Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20

Chapter 16


Around midnight, Catherine gave birth to a daughter (also named Catherine––she is Catherine Linton, the teenage girl Lockwood saw at Wuthering Heights). Catherine Earnshaw died two hours later without recovering consciousness. No one cared for the infant at first, and Ellen wished it had been a boy: with no son, Edgar's heir was Isabella, Heathcliff's wife. Catherine's corpse looked peaceful and beautiful, and Ellen decided that she had found heaven at last.

She went outside to tell Heathcliff and found him leaning motionless against an ash tree. He knew Catherine was dead, and asked Ellen how it had happened, attempting to conceal his anguish. Ellen was not fooled, and told him that Cahterine had died peacefully, like a girl falling asleep. Heathcliff cursed Catherine and begged her to haunt him so he would not be left in "this abyss, where I cannot find you!... I cannot live without my soul!" (169) He dashed his head against the tree and howled "like a savage beast getting goaded to death with knives and spears." Ellen was appalled.

On Tuesday, when Catherine's body was still lying in the Grange, strewn with flowers, Heathcliff took advantage of Edgar's short absence from the bedchamber to see her again, and to replace Edgar's hair in Catherine's locket with some of his own. Ellen noticed the change, and enclosed both locks of hair together.

Catherine was buried on Friday in a green slope in a corner of the kirkyard, where, Ellen said, her husband now lies as well.


The question of what happens after death is important in this chapter and throughout the novel, though no firm answer is ever given. Ellen is fairly sure Catherine went to heaven, "where life is boundless in its duration, and love in its sympathy, and joy in its fullness" (167) But Heathcliff cannot conceive of Catherine finding peace when they are still separated, or of his living without her. In the chapter before, Catherine said: "I'm wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there; not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it through the walls of an aching heart, but really with it, and in it" (162). It is as though she had in mind a heaven that was like the moors in every way but the constraints of physicality: the spirit of natural freedom.

Another interesting question that comes up in this chapter is that of the value of self-control and reserve: Heathcliff tries to conceal his weakness and grief, holding "a silent combat with his inward agony" (168), but Ellen considers it to be worse than useless, since he only tempts God to wring his "heart and nerves." Yet we know that Emily Brontë herself was incredibly self-disciplined, refusing to alter her everyday life even when suffering a mortal illness.

Chapter 17


The next day, while Ellen was rocking baby Catherine, Isabella came in laughing giddily. Isabella was pale, her face was cut, and her thin silk dress was torn by briars. She asked Ellen to call a carriage for the nearest town, Gimmerton, since she was escaping from her husband, and to have a maid get some clothes ready. Then she allowed Ellen to give her dry clothes and bind up the wound. Isabella tried to destroy her wedding ring by throwing it in the fire, and told Ellen what had happened to her in the last few days.

Isabella said that she hated Heathcliff so much that she could feel no compassion for him even when he was in agony following Catherine's death. He hadn't eaten for days, and spent his time at Wuthering Heights in his room, "praying like a methodist; only the deity he implored was senseless dust and ashes" (175). The evening before, Isabella sat reading while Hindley drank morosely. When they heard Heathcliff returning from his watch over Catherine's grave, Hindley warned Isabella of his plan to lock Heathcliff out, and try to kill him with his bladed pistol if he came in. Isabella would have liked Heathcliff to die, but refused to help in the scheme, so when Heathcliff knocked she refused to let him in, saying: "If I were you, I'd go stretch myself over her grave, and die like a faithful dog... The world is not worth living in now, is it?" (178) Hindley went to the window to kill Heathcliff, but the latter grabbed the weapon so the blade shut on Hindley's wrist; then he forced his way in. He kicked and trampled Hindley, who had fainted from the loss of blood, then roughly bound up the wound, and told Joseph and Isabella to clean up the blood.

The next morning when Isabella came down, Hindley "was sitting by the fire, deadly sick; his evil genius, almost as gaunt and ghastly, leant by the chimney" (180). After eating breakfast by herself, she told Hindley how he had been kicked when he was down, and mocked Heathcliff for having so mistreated his beloved's brother, saying to Hindley: "everyone knows your sister would have been living now, had it not been for Mr. Heathcliff" (182). Heathcliff was so miserable that he could hardly retaliate, so Isabella went on and said that if Catherine had married him, he would have beaten her the way he beat Hindley. Heathcliff threw a knife at Isabella, and she fled, knocking down Hareton, "who was hanging a litter of puppies from a chairback in the doorway” (183). She ran to the Grange.

That morning, Isabella left, never to return to the moors again. Later, in her new home near London, she gave birth to a son, named Linton, "an ailing, peevish creature.” Isabella died of illness when her son was about twelve years old.

Edgar grew resigned to Catherine's death, and loved his daughter, who he called Cathy, very much. Ellen points out the difference between his behavior and Hindley's in a similar situation.

Hindley died, "drunk as a lord” (186), about six months after Catherine. He was just 27, meaning that Catherine had been 19, Heathcliff was 20, and Edgar was 21. Ellen grieved deeply for him ­ they had been the same age and were brought up together. She made sure he was decently buried. She wanted to take Hareton back to the Grange, but Heathcliff said he would keep him, to degrade him as much as he himself had been degraded by Hindley. If Edgar insisted on taking Hareton, Heathcliff threatened to claim his own son Linton, so Ellen gave the idea up.


Isabella's tendency toward impotent cruelty shows up again in the character of her son Linton. The question of how cruelty operates in powerful versus weak characters was evidently of great interest to Brontë and might bear further investigation. One obvious point is that weakness is not simply equated with goodness, as is often the case in the Christian tradition. Although the weak are unable to physically express their hatred, they can, like Isabella, use verbal taunts to hurt their enemies emotionally.

Ellen's particular grief for Hindley emphasizes the way characters are paired in the novel: Ellen and Hindley, Heathcliff and Catherine, Edgar and Isabella. These pairs all grew up together (Ellen's mother was Hindley's wet-nurse, so they literally shared mother's milk) under somewhat fraternal conditions. Brontë's careful structure and concern with symmetry are important presences throughout the novel, and form an interesting contrast with the chaotic emotions that seem to prevail.

Chapter 18


In the next twelve years, Cathy Linton grew up to be "the most winning thing that ever brought sunshine into a desolate house” (189). She was fair like a Linton, except for her mother's dark eyes. High-spirited but gentle, she seemed to combine the good qualities of both the Lintons and the Earnshaws, though she was a little saucy because she was accustomed to getting her way. Her father kept her within the park of the Grange, but she dreamed of going to see some cliffs, Penistone Craggs, which were located not too far away on the moor.

When Isabella fell ill, she wrote to Edgar to come visit her, so he was gone for three weeks. One day Cathy asked Ellen to give her some food for a ramble around the grounds––she was pretending to be an Arabian merchant going across the desert with her caravan of a pony and three dogs. She left the grounds, however, and later Ellen went after her on the road to Penistone Crags, which passed Wuthering Heights. She found Cathy safe and sound there––Heathcliff wasn't home, and the housekeeper had taken her in–– chattering to Hareton, now 18 years old. After Ellen arrived, Cathy offended Hareton by asking whether he was the master's son, and when he said he wasn't, deciding that he must be a servant. The housekeeper told Cathy that Hareton was her cousin, which made her cry. Hareton offered her a puppy to console her, which she refused. Ellen told Cathy that her father didn't want her to go to Wuthering Heights, and asked her not to tell Edgar about the incident, to which Cathy readily agreed.


We have moved from the violent and discordant world of adulthood back to harmonious childhood. The abrupt contrast between the hellish last chapters and this relatively serene and innocent one could hardly be clearer. One might even suppose that we are witnessing a second chance: the story of the first Catherine ended in grief and bloodshed, but perhaps her daughter’s life will be more serene. Indeed, there are many similarities between the first Catherine and her daughter, although the mother's bad qualities are minimized in the younger Cathy.

Although Cathy appears to display more Linton characteristics than Earnshaw ones, her desire to explore the wilderness outside of the Grange's park links her strongly to the wild, Wuthering Heights clan. Her sauciness also reminds the reader of her mother, as does her aristocratic unwillingness to be related to Hareton (just as Catherine thought it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff, who was at the time very much like Hareton).

Chapter 19


Isabella died, and Edgar returned home with his half-orphaned nephew, Linton, a "pale, delicate, effeminate boy” (200) with a "sickly peevishness" in his appearance. Cathy was excited to see her cousin, and took to babying him when she saw that he was sickly and childish. That very evening, Joseph came to demand the child on Heathcliff’s behalf––Linton was, after all, Heathcliff’s son. Ellen told him Edgar was asleep, but Joseph went into Edgar’s room and insisted on taking Linton. Edgar wished to keep Linton at the Grange, but could not legally claim him, so he could only put it off until the next morning.


The contrast between Cathy and her cousin Linton is very strong: she is energetic and warm-hearted, whereas he is limp and parasitic. It is interesting to see how Brontë distributes conventionally masculine and feminine characteristics among her characters without regard for gender. Linton is pointedly described as being delicate, with fine flaxen hair even lighter than Cathy's: he is the helpless ‘lady’ of the two, who cries when he doesn't get his way, and allows himself to be cared for by his female cousin.

Chapter 20


The next morning, Ellen woke Linton early and took him over to Wuthering Heights, promising dishonestly that it was only for a little while. Linton was surprised to hear he had a father, since Isabella had never spoken of Heathcliff. When they arrived, Heathcliff and Joseph expressed their contempt for the delicate boy. Heathcliff told Linton that his mother was a "wicked slut" (208) because she did not tell Linton about his father. Ellen asked Heathcliff to be kind to the boy, and he said that he would indeed have him carefully tended, mostly because Linton was heir to the Grange, so he wanted him to live at least until Edgar was dead and he inherited. So when Linton refused to eat the homely oatmeal Joseph offered him, Heathcliff ordered that his son be given tea and boiled milk instead. When Ellen left, Linton begged her not to leave him there.


Brontë's novel is full of innocent children who are abandoned into cold and unfriendly homes: Heathcliff as an orphan in Liverpool; Hindley sent away to college; Heathcliff and Cathy after Earnshaw's death; Hareton and Linton at Wuthering Heights, and Cathy Linton at her father's death. The effect of this is that each character, no matter how ruthless and cruel they may be, contains at their core the same wish for love and the same loneliness as their former childlike selves. We are never able to judge any character too harshly because we know this. Linton is a particularly interesting example of this because he is unpleasant, even as a child, yet one can only pity him for being so abruptly introduced to an unloving father and a home where everyone despises him.