The death of Catherine Earnshaw occurs in Chapter 16 of Wuthering Heights. Sometime before she dies, Catherine experiences an intense fever that leaves her weakened. She suffers from emotional distress caused by her separation from Heathcliff. Two hours before her death, she gives premature birth to Edgar’s daughter. Those circumstances cause her death. Catherine dies during childbirth.
plays a significant role in the narrative of Wuthering Heights
. Out of thirteen central characters introduced in the novel, eleven are dead by the end. This tendency reinforces the work’s Gothic tone and drives its dramatic events. Catherine’s death is the most significant one, as it contributes to the demise of Heathcliff – the protagonist. Without his beloved, his existence becomes miserable. Heathcliff keeps causing conflicts before starving himself to death. The death of Catherine is the beginning of the end of Wuthering Heights.
Catherine’s death comes as the culmination of a series of events. These events undermine her health and presage her doom. Throughout the novel, she suffers several shocks. The first one happens when her true love
– Heathcliff, leaves Wuthering Heights. He does so after finding out that Catherine will not marry him. The second one occurs when the man returns after three years of absence. Edgar Linton, Catherine’s husband, forbids her to see Heathcliff, and she falls ill.
The reader is not explicitly told what illness Catherine has. It is told that she becomes delirious and feverish. Although some of her irrational conduct is feigned to hurt her husband, the woman genuinely suffers. Catherine’s illness matches the Victorian concept of “brain fever” caused by psychological distress. After learning about Catherine’s illness, Heathcliff takes advantage of Linton’s absence to visit her at Thrushcross Grange.
Catherine and Heathcliff have an intense conversation. They confront each other and exchange accusations. In the end, Catherine appears to accept death. She expresses eager anticipation of the afterlife. At one point, Catherine and Heathcliff reconcile and share a moment of intimacy. However, Edgar’s unexpected return causes Catherine to return to reality even when Heathcliff refuses to leave her side. Though Edgar and Heathcliff are rivals, both are more concerned with Catherine’s wellbeing.
Catherine dies on the same night she gives birth. These events are mentioned at the beginning of chapter 16. There is no direct description of Catherine’s death. However, the reader can assume that the events of the previous chapter contributed to her illness.
It is mentioned that Catherine was buried in the corner of the churchyard, apart from her family and Linton. Her grave is close to the moors where she used to play with Heathcliff as a girl. It might serve as a reason her ghost haunts Heathcliff later on in the novel.
After Catherine dies, Heathcliff’s life becomes miserable. Her ghost haunts his dreams, and it drives the man crazy. He eventually dies, too. The supernatural elements of the story excite the narrator’s curiosity. All the events connected to Catherine’s death are central to the novel’s narrative structure. They shape the story. They help the reader understand the feelings of the characters better.