Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights: Description & Character Analysis

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  • 0:04 A Haunting Presence
  • 0:30 Description
  • 2:20 Analysis
  • 3:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Catherine Earnshaw, the female protagonist of Emily Bronte's ''Wuthering Heights,'' is one of the most enduring female characters in literature with her passionate nature in life and haunting presence in death.

A Haunting Presence

Catherine Earnshaw is the female protagonist of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and exudes a powerful force on pretty much every character in the novel. And this is an impressive feat, since she dies halfway through the story.

In the first half of the novel, Catherine is defined by her struggle between her love for the wild Heathcliff and her relationship with the proper Edgar. In death, she exudes an enduring power on Heathcliff all the way up until his own death.


Catherine is the daughter of the well-off but not wealthy Earnshaw family and the younger sister of Hindley. She is said to have ''the bonniest eyes'' and ''beautiful'' brown hair. Often times, in the book she is described as ''haughty''. The Earnshaws live in the rundown and isolated old house Wuthering Heights, a few miles from the much more posh Thrushcross Grange, home of the wealthy Linton family.

Wild Child

As a child, Catherine is wild, strong-willed, and possibly a bit spoiled. She's defined primarily by her relationship with her adopted brother Heathcliff, an orphaned Gypsy boy that Catherine's father brings home. From childhood, Catherine and Heathcliff spend their time alone on the wild moors around Wuthering Heights. At this point, Catherine is a tomboy content to live in nature with Heathcliff, with no interest in proper society.


However, after getting attacked by one of the Lintons' dogs and spending five weeks recovering at Thrushcross Grange, Catherine undergoes a dramatic transformation into a proud, proper young lady. She begins a romance with Edgar Linton despite still being in love with Heathcliff, as she confesses to the housekeeper Nelly. Heathcliff, eavesdropping, only hears Catherine say she can't marry him because it would ''degrade'' her and leaves for three years.

When Heathcliff returns as a wealthy gentleman, Catherine is already married to Edgar and settled into a comfortable life at Thrushcross Grange. Despite her status as a proper lady, though, she's still clearly in love with Heathcliff. The two have a final secret meeting in which Heathcliff spills out his feelings for her, but when Catherine thinks she hears Edgar coming, she faints and never gets to say her peace.

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