Lockwood arrives at Wuthering Heights to become a tenant at Thrushcross Grange, owned by the surly but provocative Heathcliff. He is recording all of these events in his diary so, in a sense, we are reading his private notes. Lockwood reveals that he had a failed romance at the seaside. That's pretty much all we ever find out about him, because he is way more interested in the goings on in the two houses. He sleeps one night at the Heights, where a ghost named Catherine Linton haunts him. Then he establishes himself at Thrushcross Grange, where he eagerly listens to the story of the Lintons and the Earnshaws, as told by his housekeeper, Nelly Dean.
Mr. Earnshaw brings home a little child whom he claims to have found in the streets of Liverpool – though it's possible that the boy, Heathcliff, is his own illegitimate son. His own children, Cathy and Hindley, do not like the boy. In fact, no one likes him. He is labeled a "gipsy," an "imp of Satan," and all sorts of other cruel names. Finally, Cathy warms up to him, and they console each other after Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley becomes a raging jerk.
While Heathcliff has always been treated like an outsider, at least he had Catherine. But when she meets the Lintons, she becomes socially ambitious. She wants to be a lady of the house – something that would never happen if she married Heathcliff. So even though she really loves Heathcliff, Catherine decides to marry Edgar. Heathcliff disappears for three years, and it's never entirely clear where he goes.
The climax lasts a long time, because Catherine gets a "brain fever" from all of the stress of Heathcliff and Edgar arguing, and the fact that she is not with the man she really loves. After a wrenching reunion with Heathcliff, Catherine gives birth to Catherine (Cathy) Linton, then she dies. Heathcliff begs her ghost to torment him for the rest of his days.
With the love of his life dead, Heathcliff dedicates himself full-time to revenge, most particularly on Hindley, the brother who made his childhood a living hell, always reminding him of his status as swarthy interloper. Part of his revenge consists of getting his sickly son to marry Catherine Linton; that way he will get Thrushcross Grange too.
Having spent every last ounce of energy driving Hindley into the grave and gaining control of the house (and losing his wife and son along the way), Heathcliff is left with two housemates – his nephew Hareton Earnshaw, and his daughter-in-law Cathy Heathcliff. He admits to Nelly that all the vengeance has exhausted him and, after some seriously strange behavior, he dies in Catherine's bed.
The whole nasty property and inheritance tangle is sorted out when Heathcliff dies and the houses revert to their proper owners – Hareton Earnshaw and Cathy Heathcliff. Brontë offers some nice, neat closure with the impending marriage of these two youngsters. She also offers some unsettling conclusions by reuniting Heathcliff and Catherine Linton in death, and suggesting that they will haunt the moors together. If this were a movie, we'd almost expect a sequel.