Character Sketch of Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights
Table of Contents
Catherine Earnshaw is the heroine of the novel, Wuthering Heights. She is the bone of contention between Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. In the symbolic sense the competition represents the confrontation between the have and the have- not. Catherine is not a passive entity. She plays an active role in the life of both the competitors.
A Charming Personality
Catherine possesses a charming personality. Nelly describes her girlhood saying,
“Her spirits were always at high water mark, her tongue always going singing, laughing and ploughing everybody who would not do the same. A wild, wicked slip she was and had loveliest eye, the sweetest smile and the lightest foot in the parish.”
When she came to Wuthering Heights after her first five weeks’ sojourn at Thrushcross Grange her brother delightfully exclaimed,
“Why Cathy, you are quite a beauty!”
Guileless, free and fresh, she was like a flower blooming and blossoming on the dreary heaths.
Attached to Heathcliff
Free from any tinge of pride she developed before long an attachment to Heathcliff. Energetic and enduring herself, she recognised with appreciation these qualities in the make-up of Heathcliff. To this was added her inborn inclination for affectionate relationship; and she developed the tenderest ties with the lad. This tie became more pronounced when she and Heathcliff became target to Hindley’s torture and tyranny. She made a common cause with Heathcliff in the latter’s revolt against the tyrant. She enjoyed walks in the heaths in the company of Heathcliff and received chastisement for neglecting her studies. Nothing caused her worry except separation from him, which was the greatest punishment to her. She had found in him the true companion of her soul. “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same”, she said. Again she asserted, “I am Heathcliff.”
The souls of both Heathcliff and Catherine were of one piece. Both were similar in energy, self-respect and impetuosity. His love she considered a necessity; life without him meant nothing to her.
“If all else perished and he remained I should still continue to be and if all else remained and he were annihilated, the universe will turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem a part of it.”
Prisoner of her Class and Upbringing
In spite of her deep instinctive reaching after freedom of quite another kind, Cathy is still the prisoner of her class and upbringing. How, indeed, given the social and economic powerlessness of women of her period, could she be otherwise? The situation is further complicated by the fact that with one part of her nature, as she makes clear time after time, Cathy genuinely loves Edgar and genuinely needs the kind of life he represents-but she is telling an unalienable truth when she says that her love for Heathcliff ‘resemble the eternal rocks beneath’, and since he is the very condition of her being, she is bound to know and feel that she has been guilty of a betrayal. For a time she hopes to have the best of both worlds by marrying Edgar and retaining Heathcliff as a friend, but such compromises are inevitably doomed to failure. She is in an impossible situation, caught between irreconcilable forces-and this is the very stuff one of which tragedy is made.
In spite of her deep passion for Heathcliff, she deceived herself in believing that by marrying Edgar Linton she would benefit both herself and Heathcliff alike. The fact of the matter is that she was tempted to marry Linton under the notion that marriage with him would ensure for her a respectable social life and status which was not possible by her alliance with Heathcliff. Nelly was not far from truth when she remarked about Catherine’s love for Linton, “You love Mr. Edgar because he is handsome, and young, and cheerful, and rich, and loves you. The last, however, goes for nothing; you would love him without that probably; and with it you wouldn’t unless he possessed the four former attractions.” It was quite true. Catherine herself confessed,
“If the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now.”
It was a betrayal of love because she knew, “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath; a source of little visible delight, but necessary.” She was trying to resort to highly erroneous argument when she exclaimed, “Nelly, I see now, you think me a selfish wretch, but did it never strike you that if Heathcliff and I married, we should be beggars? Whereas if I marry Linton I can aid Heathcliff to rise and place him out of my brother’s power.” Prudence cannot compensate passion. Catherine forgot it and suffered. In the end when Heathcliff makes her realise her folly she begs pardon and is not happy till she rejoins Heathcliff as a spirit.
Her Boldness and Courage
She stooped to folly but did not make a compromise with the new situation. She did not tacitly agree to align herself with circumstances. Hence she had to remain miserable ever afterwards. When Heathcliff returned she did not resort to prudence for a second time and receive him with her natural delight. She told her husband, “I know you didn’t like him. Yet, for my sake you must be friends now.” When the question of calling him arose, Linton suggested that the kitchen is a more appropriate place for him. At this she boldly said,
“No, I cannot sit in the kitchen. Set two tables here, Ellen-one for your master and Miss Isabella, being gentry, the other for Heathcliff and myself, being of the lower orders. Will that please you, dear? Or, must I have a fire elsewhere? If so, give directions, I’ll run down and secure my guest. I’m afraid the joy is too great to be real.”
Her Influence over Heathcliff
She was the only person who could bend Heathcliff to her will. Her manner of welcome to him at Thrushcross Grange wrought a transformation in him and he altered his horrible designs. Had Linton and Isabella been more sensible and discerning, she might have saved Isabella from the hold of Heathcliff. Undoubtedly she understood him fully well. Once she made the mistake, the flood gates of the elemental fury were opened wide.