As Edgar Linton grows weak and dies, Heathcliff’s cruelty rages unchecked. Without fear of repercussion, he abuses the other characters mercilessly, kidnapping Nelly and young Catherine. With no one left who is strong enough to counter Heathcliff, the course of events in these chapters seems inevitable. Heathcliff easily succeeds in marrying his son to young Catherine, and in inheriting Thrushcross Grange. However, a new force begins to rise up against the tyrant. Catherine shows a defiant spirit, and she triumphantly declares that the love between her and Linton will save them from misery and make them superior to Heathcliff. This foreshadows her eventual strong-willed rebellion against Heathcliff—and her redemption of her oppressed predecessors through her love for her other cousin, Hareton Earnshaw.
The young Catherine’s manifestation of her mother’s boldness, as well as Heathcliff’s progressing revenge, bring to mind the older Catherine and the defiant marriage to Edgar with which she first sparked Heathcliff’s wrath. Indeed, perhaps because of young Catherine’s behavior, Heathcliff himself seems to become increasingly preoccupied with thoughts of the late Catherine. The horrifying spectacle of Heathcliff uncovering her grave and gazing upon her corpse’s face, as well as his intense concern about the fate of Catherine’s body, testifies to the extreme depth of his obsession. In a sense, Heathcliff’s interest in the decomposition of his beloved is quite in keeping with the nature of their relationship. The text consistently describes their love not only in spiritual terms, but in material ones. Thus Catherine declares in Chapter IX, “Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Moreover, the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine has come to be associated with the soil where it has been conducted; its fate becomes intertwined with that of the earth, as the narrative repeatedly links both Heathcliff and Catherine to the severe and wild moors, which frequently symbolize the unruly nature of their love.
These chapters give us insight not only into the story’s main characters and their relationships, but also into the story’s narrator, Nelly Dean. First, Nelly chooses to lie to Edgar about his daughter’s condition as Edgar lingers near death, a well-meaning untruth that resembles her earlier lie to Linton, which she told en route to deliver him to Heathcliff. Just as she declared to Linton that his father was kind and generous, she now tells Edgar that his daughter is happily married. Nelly thus shows herself willing to lie and distort the truth in order to spare feelings and ease social situations. Nelly again displays a certain manipulative quality in a statement she makes outside the story, to Lockwood. She tells him that the young Catherine’s last hope for salvation would be a second marriage, but that she, Nelly, is powerless to bring about such a union. This remark seems intended to express more than idle wishfulness. As the reader may recall, Nelly insinuates in Chapter XXV that Lockwood might fall in love with Catherine himself. At the time, the comment seemed nothing more than speculation. Yet now the reader can see that Nelly may be pursuing a plot to rescue her former mistress.
Indeed, Nelly’s willingness to narrate the story to Lockwood in the first place may stem from this notion of saving Catherine. Nelly paints a far more flattering picture of young Catherine than she does of the girl’s mother, even when they exhibit similar traits. Nelly frequently emphasizes young Catherine’s beauty, and she may subtly frame her story in a certain way so as to pique Lockwood’s interest in the girl. Of course, this is merely one possible interpretation of the text, but again, it is extremely important to consider the motivations and biases of the character who narrates the story. One of the most impressive aspects of Emily Brontë’s achievement in Wuthering Heights is her ability to include such finely drawn, subtle psychological portraits as that of Nelly Dean—many of whose most fascinating human qualities emerge only when one reads between the lines of her narration.