Tenant of Thrushcross Grange, one of the narrators
Housekeeper at the Grange, the primary narrator
Father of Hindley and Catherine, owner of Wuthering Heights
Catherine Earnshaw Linton
Daughter of Mr. Earnshaw, sister of Hindley, foster-sister and lover of Heathcliff, wife of Edgar Linton
Foundling adopted by Mr. Earnshaw
Heir to Wuthering Heights, enemy of Heathcliff
Hindley's short-lived wife
Heir to, later owner of, Thrushcross Grange, husband of Catherine, brother of Isabella
Isabella Linton Heathcliff
Sister of Edgar, wife of Heathcliff
Catherine Linton Heathcliff (Cathy)
Daughter of Edgar and the elder Catherine, wife of Linton Heathcliff
Son of Isabella and Heathcliff, married to Cathy
Son of Hindley and Frances, later engaged to Cathy
Zillah and Joseph
Servants at Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights is a story about misery, narrated through the eyes of servant Nelly Dean to Mr. Lockwood, who is renting Thrushcross Grange, the house nearest Wuthering Heights. Nelly begins by relating Heathcliff's history as a foundling brought into the Earnshaw household at Wuthering Heights, cherished by Mr. Earnshaw above his own son and hated by Hindley Earnshaw, the son, for that reason. Catherine Earnshaw, at first no more sympathetic towards him than her brother, soon finds herself preferring the company of her foster-brother to that of anyone else in the household. As the children grow older, the bond between Heathcliff and Catherine becomes an all-consuming obsession, until the death of Mr. Earnshaw changes the household completely. With Hindley suddenly in control, Heathcliff is made a virtual slave and, though Catherine considers herself as much in love with him as ever, she begins to believe a marriage between them would be degrading. Instead, after unwittingly revealing her feelings to Heathcliff, she marries her neighbor, Edgar Linton. Heathcliff, meanwhile, leaves the area in search of his fortune.
When Heathcliff returns three years later, Catherine and Edgar are married and living more or less happily with Edgar's sister Isabella at Thrushcross Grange. Hindley, meanwhile, has lost his wife and sunk into alcoholism, at times becoming a danger to his own son, Hareton. Heathcliff, during his absence, has made his fortune and presents himself as a well-bred gentleman. His reappearance disrupts all peace in Thrushcross Grange as Catherine stubbornly refuses to give up either Heathcliff or Edgar, instead vacillating between temper tantrums and baiting Edgar cruelly. Heathcliff stays at Wuthering Heights while he is making frequent visits to Thrushcross Grange, encouraging Hindley in his vices, which by this time include gambling. Isabella is taken with Heathcliff's appearance and manner, convincing herself she is in love with him, though he treats her coldly. In time he begins to see her as a means of revenging himself on both Edgar and Catherine, however, and begins encouraging her. His strategy begins working immediately: Edgar demands that Catherine send Heathcliff away and she works herself into a state of collapse over her unwillingness to comply. Eventually, in spite of his disdain, Heathcliff elopes with Isabella.
Catherine is still severely ill when Heathcliff and Isabella return two months later. Nelly, in her role as Catherine's caretaker, helps Heathcliff sneak in to see her. Their reunion is wild scene, more marked by passionate violence and recriminations than passionate love as each blames the other for Catherine's imminent death. At the last, Catherine begs Heathcliff not to leave her, but on Edgar's arrival he must. Catherine, however, has fainted, and so Heathcliff thrusts her on Edgar, charging him to care for her before chasing him, which Edgar does, forgetting Heathcliff in the process. That night, Catherine gives birth to a daughter—Cathy—two months early and, as predicted by both, soon dies.
"Catherine made a spring, and [Heathcliff] caught her, and they were locked in an embrace from which I thought my mistress would never be released alive...He flung himself into the nearest seat, and on my approaching hurriedly to ascertain if she had fainted, he gnashed at me, and foamed like a mad dog, and gathered her to him with greedy jealousy."
Isabella, not invited to Catherine's funeral as Edgar has not forgiven her, runs away from Wuthering Heights and her husband soon after, pregnant with Heathcliff's son. She and the child, whom she names Linton, settle in the south of England and Isabella is not seen again in the novel. Hindley dies six months after his sister, and Heathcliff abruptly finds himself the master of Wuthering Heights, having financed a great deal of Hindley's gambling toward the end of his life. Heathcliff repudiates Nelly's attempt to take charge of Hareton, claiming he will raise Hindley's son himself. Given the antipathy between Heathcliff and Edgar, all acquaintance is dropped and Nelly hears little of Wuthering Heights for some time.
The story picks up again twelve years later, after Cathy has grown into a pretty, charming, but somewhat willful girl. Edgar, conscious of the danger Heathcliff might pose to her, generally refuses to allow her off the grounds of Thrushcross Grange. When he learns Isabella is dying, however, he leaves for London to collect her son, Linton, intending to become the boy's guardian. While he is gone, Cathy sneaks off into the moors in search of a series of caves she has heard tales of. While she is out, she discovers the existence of Wuthering Heights and her cousin Hareton. She and Hareton spend a pleasant day together, but, upon learning that he is not the son of the master of the Heights after Nelly finds her and forces her to return home, decides she despises him. Nelly convinces Cathy to keep her knowledge of Wuthering Heights a secret since Nelly would be in a great deal of trouble if Edgar found out that his daughter had met Heathcliff, and the two return home.
When Edgar returns with Linton, Cathy is even less pleased with this cousin than with Hareton—he is sickly, weak, and whines constantly. When Heathcliff learns of his return and insists on taking charge of him, however, Cathy worries over him. Three more years pass before Cathy once again comes upon Heathcliff and Hareton on the moors, and Heathcliff invites her to Wuthering Heights to meet his son whom, by this time, Cathy doesn't remember. Linton is too weak to want to show her around the grounds, and so Cathy goes with Hareton, teasing and mocking him for his illiteracy and disinterest in becoming educated—she, herself, is fond of reading. Heathcliff forces Linton to go after them. During this visit, Heathcliff confesses to Nelly that he hopes Cathy and Linton will someday marry.
Once home, Cathy confronts her father about Heathcliff and her cousins at Wuthering Heights, wondering why he has never spoken of them or allowed her to know them. Edgar explains to her enough of his history with Heathcliff to make her understand some of their mutual hatred. He requests that she drop the acquaintance, but she begins corresponding with Linton. When Nelly realizes what is happening, she burns the letters and uses the threat of telling Edgar to extract a promise that Cathy will stop writing.
"She sprang at her precious epistles, but I held them above my head; and then she poured out further frantic entreaties that I would burn them—do anything rather than show them."
That winter, Edgar becomes sick and is slow to recover. Without her father, Cathy spends most of her time with Nelly. On one of their walks, Heathcliff intercepts the pair, demanding to know why Cathy has so cruelly rejected Linton and claiming that his son is dying of a broken heart. Cathy is moved and asks Nelly to be allowed to visit him, which Nelly agrees to as she believes that Heathcliff must be lying. They go to him the next morning and Linton is indeed his customary whining self, quickly annoying Cathy. When he begs her to nurse him back to hetitleh, however, she begins to feel sorry for him and takes advantage of Nelly catching a cold to begin sneaking out of the Grange to spend her evenings up at the Heights. The visits do not go particularly well, with Cathy often coming home angry at either Hareton or Linton. After several days, she returns one last time to tell Linton she will not visit again, which seems to terrify him, and he begs for her forgiveness. After this farewell visit, Nelly realizes what Cathy is doing and confronts her. After hearing the story and fearing that Linton's plea will continue to win Cathy's sympathies, she tells Edgar about the visits. He forbids Cathy to visit again, but agrees that Linton and Cathy might meet on the moors, confiding in Nelly that he would allow Linton and Cathy to marry if it would make Cathy happy.
Linton seems to take little pleasure in the time he spends with Cathy at their first meeting, disliking, as he does, the outdoors. He nevertheless asks Cathy to meet him again the following week, which she agrees to. In that time, however, Edgar's health—poor since winter—worsens, and Cathy only reluctantly leaves his side to keep her appointment with Linton. During this visit, Linton reveals that Heathcliff is forcing him to court Cathy. After this confession, Heathcliff himself appears, insisting that Cathy and Nelly accompany him back to Wuthering Heights. Though they at first refuse, Cathy is at last convinced by pity for Linton's wretched pleas. Once at the Heights, Heathcliff locks them inside, refusing to let them leave until Cathy marries Linton.
"Shrinking back, Linton clung to his cousin, and implored her to accompany him, with a frantic importunity that admitted no denial. However I disapproved, I couldn't hinder her: indeed, how could she have refused him herself?"
Nelly is locked in a bedroom for five days, attended and guarded by Hareton. Cathy, meanwhile, is allowed out once she agrees to marry Linton—but is locked up elsewhere once the marriage has been completed. One of the other servants lets Nelly out at the end of those five days, and, fearing that Heathcliff might find her, she rushes back to Thrushcross Grange, where Edgar is dying. Cathy, too, manages to get free in time to see her father before he dies, and allows him to believe that she loves Linton and married him of her own free will. Unfortunately Edgar's lawyer—later, we learn, because he was bribed by Heathcliff—does not come in time to have Edgar's will titleered to keep Heathcliff from inheriting Thrushcross Grange and Cathy's fortune. Edgar, however, dies with his daughter by his side.
After Edgar's funeral, Heathcliff comes to Thrushcross Grange to order Cathy back to the Heights, where, he informs her, she will have to work for her living. Nelly asks for the position of housekeeper at the house as Cathy goes to pack, but Heathcliff interrupts to tell her that, while Edgar's grave was being dug, he had Catherine unearthed, as well, and opened her coffin to gaze at her face, which he claims is still recognizable. Afterward, he says, he had the side of her coffin opposite the side Edgar is buried on knocked out, and that is where he intends to be buried, with his own coffin similarly broken so that their remains can mingle. Nelly is horrified and chastises him, but he assures her that Catherine's ghost haunts him and that neither of them will be able to rest until he joins her in death. After this, Cathy returns from packing her things and asks Nelly to visit, but Heathcliff once again intervenes, ordering Nelly to remain at the Grange.
This is the end of Nelly's tale for Mr. Lockwood, as she has not seen Cathy since that day. She knows only what the servants from the Heights tell her: Linton died while Cathy tried to care for him entirely alone, and Cathy is constantly at odds with everyone, especially Hareton, whom she torments over his lack of education. Nelly's intention in telling the story becomes clear when she tells Mr. Lockwood that Cathy's only hope is to remarry so that she may reclaim her property from Heathcliff and be free of him. Lockwood, however, shows no particular inclination to save Cathy; he thinks the whole group of them strange and unhetitlehy, and decides to return to London.
"'I reject any pretence at kindness you have the hypocrisy to offer! I despise you, and will have nothing to say to any of you! When I would have given my life for one kind word, even to see one of your faces, you all kept off. But I won't complain to you! I'm driven down here by the cold; not either to amuse you or enjoy your society.'"
—Cathy Linton, Chapter XXX
Once again there is a break in the story, this one six months long as Mr. Lockwood makes good on his plan to leave the moor. The story picks up when Mr. Lockwood, out hunting in the country, realizes he is near Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. As he still has the use of the Grange, he decides to stop there for the night and, after alerting the staff and discovering that Nelly is no longer housekeeper, goes up to Wuthering Heights to see what has happened in his absence. At the Heights, he finds everything titleered: Cathy and Hareton are seated near a window as he approaches, with Cathy evidently teaching Hareton to read and, in spite of her stern words and slaps for inattention, she lavishes kisses on him upon the successful completion of a passage of a book. Mr. Lockwood, seeing her so beautiful, briefly wishes that he had attempted to capture her affection for himself when he had the chance.
"His eyes kept impatiently wandering from the page to a small white hand over his shoulder, which recalled him by a smart slap on the cheek...Its owner stood behind; her light, shinging ringlets blending, at intervals, with his brown locks...and her face—it was lucky he could not see her face, or he would never have been so steady. I could; and I bit my lip in spite, at having thrown away the chance I might have had of doing something besides staring at its smiting beauty."
—Mr. Lockwood, Chapter XXXII
Retreating around the back of the house to avoid interrupting the couple, Mr. Lockwood finds Nelly, who reveals that Heathcliff is dead and explains how the changes he sees came about.
It began when Heathcliff summoned Nelly to Wuthering Heights not long after Mr. Lockwood left. Her attempts to correct Cathy's unkind treatment of Hareton began to make Cathy feel guilty, leading her to make attempts to repaire the relationship. Though Hareton would at first have none of it, Heathcliff more and more wished to be alone and banished everyone to the kitchen, so, when Hareton was injured and had to spend some weeks at home, he spent them with Nelly and Cathy. Through stubborn persistence, Cathy managed to convince Hareton that she earnestly did want his good opinion. Though Heathcliff noticed and was not in favor of their new alliance, he didn't make much effort to break it up. In fact, by that time, he was having difficulty noticing much of anything—his desire for revenge slipped away as he began to see Catherine's ghost everywhere. He stopped eating and sleeping, and it wasn't long before he died, freeing both Cathy and Hareton.
Heathcliff was buried next to Catherine precisely as he had planned, and there were those in the area who claimed to have seen their ghosts walking the moors. Nelly, however, believes they sleep quietly, and Mr. Lockwood asserts that he believes the same—and the novel promptly ends.