All families in Wuthering Heights, with exception of Hareton and Cathy II, are characterised by their utter dysfunction. Time after time we see children become victims of physical abuse. The relationship between brother and sister is often dependent on the effectiveness of their parent's care. .
The dysfunction that we are so regularly faced with as readers is not representative of the times in which the Earnshaw's and the Linton's lived. Victorian readers would not be accustomed to the defect and brokenness that is so prominent in these families. The example set by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was one of great moral standing which families living at this time tried to emulate. One family who did not fit the criteria for a perfect family life was, in fact, the Bronte's themselves. Emily's mother, Maria, died at a young age just 9 months after giving birth to Emily's sister, Anne. This means that for the most of Emily's life she lived without the influence of her biological mother. We see this reflected in Wuthering Heights as it is Nelly Dean who raises Catherine and Hareton, due to both their mothers dying at childbirth. .
The relationship between Cathy and Mr Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights is presented as somewhat turbulent and ultimately rather dysfunctional. We are told by Nelly Dean, the narrator in chapter 5, that Cathy is "a wild, wick slip" this mono-syllabic alliterative noun phrase describes Cathy as spontaneous, impulsive and full of life! It is fair to say that Cathy Earnshaw really was a handful as a young child. To keep a child of this vitality in order is a challenge in itself, however Mr Earnshaw's case he has to raise young Cathy as a single parent. It didn't help, either, when Cathy herself was voluntarily naughty. It wasn't only her nature that made her so headstrong and boisterous, but mischief was also the fruit of her efforts. "After behaving as badly as possible all day, she sometimes came fondling to make it up at night" .