Summary: Chapter XV

Four days after visiting Wuthering Heights, Nelly waits for Edgar to leave for church, and then takes the opportunity to give Heathcliff's letter to the ailing Catherine. Catherine has become so weak that she cannot even hold the letter, but nearly as soon as Nelly tells her that it is from Heathcliff, Heathcliff himself enters the room.

Heathcliff and Catherine enter into a dramatic, highly charged conversation during which Catherine claims that both Heathcliff and Edgar have broken her heart. She says that she cannot bear dying while Heathcliff remains alive, and that she never wants to be apart from him. She begs his forgiveness. He says that he can forgive her for the pain she has caused him, but that he can never forgive her for the pain that she has caused herself—he adds that she has killed herself through her behavior, and that he could never forgive her murderer.

The church service over, Edgar reaches the house, but Catherine pleads with Heathcliff not to leave. He promises to stay by her side. As Edgar hurries toward Catherine’s room, Nelly screams, and Catherine collapses. Heathcliff catches her, and forces her into Edgar’s arms as he enters the room, demanding that Edgar see to Catherine’s needs before acting on his anger. Nelly hurries Heathcliff out of the room, promising to send him word about Catherine’s condition in the morning. Heathcliff swears that he will stay in the garden, wanting to be near her.

Summary: Chapter XVI

At midnight, Catherine gives birth to her daughter Cathy two months prematurely. Catherine dies within two hours of giving birth. Nelly solemnly declares that her soul has gone home to God. When Nelly goes to tell Heathcliff what has happened, he seems to know already. He curses Catherine for the pain she has caused him, and pleads with her spirit to haunt him for the rest of his life. She may take any form, he says, and even drive him mad—as long as she stays with him.

Edgar keeps a vigil over Catherine’s body. At night, Heathcliff lurks in the garden outside. At one point, Edgar leaves, and Nelly permits Heathcliff a moment alone with the body. Afterwards, Nelly finds that he has opened the locket around her neck and replaced a lock of Edgar’s hair with a lock of his own. Nelly twines Edgar’s lock around Heathcliff’s, and leaves them both in the locket.

Hindley is invited to Catherine’s funeral but does not come, while Isabella is not invited at all. To the surprise of the villagers, Catherine is not buried in the Linton tomb, nor by the graves of her relatives. Instead, Edgar orders that she be buried in a corner of the churchyard overlooking the moors that she so loved. Nelly tells Lockwood that now, years later, Edgar lies buried beside her.

Summary: Chapter XVII

Not long after the funeral, Isabella arrives at Thrushcross Grange, out of breath and laughing hysterically. She has come at a time when she knows Edgar will be asleep, to ask Nelly for help. Isabella reports that the conflict between Hindley and Heathcliff has become violent. Hindley, she says, tried to stay sober for Catherine’s funeral, but could not bear to go. Instead, he began drinking heavily that morning. While Heathcliff kept a vigil over Catherine’s grave, Hindley locked him out of the house and told Isabella that he planned to shoot him.

Isabella warned Heathcliff about Hindley’s plan, and when Hindley aimed his knife-gun out the window at Heathcliff, the latter grabbed it and fired it back at its owner’s wrist, wounding Hindley. Heathcliff forced his way in the window, then beat Hindley severely. The next morning, Isabella reminded Hindley what Heathcliff had done to him the previous night. Hindley grew enraged, and the men began fighting again. Isabella fled to Thrushcross Grange, seeking a permanent refuge from Wuthering Heights.

Soon after her visit to Nelly, Isabella leaves for London, where she gives birth to Heathcliff’s son, Linton. Isabella corresponds with Nelly throughout the following twelve years. Heathcliff learns of his wife’s whereabouts, and of his son’s existence, but he doesn’t pursue either of them. Isabella dies when Linton is twelve years old.

Six months after Catherine’s death, Hindley dies. Nelly returns to Wuthering Heights to see to the funeral arrangements, and to bring young Hareton back to Thrushcross Grange. She is shocked to learn that Hindley died deeply in debt, and that Heathcliff, who had lent Hindley large amounts of money to supply his gambling addiction, now owns Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff does not allow Hareton to return to Thrushcross Grange with Nelly, saying that he plans to raise him on his own. He also intimates that he plans to recover his son Linton at some point in the future. And so, Nelly tells Lockwood, Hareton, who should have lived as the finest gentleman in the area, is reduced to working for his keep at Wuthering Heights. A common, uneducated servant, he remains friendless and without hope.

Summary: Chapter XVIII

Cathy grows up at Thrushcross Grange, and by the time she is thirteen she is a beautiful, intelligent girl, but often strong-willed and temperamental. Her father, mindful of the tormented history of the neighboring manor, does not allow Cathy off the grounds of Thrushcross Grange, and she grows up without any knowledge of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff, or Hareton. She longs to visit the fairy caves at Penistone Crags, but Edgar refuses her request. He receives word one day, however, that Isabella is dying, and he hurries to London to take charge of young Linton. While he is gone, Cathy is left in Nelly’s care, and she is able to escape the confines of the Grange.

She travels toward Penistone Crags but stops at Wuthering Heights, where she meets Hareton and takes an instant liking to him. She and Hareton spend a delightful day playing near the crags. Nelly arrives in pursuit of her charge, and tries to hurry her back to Thrushcross Grange. But Cathy refuses to go. Nelly tells Cathy that Hareton is not the son of the master of Wuthering Heights—a fact that makes the girl contemptuous of him—but she also reveals that he is Cathy's cousin. Cathy tries to deny this possibility, saying that her cousin is in London, that her father has gone to retrieve him there. Nelly, however, explains that a person can have more than one cousin. At last, Nelly prevails upon her to leave, and Cathy agrees not to mention the incident to her father, who might well terminate Nelly’s employment in rage if he knew she had let Cathy learn of Wuthering Heights.

Summary: Chapter XIX

Edgar brings young Linton to the Grange, and Cathy is disappointed to find her cousin a pale, weak, whiny young man. Not long after he arrives, Joseph appears, saying that Heathcliff is determined to take possession of his son. Edgar promises that he will bring Linton to Wuthering Heights the following day.

Summary: Chapter XX

Nelly receives orders to escort the boy to the Heights in the morning. On the way, she tries to comfort Linton by telling him reassuring lies about his father. When they arrive, however, Heathcliff does not even pretend to love his son—he calls Linton’s mother a slut, and he says that Linton is his property. Linton pleads with Nelly not to leave him with such a monster, but Nelly mounts her horse and rides away hurriedly.

Analysis: Chapters XV–XX

Wuthering Heights is, in many ways, a novel of juxtaposed pairs: Catherine’s two great loves for Heathcliff and Edgar; the two ancient manors of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange; the two families, the Earnshaws and the Lintons; Heathcliff’s conflicting passions of love and hate. Additionally, the structure of the novel divides the story into two contrasting halves.

The first deals with the generation of characters represented by Catherine, Heathcliff, Hindley, Isabella, and Edgar, and the second deals with their children—Cathy, Linton, and Hareton. Many of the same themes and ideas occur in the second half of the novel as in the first half, but they develop quite differently. While the first half ends on a note of doom and despair with Catherine’s death and Heathcliff’s gradual descent into evil, the novel as a whole ends on a note of hope, peace, and joy, with Cathy's proposed marriage to Hareton Earnshaw.

Read more about foreshadowing in the multi-generational storylines.

In the first of the chapters in this section, we witness the event that marks the dividing line between the two halves of the novel: Catherine’s death. The episodes surrounding her passing—her dramatic illness, her confrontation with Heathcliff, Heathcliff’s conflict with Edgar, and Heathcliff’s curse upon her soul to walk the earth after her death (contrasting immediately with Nelly’s gentle claim that she at last rests in heaven) rank among the most intense scenes in the book. In fact, many readers view the second half of the novel, in which Catherine figures only as a memory, as a sort of anticlimax. While the latter chapters may never reach the emotional heights of the earlier ones, however, they remain crucial to the thematic development of the novel, as well as to its structural symmetry.

Read more about the structural symmetry of the novel.

Cathy grows up sheltered at Thrushcross Grange, learning only in piecemeal fashion about the existence of Heathcliff and his reign at Wuthering Heights. Unbeknownst to her, Heathcliff’s legal claim on the Grange (through his marriage to Isabella) may jeopardize her own eventual claim on it. Edgar Linton, however, painfully aware of this threat, searches for a way to prevent Heathcliff from taking the property. These events underscore the symbolic importance of the two houses. Wuthering Heights represents wildness, ungoverned passion, extremity, and doom. The fiery behavior of the characters associated with this house—Hindley, Catherine, and Heathcliff—underscores such connotations.

By contrast, Thrushcross Grange represents restraint, social grace, civility, gentility, and aristocracy—qualities emphasized by the more mannered behavior of the Lintons who live there. The names of the two houses also bear out the contrast. While the adjective “wuthering” refers to violent storms, the thrush is a bird known for its melodious song, as well as being a symbol of Christian piety. In addition, whereas “Heights” evoke raw and imposing cliffs, “Grange” refers to a domestic site, a farm—especially that of a gentleman farmer. The concepts juxtaposed in the contrast of the two estates come into further conflict in Catherine’s inability to choose between Edgar and Heathcliff. While she is attracted to Edgar’s social grace, her feelings for Heathcliff reach heights of wild passion.

Read more about the setting.

As the second generation of main characters matures, its members emerge as combinations of their parents’ characteristics, blending together qualities that had been opposed in the older generation. Thus Cathy is impetuous and headstrong like her mother, but tempered by the gentling influence of her father. Linton, on the other hand, represents the worst of both of his parents, behaving in an imperious and demanding manner like Heathcliff, but also remaining fragile and simpering like Isabella. Hareton appears as a second Heathcliff, rough and unpolished, but possessed of a strength of character that refuses to be suppressed, despite Heathcliff’s attempts to stunt his development.

Read more about Hareton.