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Character of Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights Characters: Catherine Earnshaw

Catherine Earnshaw is one of the leading characters in the Novel Wuthering Heights. She maintains an impressive and powerful presence in the novel even after her death. Catherine grows up as a free spirit in Earnshaw family with Heathcliff. The two explore their surroundings together and share each other’s feelings. However, once Edgar enters Catherine’s life, she grows divided between the two – Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Edgar is from a civilized and well to do family whereas Heathcliff cannot afford such joys as the Lintons can.

So, when it comes to selecting her life partner, she chooses Edgar. She believes she can find all the pleasures of life with him; but Heathcliff’s love remains alive in her heart. She subjects herself to a tragedy she had never expected. It is because of her childishness that her rest of life is painful and in sharp contrast with her life before marriage. Life would have been less painful for her if she had chosen Heathcliff but her decision to marry Edgar yielded altogether different results than her expectations. At the end, the restive and childish but innocent Catherine finds nothing but sorrow throughout her life.

As a child, she was her father’s most favorite kid. It was because apart from being beautiful she was rebellious and Mr Earnshaw admired her innocence. However, the night he brought Heathcliff home she had felt an intense hatred for the black kid at first. Still, the two became friends and grew up together playing on the moors. She is intensely passionate and generally finds it difficult to withhold her emotions or to hide her passion. When it comes to her marriage, she grows self centered and decides to marry Edgar in the hope of a better life. She had very little inkling of what life was going to be like with him. She never felt the same intense love for Edgar as she did for Heathcliff and afterwards she laments her decision. She ends up getting bound in a relationship where she gets everything but not the kind of love she hoped to find in her life.

She is an adorable creature but equally unruly and adventurous.   … she was never so happy as when we were all scolding her at once, and she defying us with her bold, saucy look, and her ready words; turning Joseph’s religious curses into ridicule, baiting me [Ellen]

Defiant, unruly, adventurous and still adorable is how Nelly Dean defines her. Her passionate nature, while it makes her adorable on one side, on the other it costs her everything precious in her life including personal satisfaction and happiness. Her stubbornness becomes the cause of all her sorrows. It is why in her life, she does not find the marital bliss she needed. Instead, she subjects herself to a life she never dreamt of – dull and lacking excitement like Edgar Linton.

It is not that Edgar does not love her. He wants her and never dares to contradict her for he is familiar with her wilder side. Her loss is too big for Heathcliff who returns a rich man only to seek revenge from others. Feeling rejected after Catherine decided to not marry him, he grows into an obsessed creature. His obsession with Catherine only ends after his death. It is not just because Catherine was his love but because in her he had found a true friend who had protected him  when he was a helpless kid.

Unless for her, it would have been difficult for Heathcliff to bear all the abuse Hindley inflicted on him. On her deathbed, Catherine is reminded of all the pleasant moments she had passed with Heathcliff.  Even after her death Heathcliff feels the same intense love for Catherine wishing she was back. She is buried with Edgar on one side and Heathcliff on the other, reflecting her divided love and loyalty. She dies torn between the two as she had lived. Overall her stubbornness, unruliness and bad luck are highlighted in the novel and despite it all she is adored and wanted by all. Heathcliff wants her more than anything else and her character remains dominant in the novel because of these traits. 

She has some character traits that resemble Heathcliff’s. He is a close friend but she is inclined towards Edgar Linton when it comes to marriage. She can be very irrational at times and her decision does not come as a major surprise. However, she does leave Heathcliff shocked by her decision. On the other hand, her decision to marry Edgar also appears mature considering Heathcliff is also unruly like her. It shows she is searching for stability.

She knew Heathcliff could offer love but nothing more – neither stability and nor the happiness she expected to find in the Linton family. Catherine is a unique character who shares some traits of Heathcliff and some of Edgar but she is still unique and has the traits that none of the other two has.  She still appears more full of life than the other two and also more serious and in control at several points in the novel. How she balances all these contrasting traits in herself is the real charm of her character.