathetic to the plight of Heathcliff. My sister commented when we watched the 2009 television series adaption of the novel, that she wondered why everybody seemed to find Heathcliff such a likeable character. Maybe it is because Brontë lets Heathcliff develop a little more than the Linton siblings. Heathcliff feels more real; like there is more substance to his character. The other two feel like cardboard figures cut from a mould.

The entire book is built on contrasts and opposites, on ideas of what is right and wrong, but the way Brontë ends the book is ambiguous: Heathcliff and Catherine are doomed to haunt the moors. But in a way they get their happy ending as they are joined together in death as they never could be in life.


Copyright C.R.M. Nilsson 2010

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