‘Second generation’ characters

Cathy Linton

Note: Throughout this text guide, the convention has been used of calling the first Catherine by her full Christian name, and her daughter by the name ‘Cathy’, even though Emily Brontë does not use either version of the name consistently.

A Linton / Earnshaw blend

Cathy’s personality demonstrates the harmony that should have characterised her parents’ marriage but which they could never attain. She inherits many of her mother’s characteristics, which are softened by the influence of her father. For example, she has her mother’s love of the outdoors (though she also enjoys a garden as well as the moors) but also her father’s love of reading. Her nature is thus rather more appealing, as we see in Nelly’s assessment of Cathy as a child growing up:

Her spirit was high, though not rough, and qualified by a heart sensitive and lively to excess in its affections. (ch 18)

Loving innocence

It is understandable that Edgar shelters his daughter, given the proximity of Heathcliff. However, the fact that Cathy does not meet other young people leaves her woefully ill prepared for relationships and helps explain why she finds Linton so attractive.

Cathy’s compassion for Linton is genuine (if misguided), as is her love for her father and, eventually, for Hareton. Her warm, thoughtful side is demonstrated by the way in which she indulges Linton with great patience, nurses her sick father and even makes efforts to educate Hareton.

The hope of redemption

The Cathy that Lockwood meets at the start of the novel is a lonely and cold character as a result of her ill-treatment. In an era before married women had any rights to property or legal redress against domestic abuse, her situation seems to offer no hope of escape. Yet we feel that, unlike her mother, she could live a settled life and be part of a happy marriage. Brontë has created this expectation so that Cathy can provide a hopeful ending to the novel. Nelly’s earlier assessment of her turns out to be right in the end.

Hareton Earnshaw


As readers we are guided to blame others for Hareton’s behaviour rather than himself. His drunken father, Hindley, offers him no comfort which is why he becomes attached to Heathcliff, who brings him up after Hindley’s death to be rough, foul-mouthed and aggressive. Despite his conditioning, the reader is always aware of ‘better qualities’ in him, due to Nelly’s naturally affectionate narrative about her surrogate son. Even Heathcliff acknowledges that Hareton is: ‘gold put to the use of paving stones’ (a wonderful image by Brontë).

The hope of redemption

Brontë draws parallels between Heathcliff and Hareton in their upbringing and behaviour, but the latter is reformed by love rather than being destroyed by it. With some education, he is able to express himself other than through physical violence, whilst his clumsy attempts to impress Cathy as he learns to love are portrayed as rather endearing.

Nelly notes the change in Hareton in Chapter 33:

His honest, warm and intelligent nature shook off rapidly the clouds of ignorance and degradation in which it had been bred; and Catherine’s sincere commendations acted as a spur to his industry.

Hareton is therefore able to provide a positive, hopeful ending to the novel, harmonising culture and nature and proving himself to be a fit partner for Cathy.

Linton Heathcliff

Linton is probably one of the more irritating characters in literature! Even Nelly cannot find much good to say about him. In Chapter 19 she describes him as:

A pale, delicate, effeminate boy, who might have been taken for my master’s younger brother, so strong was the resemblance: but there was a sickly peevishness in his aspect that Edgar Linton never had.

Whereas Cathy inherits positive characteristics from both her parents, Linton seems only to inherit the negative aspects of Isabella and Heathcliff. A ‘peevish creature’, he is selfish and self-pitying, a deceitful, sickly specimen of humanity in a novel that always commends physical robustness and open natures. Whilst he is undoubtedly terrorised by Heathcliff to the point of no resistance, any sympathy for his situation and his ill-health is punctured by his selfish manipulation of Cathy. It is to Cathy’s credit that she takes time over him (though we might find this one of the less convincing parts of the novel).

Linton’s function

Linton serves a purpose within Heathcliff’s plan for revenge and for Brontë in working out the plot, so that we assess him as something of a plot device rather than a holistic character.

As with some other roles in the novel, Brontë uses Linton to mitigate our dislike of others. In particular, our disapproval of Heathcliff’s treatment of him is somewhat negated because we ultimately do not care what happens to Linton. In fact, there is a sense of relief when he dies and there is no longer the threat that Cathy will be tied to him for ever.

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