Comparing Heathcliff & Edgar in Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Although Heathcliff and Edgar are polar opposites who exist in Wuthering Heights as foils to each other, they do have one very important thing in common.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë 's only novel, Wuthering Heights, was published in 1847. Emily died the next year. Wuthering Heights traces the Linton and Earnshaw families through two generations, and focuses on how a forbidden love threatens to destroy both of them. This lesson focuses on the differences between the characters of Heathcliff and Edgar Linton in Wuthering Heights.


Nelly Dean, who has worked as a servant in Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange for most of her life, narrates the novel Wuthering Heights. To an outside observer named Lockwood, Nelly tells the history of the Linton and Earnshaw families. She starts her story with the adoption of Heathcliff. The son of the Earnshaw family, Hindley, torments poor Heathcliff, but the youngest Earnshaw, Catherine, loves him. Heathcliff returns her love, and this threatens to destroy their family and that of their higher class neighbors, the Lintons.

Choosing social standing and security over passion, Catherine marries Edgar Linton, the heir to Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff marries Edgar's sister Isabella, who loves him, even though he does not return her affections. Catherine dies, bearing Edgar's daughter Cathy, and Isabella leaves Heathcliff. Taking refuge in London, Isabella has a baby boy, Linton. Hindley dies soon after his sister, leaving behind a son named Hareton.

Cathy, protected by Edgar and Nelly, grows up. As soon as she gets the chance, she escapes from Thrushcross Grange and heads to Wuthering Heights. Here, Cathy meets Hareton, and eventually Linton, who has lived at Wuthering Heights since his mother has died. Cathy and Linton become very close.

Heathcliff blackmails Cathy into marrying Linton, who soon dies, leaving Heathcliff the heir to both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. After Heathcliff's death, Cathy and Hareton decide to marry.

A (Literary) Foil

The literary term for the use of the character of Edgar Linton in Wuthering Heights is foil. A foil (in literature) is a character being introduced who is so different from the main character that he or she serves only to highlight the character's traits. That is the function of Edgar in Wuthering Heights; Edgar shows us everything that Heathcliff is not. Heathcliff and Edgar are complete, polar opposites in all ways but one: their love for Catherine Earnshaw.

They both loved Catherine
They both loved Catherine

Family and Background

Heathcliff is brought to Wuthering Heights by Mr. Earnshaw, who found him starving on the streets of Liverpool. However, once he gets inside the large home, his life doesn't improve much. Hindley and Mrs. Earnshaw take instant dislike to the young boy, referring to him as 'it', and calling him a devil and the spawn of Satan. Their abuse and neglect shape Heathcliff into the man he becomes. The only kindness Heathcliff knows comes at the hands of his adoptive sister, Catherine. As an adult, Heathcliff is wealthy, but no one knows exactly how he got his money.

Edgar is the beloved son of the Linton family, the acknowledged heir to Thrushcross Grange and being raised as a gentleman. He is cultured, sophisticated, and has a respectable career.


Heathcliff is often described with words like 'dark' and 'black'. His new family often compare him to a gypsy, and his coloring makes it difficult for him to fit in with the rest of the Earnshaw family. As an adult, Heathcliff is big…tall, muscular, and very strong.

The dark, brooding Heathcliff
The dark, brooding Heathcliff

Edgar, on the other hand, is very pale, with blond hair and blue eyes. On the short and slim side, Edgar is described as 'youth-like' beside Heathcliff. Brontë uses words like 'light' and 'fair' to talk about Edgar's appearance, setting him up as the direct opposite of Heathcliff.

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