Hindley and his new wife, a simpering, silly woman named Frances, return to Wuthering Heights in time for Mr. Earnshaw’s funeral. Hindley immediately begins to take his revenge on Heathcliff, declaring that Heathcliff no longer will be allowed an education and instead will spend his days working in the fields like a common laborer. But, for the most part, Catherine and Heathcliff are able to escape Hindley’s notice, and when Heathcliff is free from his responsibilities they go off onto the moors together to play.
One evening, when Heathcliff and Catherine disappear, Hindley orders that the doors be bolted and that the children not be allowed into the house. Despite his charge, Nelly waits for them, and receives a shock when Heathcliff returns alone. He tells her that he and Catherine made the trip to Thrushcross Grange to spy on and tease Edgar and Isabella Linton, Mr. Linton’s children. Before they could succeed in their mission, Skulker, the Lintons’ guard dog, took them by surprise and chased them, biting Catherine’s ankle.
Unable to return home, Catherine was taken inside Thrushcross Grange by a servant. However, the Lintons, repelled by Heathcliff’s rough appearance, forbade her playmate to stay with her. The following day, Mr. Linton pays a visit to Wuthering Heights to explain matters to Hindley and upbraids the young man for his mismanagement of Catherine. After Mr. Linton leaves, the humiliated Hindley furiously tells Heathcliff that he may have no further contact with Catherine.
Catherine spends five weeks recuperating at the Grange. Mrs. Linton determines to transform the girl into a young lady and spends her time educating Catherine in manners and social graces. Catherine returns to Wuthering Heights at Christmastime, wearing a lovely dress. Hindley says that Heathcliff may greet Catherine “like the other servants,” and, when he does so, she says he is dirty in comparison with the Linton children, to whom she has grown accustomed. Heathcliff’s feelings are wounded, and he storms out of the room, declaring that he will be as dirty as he likes. The Linton children come for dinner at Wuthering Heights the next day. Nelly helps Heathcliff to wash himself and put on suitable clothes after the boy declares his intention to be “good,” but Mrs. Linton has allowed Edgar and Isabella to attend under the condition that Heathcliff be kept away from them.
Accordingly, Hindley orders that Heathcliff be locked in the attic until the end of dinner. Before the boy can be locked away, however, Edgar makes a comment about Heathcliff’s hair, and Heathcliff angrily flings hot applesauce in his face. Catherine clearly appears unhappy with Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff, and after dinner she goes up to see him. Nelly frees the boy and gives him some supper in the kitchen. Heathcliff confides to Nelly that he intends to seek revenge on Hindley.
At this point, Nelly interrupts her narrative and rises to go, remarking that the night is growing late. Lockwood says that he intends to sleep late the next day and wishes to hear the rest of her story now. He urges her to continue in minute detail.
Nelly skips ahead a bit in her story, to the summer of
One afternoon, when Hindley is out of the house, Heathcliff declares that he will stay home from the fields and spend the day with Catherine. She tells him ruefully that Edgar and Isabella are planning to visit. When Heathcliff confronts her about the amount of time she spends with Edgar, she retorts that Heathcliff is ignorant and dull. At that moment, Edgar enters—without Isabella—and Heathcliff storms away.
Catherine asks Nelly to leave the room, but Nelly refuses, having been instructed by Hindley to act as Catherine’s chaperone in Edgar’s presence. Catherine pinches her and then slaps her, and when Hareton begins to cry, she shakes him. Edgar, appalled at Catherine’s behavior, attempts to restore order, and Catherine boxes his ears. Edgar is unable to cope with Catherine’s unladylike temper and hurries out of the house. On his way out, however, he catches a last glimpse of Catherine through the window; lured by her beauty, he comes back inside.
Nelly now leaves them alone and interrupts them only to tell them that Hindley has arrived home, drunk and in a foul temper. When she next enters the room, she can tell that Catherine and Edgar have confessed their love for one another. Edgar hurries home to avoid Hindley, and Catherine goes to her chamber. Nelly goes to hide little Hareton and takes the shot out of Hindley’s gun, which he is fond of playing with in his drunken rages.
Heathcliff . . . shall never know how I love him . . . he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same. . . .
Nelly is in the midst of hiding Hareton from Hindley when Hindley bolts in and seizes the boy. Stumbling drunkenly, he accidentally drops Hareton over the banister. Heathcliff is there to catch him at the bottom of the stairs.
Later that evening, Catherine seeks out Nelly in the kitchen and confides to her that Edgar has asked her to marry him, and that she has accepted. Unnoticed by the two women, Heathcliff listens to their conversation. Heathcliff hears Catherine tell Nelly that she cannot marry him because Hindley has cast him down so low; to marry him now would be to degrade herself. Heathcliff withdraws in a rage of shame, humiliation, and despair, and thus is not present to hear Catherine say that she loves him more deeply than anything else in the world. She says that she and Heathcliff are such kindred spirits that they are essentially the same person. Nonetheless, she insists, she must marry Edgar Linton instead.
That night, Heathcliff runs away from Wuthering Heights. Catherine spends the night outdoors in the rain, sobbing and searching for Heathcliff. She catches a fever, and soon she nears death. The Lintons take her to Thrushcross Grange to recuperate, and Catherine recovers. However, both Mr. and Mrs. Linton become infected and soon die. Three years later, Catherine and Edgar marry. Nelly transfers to Thrushcross Grange to serve Catherine, leaving Hareton in the care of his drunken father and Joseph, the only servant now remaining at Wuthering Heights.
Noticing the clock, Nelly again interrupts her narrative, saying that it is half past one, and that she must get some sleep. Lockwood notes in his diary—the same book in which he has set down Nelly’s story—that he, too, will go to bed now.
In this section, Nelly brings to conclusion the story of Heathcliff and Catherine’s childhood, with Heathcliff leaving Wuthering Heights the night Catherine decides to marry Edgar Linton. In the climactic scene in which Catherine discusses with Nelly her decision to marry Edgar, Catherine describes the conflict between her love for Heathcliff and her love for Edgar. She says that she loves Edgar because he is handsome, rich, and graceful, and because he would make her the greatest lady in the region. However, she also states that she loves Heathcliff as though they shared the same soul, and that she knows in her heart that she has no business marrying Edgar. Nevertheless, her desire for a genteel and socially prominent lifestyle guides her decision-making: she would marry Heathcliff, if Hindley had not cast him down so low.
Heathcliff’s emotional turmoil is due in part to his ambiguous class status. He begins life as a lower-class orphan, but is raised to the status of a gentleman’s son when Mr. Earnshaw adopts him. He suffers another reversal in status when Hindley forces him to work as a servant in the very same household where he once enjoyed a life of luxury. The other characters, including the Lintons and, to an extent, Catherine—all upper-class themselves—prove complicit in this obliteration of Heathcliff’s hopes. Inevitably, the unbridgeable gap in Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s social positions renders their fervent romance unrealizable on any practical level.
Nevertheless, the passion between the two lovers remains rooted in their hearts, impervious to external contingencies. The text consistently treats the love between Catherine and Heathcliff as an incontestable fact of nature. Nothing can alter or lessen it, and the lovers know this. Heathcliff and Catherine know that no matter how they hurt each other, they can be sure of never losing their shared passion and ultimate mutual loyalty. Catherine can decide to marry Edgar, certain that this outward act will have no effect on her and Heathcliff’s inner feelings for one another. Similarly, it is in the knowledge of their passion’s durability that Heathcliff later undertakes his cruel revenge.