Other ‘first generation’ characters


It is difficult to find any redeeming features in Hindley. He is jealous of Heathcliff from the start and continues to bully him as much as he can. In terms of his function within the plot, by making him worse than Heathcliff (at least until late in the novel) Brontë uses Hindley to keep the reader sympathetic to Heathcliff. As Hareton’s father, he also replicates the issues with which he himself contended.

Dismissed as someone who would never amount to much, Hindley’s motivation springs from regarding:

his father as an oppressor rather than a friend, and Heathcliff as a usurper of his father’s affections and his privileges, and he grew bitter with brooding over these injuries. (Chapter 4)

In the light of this, the reader can see that Hindley has a reason for his bitterness, but not an excuse. However he never appears to be happy in his greed and anger, and becomes lonely and self-indulgent when Frances dies. When he turns to drink and loses all interest in the world around him, he becomes easy prey for Heathcliff.


A link with society

Given that Joseph plays no defining role in the plot, we must look elsewhere for Brontë’s reasons for including him in the novel. He certainly provides local colour, particularly through his use of dialect, and he helps bed the action of the novel within a wider social context, ensuring links to church and education for the Earnshaw children.

Joseph often serves as a choric figure, contextualising the action. His commentary on the events of the novel is both conventional (for the time) and outrageous in its hypocrisy, thereby providing some comic relief. This is highlighted by Lockwood’s initial estimation of him in Chapter 1, when he describes Joseph speaking:

in an undertone of peevish displeasure…, looking, meantime, in my face so sourly that I charitably conjectured he must have need of divine aid to digest his dinner.

For all his faults, Joseph is a loyal servant throughout the novel, a feature typically found in Gothic novels. His stereotypically unfriendly reception of Lockwood at Wuthering Heights also helps establish the Gothic tone.

A satire on bigotry

Joseph’s most obvious characteristic is his religious bigotry. He is described as a Pharisee who prefers harsh rules and punishment for wrongdoing rather than showing love or care. He therefore provides a contrast to the free spirits of Catherine and Heathcliff, as well as to the triumph of love exemplified in the relationship of Cathy and Hareton.

It is difficult to reject the idea that Emily Brontë is satirising some of the attitudes she saw in her life at the Parsonage. In addition, by presenting some orthodox Christian views via Joseph’s unattractive pronouncements, she makes readers more sympathetic to her unorthodox theories of heaven and the afterlife.

Nelly Dean

A voice to trust

Nelly is another faithful servant whose closeness to the characters helps to bring them alive. She is a practical activist who gets on with life and offers proverbial common sense. As well as being the main narrator, she provides a normal, down-to-earth presence against which the reader can judge other characters and thus helps to create a convincing setting.

Failings and ommissions

By dint of controlling the bulk of the narrative, Nelly can downplay her own failings. Little attention is given to her own resentment at being displaced by Heathcliff for example. Furthermore, it is her failure to disclose information that precipitates Heathcliff’s despairing exit from the Heights, ensures the lack of suitable medical attention for Catherine and allows Cathy to become entangled with Linton and Heathcliff.

Mr Earnshaw

The significance of Catherine’s father depends on the fact that he sets everything in motion in terms of the plot by bringing Heathcliff home. Although he is kind and well-meaning, his parental rejection of both his children establishes an emotional tone that is amplified down the generations.

Frances Earnshaw

Hindley’s wife is regarded as a rather silly character, completely out of her depth at Wuthering Heights (as, chronologically, Lockwood is later to be). Her death is used to trigger Hindley’s drunken downfall and all that this enables Heathcliff to do.

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