Catherine Earnshaw: Character Analysis in Wuthering Heights

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      Catherine is the younger child of the Earnshaw family and the principal heroine of the novel Wuthering Heights — the girl who motivates Heathcliff to passionate love and equally passionate hatred.

Catherine Childhood

      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. When her father comes home with Heathcliff, but without the whip, her reaction is only to grin and spit at Heathcliff unlike Hindley, who though, fourteen years old, "blubbers aloud". Of mercurial temperament, she is constantly at odds with her father and Nelly's affection is tinged with irritation:

      "She put all of us past our patience fifty time and oftener in a day. Her spirits were always at high water mark, her tongue always going - singing laughing, and plaguing everybody who would not do the same." When Cathy returns to the heights after a brief stay at the Grange, Nelly has this to say about her:

      "Our young lady returned to us, saucier and more passionate and haughtier than ever." And her father says of her, Nay, Cathy, I cannot love thee; thou art worse than thy brother. Go, say thy prayers, child and ask God's pardon. I doubt thy mother and I must rue that we ever reared thee."

Catherine 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 recognises Heathcliff's degraded social status and her inability to marry him, she is driven to say, "I am Heathcliff! He's always in my mind; not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being." She shares an almost mystical relationship with him in which they see themselves as facets of one another, not as two separate people. 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.

Catherine Dual Personality

      The adult Catherine is increasingly selfish and loses her spontaneous 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 face 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, unlike 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."

Catherine Tragedy

      The untamable side of her nature is drawn irresistibly to Heathcliff. She says, "whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire". She recognizes this and yet she sacrifices her love for Heathcliff at the altar of social status and in choosing Edgar Linton she paves the way not only for her own misery, but also destroys the lives of Heathcliff and Edgar Linton.

      Her own nature defeats her; she cannot bear to be thwarted and has difficulty in seeing anybody's point of view but her own. Thus, she expects Edgar to be as delighted as she is at Heathcliff's return and she expects Heathcliff himself to be able to accept her loss composedly. Herein lies her tragedy. The struggle between her love for Heathcliff and her devotion to Edgar kills her.

Catherine High-strung Nature

      Inevitably her marriage to Edgar Linton leads to discord with the return of Heathcliff. And her tempestuous nature cannot take things lightly. So Catherine flies into a rage and punishes her body for the self-inflicted anguish of her mind. The pressures placed upon her by her tormented and divided soul are too great; she is in the middle of a pregnancy and, with her physical condition grossly aggravated by her psychological state, she suffers a total nervous breakdown. Catherine cannot reconcile herself to Edgar's 'calm insipidity.' She wants him to react with passion to her own passionate fury. When he retires to his library; withdrawing from the wounding conflict of love, she tells him," I don't want you, Edgar; I'm past wanting you" (Chapter 12).

      Thus, Catherine's passionate nature, frustrated, destroys itself, whereas. Heathcliff turns outwards and destroys others.


      Catherine (Mrs. Linton) death does not exactly exalt her to a tragic heroine, she is morally wrong in having chosen to marry Edgar Linton, knowing fully well that her heart and soul are bound up with Heathcliff. She wrongs conventional social norms too, in wanting Heathcliff's love even after her marriage to Edgar. But her love for Heathcliff has a mystical—a spiritual quality about it, which elevates and exalts to beyond narrow moral stan: dards and this is what redeems her. She is tormented soul like Heathcliff and finds no peace even in death until, Heathcliff too dies and is united with her.

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