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Hareton Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights: Description, Character Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

His mother dies shortly after his birth. His dad's a sloppy drunk. Heathcliff hates his guts. Hareton Earnshaw is the punching bag of Wuthering Heights, and it's mostly not even his fault. Let's meet this unlucky fellow.

Hareton Earnshaw

We first meet Hareton Earnshaw when Lockwood comes up to Wuthering Heights to visit for an evening. A snowstorm is blowing up, but he's not wearing a coat, and he's been working--he's carrying a pitchfork. Once everybody gets inside, Lockwood notices that Hareton's clothes are shabby and he looks like a servant, with a scraggly beard and dirty hands. But his body language is appropriate for a more prideful person with high social status; he looks like he's totally above it all.

We later find out that this is Hareton Earnshaw, the rightful heir to Wuthering Heights. He's the son of Hindley and Frances Earnshaw and the nephew of Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff's unrequited love. He's got an understandable chip on his shoulder at the beginning of the book, since Heathcliff abuses him constantly.

Heathcliff and Hareton

Hareton is Heathcliff's revenge target for much of the book, for two reasons.

First is Hindley, Hareton's father, who mistreated Heathcliff badly after Hareton's mother Frances died. It's not so much that Heathcliff is jealous of the attention that Hareton got during that time--Hindley was often too drunk to really pay attention to Hareton. Rather, Heathcliff sees Hareton as an extension of Hindley's existence. After Hindley dies, Heathcliff can still get his revenge for Hindley's mistreatment on the Earnshaw family. All he has to do is treat Hareton terribly. He's happy to do so.

Hareton also bears a strong family resemblance to his aunt, Catherine Earnshaw. Heathcliff loves Catherine with his entire being, and Hareton's presence is a constant reminder that Heathcliff can never have Catherine. Heathcliff's main character flaw is that he can't change--his love for Catherine and his hate for everything else are both constant--and the relationship between Heathcliff and Hareton is an example of the destructive nature of that kind of constant, unchanging emotion.

Hareton and Cathy: A Happy Ending

Contrast that with the relationship between Hareton and Cathy. Cathy is another target of Heathcliff's revenge schemes, as she's the daughter of Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton, Heathcliff's rival for Catherine's affections. She also looks like Catherine, so Heathcliff sweeps her up in his machinations, forcing her to marry his son Linton.

After Linton's death, Cathy and Hareton have a tense relationship. They snipe at and insult each other, until something softens in each of them. They start spending more time together; Cathy teaches Hareton to read. At the end of the novel, we find out that Heathcliff is dead and Cathy and Hareton own Wuthering Heights. Free of Heathcliff's negativity, the love between Cathy and Hareton transforms the house--it's well-lit, warm, and welcoming when Lockwood comes back in the novel's last chapter.

The difference is the ability of the emotion to change and grow over time. Cathy and Hareton are rude to each other at first, but they give each other a chance. They let go of their initial impressions of each other, and their love for each other transforms both them and the house around them. Love that can transform and develop is positive, and love that stays stagnant is negative and destructive. Hareton's part in that transforming love is an important part of Wuthering Heights.

Quotes

'The child Hareton fell wholly into my hands. Mr. Earnshaw, provided he saw him healthy and never heard him cry, was contented, as far as regarded him.' (Chapter 8)

-Nelly, the maid at Thrushcross Grange, raised Hareton from the time he was born. His father, Hindley, didn't really care as long as the baby wasn't crying.

'Now, my bonny lad, you are mine! And we'll see if one tree won't grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it!' (Chapter 17)

-Once Hindley is dead, Hareton is all Heathcliff's. Heathcliff wants to warp Hareton into a version of himself by subjecting Hareton to the same kind of abuse that Hindley laid on Heathcliff as a child.

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