Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights: Setting, Plot, Point of View and Characterisation

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The spatial-temporal setting of Wuthering Heights is England of the 18th century, as the events depicted in the novel occur mostly in the 1770s. The story ends in 1802 when Mr Lockwood departs from Thrushcross Grange. Specifically, the place setting of the story revolves round two neighbourhoods – Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Wuthering Heights belongs to the Earnshaw family and it is where most of the Gothic elements in the novel could be found. Thrushcross Grange is inhabited by the Linton family. These neighbourhoods are symbolic and stand in sharp contrast to each other. The Grange represents reason, order and sanity which the neoclassical period is known for. On the other hand, the Heights represents insanity, chaos, emotion, illogicality which the Romantic period is known for. Thus, the relationship between the inhabitants of the two houses is bound to be problematic.


The novel has a non-linear plot structure. It begins towards its end when Mr Lockwood rents Thrushcross Grange in 1801. By this time, Heathcliff had become master of both the Grange and the Heights. But the beginning of the story dates back to 1758 with the birth of Nelly. Nelly lives her whole life serving the Earnshaws right from childhood. Mr Earnshaw is the original owner of the Heights which must have been built in 1500 (the beginning of the English Renaissance) being the date inscribed on the stone above the entrance to the Heights. The story ends in 1803 being the year that Hareton and Catherine plan to get married.  

Point of View

The story is narrated from the first person narrative point of view, taking Nelly’s perspective, with Mr Lockwood being the recorder. Mr Lockwood also co-narrates the story.


The major characters in Wuthering Heights are Heathcliff, Catherine Earnshaw, Hindley Earnshaw, Mr Lockwood, Nelly Dean, Hareton Earnshaw, Edgar Linton, Catherine Heathcliff, Linton Heathcliff and Isabella Heathcliff. The minor characters are Old Earnshaw, Mrs Earnshaw, Frances, Mr Linton, Mrs Linton, Joseph, Zillah.

Central Characters


Heathcliff is one of the central characters in the novel. He is considered the hero of the novel, though it is difficult for him to sustain his position as protagonist throughout the novel, as he sometimes graduates into an antagonist. He is a fully developed character, making him a round character. He is also dynamic as he is most times unpredictable. He is brought into the Earnshaw family with a blank background which remains unfilled till the end of the novel. Indeed, he does not have a surname as his gravestone indicates. As a child, Heathcliff is hated by Hindley but loved by Catherine whom he also loves fervently. But when Catherine chooses Edgar Linton over him, Heathcliff is deeply hurt. This rejection, combined with Hindley’s hateful oppression and Edgar’s contempt and disrespect, makes Heathcliff a very vengeful man. He leaves the Heights and returns an educated and wealthy gentleman. He marries Isabella Linton in a very curious courtship process. The marriage produces a child by name Linton who would later marry Catherine’s daughter by the same name.

Heathcliff represents the ‘Other’ in the novel. He also represents the dark forces through which the gothic elements in the novel are realised. He is seen to be cruel to little Linton and Cathy by manipulating and forcing them to marry in order to be in a position to claim the estates of the Earnshaws and the Lintons.  When Heathcliff dies, Joseph says that the devil himself has claimed him and refuses to have anything to do with his corpse. Heathcliff is portrayed as a very cool and calculating character; one who is able to bear oppression and humiliation with grace. He is also patient as can be seen in his quest for revenge.

Catherine Earnshaw

Catherine Earnshaw is a heroine and one of the central characters in the novel. She is a childhood friend and a passionate lover of Heathcliff but chooses to marry Edgar Linton due to the former’s poverty and low social status. She pays dearly for this decision because it complicates Heathcliff’s relationship with her brother Hindley and her husband Edgar; leading to unimaginable consequences as dramatised in the novel. Catherine bears a daughter for Edgar shortly before she passes on from ill-heath arising from the quarrel between her and Edgar when Heathcliff’s return and intrusion constrains the husband-and-wife relationship. She is depicted as a lively but stubborn character. Her association with Heathcliff during childhood makes her rough and crude. But she becomes refined and ladylike after spending five weeks with the Lintons during which she recuperates from a dog bite.

Hindley Earnshaw

Hindley Earnshaw is one of the principal characters in Wuthering Heights. He is the biological son of Old Earnshaw who appears to love Heathcliff more than Hindley. Hindley marries Frances, an unknown lady, who bears Hindley a son by name Hareton. When Old Earnshaw dies, Hindley becomes the master of the Heights and uses the opportunity to punish Heathcliff for robbing him of his father’s love while he was alive. Hindley demotes Heathcliff to the position of a servant and have him flogged at times. Heathcliff bears this humiliation with unparalleled patience as he awaits his time for revenge. When Heathcliff returns to the Heights a wealthy man, he lures Hindley into gambling and drinking which makes Hindley to lose all his money and fall into deep indebtedness to Heathcliff.

Upon Hindley’s death, the ownership of the Heights falls to Heathcliff and he uses his position to oppress Hareton, Hindley’s child, through a deliberate lack of training (or bad training) and a refusal to educate the child. Heathcliff’s intention is to turn Hindley into a version of his childhood self when he was newly brought to the Heights by Mr Earnshaw. This is the consequence of Hindley losing the estate to Heathcliff which automatically reduces his son Hindley to the status of a servant in a house that he should be master.

Mr Lockwood

Mr Lockwood is Heathcliff’s tenant at Thrushcross Grange. He is a gentleman with means who wants to stay in the county side for a while. It is at his instance that the story is narrated by Nelly Dean. Mr Lockwood is also considered as a frame narrator in the novel. He alternates the narration alongside Nelly.

Nelly Dean

She is a very important character in the novel. She is seen as a reservoir of secrets, both of the Heights and those of the Grange, having served both houses all her life. When the novel opens, Ellen (Nelly) is the house keeper at the Grange. Mr Lockwood asks her to tell him about the Heights and she obliges. Nelly’s presence is seen throughout the story as she is one of the principal characters who, not only observes, but also contributes to the action and movements in the plot. Nelly is a flat character.

Hareton Earnshaw

He is Hindley’s son born by Frances. He is denied the rights of being the master of the Heights because his father was heavily indebted to Heathcliff while he was alive. Apart from this, Hareton barely knows his rights as he is uneducated. Thus, he does not know how to go about obtaining justice against the wrong that has been done to him. Heathcliff had taken advantage of Hindley’s cruelty to Hareton to win the child over. This is how Heathcliff is able to manipulate him, ensure his eternal obedience and gratitude, and even get him to be the only person who mourns Heathcliff when he dies. After Linton Heathcliff’s death, Catherine Linton and Hareton reconcile their differences, become friends and lovers, to the consternation and indignation of Heathcliff who, at that point, is in poor health, as well as being haunted by dark forces suspected to be Catherine’s ghost, whom he had challenged to disturb him.

Catherine teaches Hareton how to read and write and they plan their marriage to take place on New Year Day in 1803 after Heathcliff’s sudden and dramatic death, which also implies that both Catherine and Hareton have assumed their rightful ownership of the Heights and the Grange following the end of Heathcliff’s usurpation. Hareton is depicted as a poorly raised child whose upbringing turns him into one possessed by anger, jealousy and suspicion even though he is shown to be kind and good-natured beneath.

Young Catherine

She is the daughter of Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton. She is also, briefly, the wife of Linton Heathcliff, Isabella’s son. She resembles her mother physically and behaviourally (especially stubbornness). She is forced by Heathcliff to marry Linton for the purpose of taking over the Grange estate. She is depicted as a love force that boldly opposes Heathcliff’s hate and revenge and triumphs over him in the end. She tells Heathcliff that no one loves him and that no one will even be sorry for him when he dies. She demonstrates that love is the best weapon which can be used to conquer hate.  

Edgar Linton

He is the son of Mr (and Mrs) Linton, the original owner of Thrushcross Grange. He is also the husband of Catherine Earnshaw. Edgar is depicted as a proper gentleman, a magistrate, just like his father. He is a man of peace who likes to operate according to laid down social rules. He loves and is devoted to the two Catherines in his life, his wife and then the daughter. He disapproves of Isabella’s marriage with Heathcliff but he does not appear to have the power to stop them. Upon Catherine’s death, he tries to keep little Cathy from the Heights and its inhabitants until, out of curiosity and chance, she goes there and reunites with little Linton. When Edgar lies on his death bed, Heathcliff tricks Nelly to bring Cathy to the Heights, where he holds them hostage until Cathy agrees to marry Linton. Edgar passes on shortly afterwards and brings an end to the order that had existed in the Grange.

Isabella Heathcliff

She is daughter to Mr Linton and wife to Heathcliff. She is little (young) Linton’s mother. She is infatuated with Heathcliff who exploits her feelings, acts cruelly towards her and uses her as one of the tools for effecting his revenge against the Lintons. She leaves Heathcliff and flees to London where she gives birth to Linton and dies shortly afterwards. Heathcliff claims the child as his own despite being placed in the care of Edgar by the late Isabella.

 Minor Characters

The minor characters are Old Earnshaw, Mrs Earnshaw, Frances, Mr Linton, Mrs Linton, Joseph, Kenneth, Zillah and Mr Green.

Mr Earnshaw

The patriarch of the Heights, Mr Earnshaw is the father of Catherine and Hindley. He is the one who brings Heathcliff into the house and adopts him as his son.

Mrs Earnshaw

She is Mr Earnshaw’s wife and mother of Catherine and Hindley. She does not particularly like Heathcliff whom she calls a gypsy.


Joseph is a stock character. He is also flat. He remains the same throughout the story. He is noted for his Yorkshire dialect. He is depicted as a religious fanatic whose preaching reaches to the extremes of right and wrong conduct. He is highly self-opinionated and likes to tell others what to do. He is also very judgmental of others. He says of Heathcliff when he died: ‘Th’ devil has harried off his soul . . . and he muh hev his carcass intuh t’ bargain, for aught’t Aw care! Ech! What a wicked ‘un he looks girning at death!’ (244).

Mr and Mrs Linton

They are parents to Edgar and Isabella. They are also the owners of Thrushcross Grange.

Mr Kenneth is the doctor for the whole neighbourhoods of the Grange and the Heights.


She is the wife of Hindley and mother to Hareton. She has a blank background just like Heathcliff and is perceived to be of the lower class. She is depicted as frail and sickly. She dies shortly after giving birth to Hareton.


Zillah is a house keeper at Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff brought her in after Nelly left for the Grange. She is depicted as faithfully following Heathcliff’s orders, especially those regarding young Catherine and her forced marriage to Linton.

Mr Green

He is the lawyer for the neighbourhood of the Heights and the Grange. He deliberately refuses to come and see Edgar when the latter is on his deathbed and wishes to change his will to favour his children. It is obvious that Heathcliff had bribed him to do so.


Discuss the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine from childhood to adulthood.


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