We cannot escape the figure of Catherine; it is carved into the very text; she is as elusive and forbidden to Heathcliff at the end of the novel as she is incomprehensible to Lockwood and thereby the reader. The characterisation of Catherine starts and ends an enigma; the novel is testament to a character that can only leave ghostly signs of itself behind.
Her various names can be read as symbolic of her fractured identity; who she is, who she wants to be and who she has to be. Catherine is the epitimisation of the nature vs. culture argument throughout the novel, as she tries to combine two irreconcilable lives; the live of passion fully lived and that of social convention. Critics have read her as a symbol of nature within the novel, suggesting that her relationship with Edgar can never be successful.
We do expect her to make surprising and unpredicatable choices, because of Nelly's various character references. She is capable of great love and loyalty, but is also capable of ruthless destruction, both to herself and to those whom she loves and cares about.
Edgar represents the world of conventional morality to which Heathcliff is the antithesis. Despite the fact that he can never truly have a successful, loving relationship with Catherine, he loves her and tends her devotedly with the attitude of conventional domesticity which the Victorians saw as the ideal.
Most critics read Edgar as effeminate because of his lack of physical strength, however, some feminist critics have compared him to Heathcliff, stating that he is the male comparison to Heathcliff's female side because of his ownership of property and his power within the region.
Edgar is one of the only characters who is not struggling with constant internal contradiction, and is described as lacking spirit, perhaps because of this; because he remains in one physical and social place throughout his life.
Isabella is only ever seen in relation to other characters.
Her infatuation for Heathcliff is as a direct result of her cultural upbringing; she fails to see the more natural brutal side to him and can never truly grasp that he is not the byronic lover she has imagined him to be.
Feminist critics, looking at her from the perspective of gynocriticsm, have studied her in her position as a battered wife and have theorised that power relations make her complicit in her oppression.
She is attracted to violence, and this represents the internal struggle of culture vs. nature in her as a character.
Linton's name is a contradiction in terms. He signifies the unnatural union between Heathcliff and Isabella; his sickly nature illustrates the fact that this union is unable to grow and survive because of how different the two characters are.
Both love and convention emerge as corrupted by each other in the character of Linton, and he is unable to see the world in any terms but his own, which is what enables Heathcliff to manipulate him as he does.
Hareton is brutalised by Heathcliff, structurally repeating Heathcliff's own suffering at the hands of Hindley.
His love of Catherine can be read in two ways; similar to Heathcliff's for Catherine 1 in that he is eager to please her, or similar to Egar's in that is is moderate yet tender, devoted yet restrained. Either way, it lacks in the fire which Heathcliff's relationship has with Catherine 1. Hareton is constant in his initial affections, meaning that despite his ill treatment, Hareton remains loyal to Heathcliff.
The structural doubling of names in the novel, and his lack of ability to read, means that Hareton does not inherit the Heights when he should, suggesting that he is a structural rewrite of Heathcliff, because he doesn't know his true place in society due to situation also.
His education from Catherine is the making of him, but is not achieved by some diminuation of his sexual potency, as he sits meekly to be alternately kissed and chastised as he learns.
Cathy can be seen as a rewritten version of her mother, since her story very much replicates that of Catherine 1, seen in the use of the same names in a different order for both of them.
Nelly sees Lockwood as a potential escape route for Cathy, if the two of them can be encouraged to fall in love, and therfore our view of her is usuall quite warped.
She is associated with sunshine and moderation.
The resolution of the novel; her marriage to Hareton, is something of a mythical one, and this contributes to some critics' reading the novel as a fairytale. Their relationship can be seen as the domestic bliss that was the Victorian ideal, but can also be seen as an attack on the Victorian ideal, because Cathy clearly has the upper hand.
Nelly Dean is the second and dominant narrator of the novel. This has been read by some critics as an attack on Victorian social convention, because of both her gender and her class. She reveals herself as educated, which is again unconventional for her placing in society, and moves effortlessly between the two houses, which suggests that she is removed from the other servants in the story again.
Some critics, when studying the novel in terms of a fairy tale, have seen her as a mother Goose, since she is an intrusive narrator who is not omniscient, and is therefore basically a gossip.
She is the surrogate mother of the novel; she mothers all the children in the story at some point, as well as seeing Lockwood, Heathcliff and Catherine 1 through illness.
She has two names; Ellen and Nelly, which represent her dual personalities within both of the different houses.
Lockwood is the first narrator in the novel; he proves himself to be unreliable and is therefore not the dominant narrator as he cannot sustain the narrative throughout the novel. The fact that Nelly's narrative has to come from him is potentially of Bronte's own situation (having to write under a psyeudonymn) and an attack on the conventions of Victorian society. The fact that Lockwood is unreliable lends itself to the traditional gothic feature of multiple narration and educates the reader that they must read between the lines throughout the text in order to uncover the truth about each of her characters and the situations she puts them into.
Joseph speaks in a comical accent throughout the novel and is potentially reflective of Bronte's own view of religion; a hypocritical and repressive institution, therefore she makes Joseph a comical and ridiculous character.