Nelly Dean: Character Analysis in Wuthering Heights

Also Read


      Mrs. Ellen Dean, or Nelly Dean as she is normally addressed as, is not a major character in the normal sense since, she has no crucial part in the actual events of the story but her role is of great significance in the novel. It is Nelly who is the chief narrator of the story, offering us insights from the point of view of a subjective observer closely involved with a numbers of the protagonists.

Nelly Dean as a Narrator and a Judge

      Nelly Dean's omniscience as a narrator is much greater than that of a chorus in a Greek drama. She reproduces the exact speeches of the 'drmatis personae' who love and hate and live a high-strung life at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Like a chorus too, she represents sanity, and common sense view of life among people driven mad by passions, desires and sorrow. The religious and moral beliefs of Nelly are an important factor in the novel. Her moral comprehension is of a limited kind depending on moral and religious cliches. Sound and sensible though her judgements may be it is inadequate to judge the strong passions that move Heathcliff and Catherine. But to look at Nelly merely in the functional role of a narrator is to divest her of her flesh-and-blood reality.

Nelly—as a Character

      We are introduced to Nelly Dean as the housekeeper in Thrushcross Grange, whom Lockwood asks about the strange inmates at the Heights. Through her story we see Nelly herself emerging as a kind, benevolent, dutiful and loyal housekeeper who has no interests apart from the interests of the family she serves.

A Go-Between

      She acts as a go-between for Heathcliff and Cathy at Thrushcross, Grange and their clandestine meetings contrived through her are fraught with tragic results. She has some sympathy for Heathcliff and cares for him as a child. She recognizes too his tormented anguish and deep love for Catherine and therefore allows him to have a glimpse of his beloved Catherine, when she is dead. In doing so, she seems to be betraying her master Edgar Linton, but she does it with good intentions.

Fails as a Chaperone

      She fails as a chaperone to Catherine the younger, and abets her in meeting Linton much against Edgar's wishes. Though Nelly constantly warns Catherine, she is not firm enough.

Her Loyal and Loving Nature

      She cares for Heathcliff when he is a child and recognizes that Hindley's treatment of Heathcliff was such that it could make a friend of a saint. Similarly, she looks after Hareton after his fooler's death and when she leaves the Heights to go with Catherine to the Grange, she does so with some sadness. She is again caring and loving towards the younger Cathy and brings her up, frequently putting up with discomfort like walking over the wet moors to please her mistress. Her loyalty is seen too, when she bravely stands upto Heathcliff as he ill-treats Catherine and keeps them imprisoned at the Heights.

A Sympathetic Listener

      Nelly is a good listener and hence is a confidante of most of the protagonists. It is to her that Heathcliff bares his soul. He tell her of his plans of revenge over Isabella. He seeks her help in meeting Catherine and confides too in the end of being haunted by Catherine. Similarly, Catherine has confided in Nelly not only her love for Edgar but also her great bond with Heathcliff. The younger Catherine too has none to talk to except Nelly.


      Nelly for all her warm heart and sympathy is however, superstitious and it is she who first links Heathcliff to the devil and wonders whether he is a man or a friend.


      Nelly is a down-to-earth character. Brought up with the Earnshaw children as something between older sister and nurse; she later becomes housekeeper, first at Wuthering Heights and then at Thrushcross Grange. By her own account she is 'self-educated; a poor man's daughter' (Chapter 7). She is an avid reader and has read most of the books in the library at the Grange. Her actions are generally prompted by kindness and humanity or by the desire to avoid trouble for Edgar Linton. Her judgment may be wrong, but never her motives. She has the interests of her masters at heart. By the end of the book, she has established herself as a typical old family retainer.

Previous Post Next Post