A novel that powerfully evoked the ecstasies and agonies of the Romantic era of literature, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights drew its strength from its profoundly troubled and complex characters. A veritable menagerie of vice-ridden, passionate, and willful individuals dysfunctional to the brink of psychosis, the Linton and Earnshaw families clearly inherit their ultrareactive characteristics through the generations. Yet the adage, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," is too simplistic a judgement to cast against these two Houses.
The three characters of Linton Earnshaw, Hareton Earnshaw, and Cathy Linton Earnshaw, whose interactions build upon the groundwork of the novel's first half, distinguish themselves from those who came before them in such a manner to drive the book toward an inexorable climax and dénouement. Brontë's third generation of Lintons and Earnshaws embody both superficial similarities to their respective parentages and deeper, dissimilar elements of character that accentuate the failures of their elders and allow Brontë to establish a basis for redemption of the two tempestuous clans of the Moors.
Linton Earnshaw, an upper class gentleman reflecting the cultivated nobility of appearance that Heathcliff fashioned for himself, nonetheless lies at the extreme opposite of the spectrum from his father in fortitude. Paradoxically, this stark dissonance cements their unity; Linton's poverty of health paralleling Heathcliff's poverty of soul. This spiritual Achilles' heel of the invincible fiend, revealed by the treachery of Linton's own wasted form, foreshadows the eventual failure of Heathcliff's plot of revenge by his own inability to set his will to its completion.
From the first, Mr. Lockwood observes that nothing of Heathcliff's static outward appearance would indicate anything other than wealthy heritage, commenting that he stands, "in dress and manners a gentleman" (3). Mrs. Dean confirms this opinion holds true in form as well as trappings with her own evaluation of Heathcliff following his return from exile. "He had grown a tall, athletic, well-formed man... his upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army" (87). Despite his sullied origins, Heathcliff has clearly elevated himself to the status of a Victorian noble. But inner nature puts up a far fiercer resistance to transformation than outer visage. Mrs. Dean is quick to qualify that, "a half-civilized ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire" (87). Catherine, a first-hand witness to the depths of Heathcliff's soul and the only human alive who forms any true kinship with him, affirms his malevolence without reservation. "Pray, don't imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection... he's a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man" (93-94). By the testimony of those that know him, it is eminently clear that, whatever he may project in outward demeanor, Heathcliff harbors a sick and malicious continence within.
His efforts of suppression, however, prove moot as he bears a son whose condition serves a physical manifestation of the bestial man's soul. While Linton is born into the wealth of Heathcliff's estate, and thus guaranteed a share in the upper-class status of his father, "from the first, [Isabella] reported him to be an ailing, peevish creature" (167), and his outer, gentlemanly kinship with Heathcliff proves to be the weakest of bonds compared to the malice that possesses them both. The share does not seem to stem from his mother, as Nelly Dean attests that, "[he] 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" (184).
The only plausible source from which Linton may derive his ailing nature appears to be Heathcliff; a preposterous notion in that Linton resembles his father, "not much... not even a morsel" (189), unless this bond of relation connects at a deeper level.
Like an invisible inheritable-illness suddenly thrust into light by the hand of genetics, Linton presents Heathcliff's inner spirit to the world. As the man's plot of revenge waxes, he wanes, growing more pale and weak the closer Heathcliff comes to achieving his goal. Moments from stumbling into the trap that binds her to Wuthering Heights, Cathy exclaims, "But you have been worse... worse than when I saw you last" (239). As soon as Heathcliff's rejects his last chance of showing mercy by forcing Cathy to marry the pitiful boy and prevent her from seeing her dying father, Linton dies.
Yet, this perversity of spirit that Linton's existence highlights proves to be Heathcliff's undoing. When the time comes to act, once and for all enforcing misery on Cathy and Hareton, he cannot move his hand to strike. "I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready... I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished" (295). Linton confirmed what Heathcliff could not recognize; in the absence of Catherine, there is nothing in his spirit to propel him onward. He is just as helpless as the son he so vehemently despised. By Linton's physical kinship to Heathcliff's spirit, Brontë marks out the sufferer and harbinger of misfortune alike's true inner perversity, a quality that allows Hareton and Cathy to eventually achieve redemption.
Prince and pauper in equal measure, Hareton Earnshaw's degraded condition amply befits the immoral wretchedness of his tyrannically impotent father, Hindley. The young man's inherent nobility and good will yet prove Joseph's self-righteous assertion that, "his soul was abandoned to perdition" (181) a grossly mistaken conjecture to draw from father to son. Hareton triumphs against both his father's ghastly Nature and Heathcliff's malicious Nurture to restore the honor of his family's name.
Comparing between Hindley and Edgar Linton, who both lose wives to their vivid grief, Nelly Dean observes that, "Hindley, with apparently the stronger head, has shown himself sadly the worse and the weaker man" (169). He sinks into a decrepit state, becoming coarse, cruel, and detestable. "He grew desperate; his sorry was of that kind that will not lament. He neither wept nor prayed; he cursed and defied: execrated God and man, and gave himself up to reckless dissipation" (59). Losing his estate to Heathcliff through foolish gambling and drunken debasement, Hindley renders himself a lowly beggar of his figure.
His son fairs no better. Heathcliff ensures that, beyond merely suffering the same degradation he had to endure in youth, Hareton also models his father's worst qualities. The young man is taught to curse and defile
, taking on a spitting image of his father. "His dress and speech were both rude... his thick, brown curls were rough and uncultivated, his whiskers encroached bearishly over his cheeks" (9). The path upon which Heathcliff sets the youth seems to promise only the same wages of sin
that undid his father. "He was never taught to read or write; never rebuked for any bad habit... never led a single step towards virtue, or guarded by a single precept against vice" (181).
Defying all expectation, however, he proves less than willing to follow in his father's hellbound footsteps. From youth, it is immediately apparent that something divides Hareton from Hindley. The boy has an extremely averse reaction to the man, denoting an inherent distaste for his father's ugly character. "Poor Hareton was squalling and kicking in his father's arms with all his might, and redoubled his yells" (67). Heathcliff uses falsehood and relatively better treatment to lure the boy under his corrupting tutelage, remarking, "we'll see if one tree won't grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it" (171-172).
He cannot seem to touch Hareton's inner positive attributes that mark him so starkly against his father. "I could detect in his physiognomy a mind owning better qualities than his father ever possessed" (180). Hareton's refined true nature accentuates his father's weakness and marks the boy as unique. The "wealthy soil, that might yield luxuriant crops under other and favourable circumstances" (180) shows itself more vibrant than even Nelly recognized as Hareton independently pursues his own education and eventually overcomes his disadvantages to join with Cathy in a union to defeat Heathcliff. By Hareton's natural good qualities, he marks out his father's comparative wretchedness, then defeats it to offer redemption to both the Linton and Earnshaw houses.
Dancing, you sparkle
Born from the womb of the catastrophically passionate Catherine Earnshaw, whose very being seemed one with the weather-beaten Moors after which she pined, one would expect nothing less than a free and willful spirit from her daughter Cathy Linton Earnshaw. But for every moment where her mother would indulge in stunning selfishness, Cathy exhibits selfless generosity and compassion. Though Heathcliff's nigh-demonic powers of corruption harden her for a spell, like the buds of spring she eventually bursts from the rocky soil of Wuthering Heights to build a new future of joy with Hareton.
The elder Catherine, whose qualities so enamor Heathcliff, drives everyone else about her into fits with her shameful conduct and bearing. "Cathy was... too mischevious and wayward for a favorite" (33). She is haughty and completely self-possessed, entirely unconcerned with anyone else's sufferings. "Her spirits were always at high-water mark, her tongue always going--singing, laughing, and plaguing anyone who would not do the same" (37). When she eventually bears a daughter, whose shortened eponymous name, "formed a distinction... yet a connection" (169) with her mother, her own nature follows suit. "Her spirit was high" (173) just like her mother's. She always moves about with the same animacy and delight.
In juxtaposition, however, Cathy draws a sharply dissonant profile where her treatment of others is concerned. She has "a heart sensitive and lively to excess in its affections," (173) like Catherine's own capacity for intense attachments, but hers form from generosity and gentleness, rather than amusement and spite. She is willing to care about more than just her soulmate. Not only is the quality evident in her visage, but also in her behavior. She immediately takes the concerns of others upon herself, something one could never imagine her mother doing. "The moment [Cathy] left Mr. Linton's room, she appeared at my bed-side. Her day was divided between us; no amusement usurped a minute" (224).
She extends her duties as the selfless nurse toward Linton as well, even as he continually repels her and shows distasteful ingratitude. When he throws a tantrum of sickness, Nelly "thoroughly gauged his disposition from his behavior," but Cathy, "ran back in terror, knelt down, and cried, and soothed, and entreated" (221). Her unwillingness to abandon him to Heathcliff forces her into a marriage in the least of interests. The resulting environment hardens her viciously, filling her with "a sentiment... between scorn and a kind of desperation, singularly unnatural to be detected there" (8). Unlike her mother, however, she does not fall to pieces transplanted from her native environment, but rather transforms it around her. Her compassion allows her to overcome bitterness to aid Hareton in his self-improvement, proving the tool by which the two dismantle Heathcliff's plan of revenge and highlighting their redemption in the face of her mother's failure.
Taking her characters through a cycle of downfall and triumph in the course of two generations, Emily Brontë imbues her third generation of the Lintons and Earnshaws with similar qualities that connect them in a smooth line with their parents, but dissonant characteristics on a more fundamental level accentuating their elders' failures and providing the grounds for redemption.
The history of Wuthering Heights is not a happy one, nor is the future of the united houses assured, but even the tempests of the English Moors must give way to a time of sunshine and green rolling hills. Distilling her experiences of her beloved homeland, Brontë evoked a body of individuals whose interactions were fueled with all the power of a natural force. Her keen ability to perceive the true complexity of the interrelation between 'nature' and 'nurture' ensured that her novel would not only represent a masterpiece of the Romantic era, but also earned her a place among the greatest writers in the English literature.