Heathcliff. He is character that perplexes many with his enigmatic ways. With many film adaptations he is played in near enough the same as how he is in Bronte’s book – as a monster. But what is a monster? Is it that he is a vicious murderer? Is it someone with no sympathy for others? Or is it someone without a care in the world? Arguably Heathcliff is all of these and more.. Throughout Wuthering Heights, it can be seen that Heathcliff is a social outcast, not fitting in with anything the other inhabitants of Wuthering Heights do. Any reader of the book produces a completely different view of Heathcliff showing even more so that he is misunderstood by many people.
There are different characteristics that critics have used to labelled Heathcliff; some include a social misfit, a devil from hell, or something completely different by labelling him a romantic or gothic hero. The different characteristics indicate that there will never be one ‘label’ for Heathcliff. As the main character of Emily Bronte’s novel, there are some interesting things that revolve around Heathcliff from the time that he arrives at Wuthering Heights as a complete outsider until he dies as a powerful landlord of both Wuthering Heights and Thurshcross Grange. Heathcliff encounters many events that affect him as a person and transforms his rage deeper into his soul, from which he is unable to escape. But does this mean he is a victim or monster?
Following the death of Mr. Earnshaw, Heathcliff suffers cruel mistreatment at the hands of Hindley. In these tender years, he is deprived of love, friendship, and education, while the treatment from jealous Hindley is crude and disrupts his mental balance. ‘He drove him from their company to the servants, deprived him of the instructions of the curate, and insisted that he should labour out of doors instead; compelling him to do so as hard as any other lad on the farm.’ He is separated from the family, reduced to the status of a servant, undergoes regular beatings and forcibly separated from his soul mate, Catherine. The personality that Heathcliff develops in his adulthood has been formed in response to these hardships of his childhood.
The final sense of alienation and the biggest effect occurs with Catherine’s marriage to Edgar, Heathcliff considers this a betrayal of his love for her, although she just wants the social status and existence at the Grange. Heathcliff is however proud and determined and does not cower when opposed by those who consider themselves to be more superior than himself. Finally, when he realizes that Catherine has chosen status, wealth and position over him, he disappears for three years and returns in the manner of a gentleman. ‘So much had the circumstances altered their positions; that he would certainly struck stranger as a born and bred gentleman.’
This clearly wasn’t the case though, at this point in the book the reader knows him well enough to see this is just a ploy. As he returns to Wuthering Heights, he is engulfed with a passion to revenge himself on all those who have abused him as a child. He ruins Hindley by encouraging his excessive drinking and gambling. His revenge is also directed towards Edgar Linton, who he sees as having stolen Catherine from him. His sullen, vengeful, cruel and impatient characteristics still exist, which have been present since childhood, but they have grown deeper. He is, in reality, a man torn between love and hate. With his depth of passion, he hates as deeply as he loves. As Heathcliff approaches death and a reunion of Catherine, he no longer has an interest for revenge. He falls deeply into a spiritual torment.
Heathcliff is a many faceted character. In his early years he is characterized by his hot temper, his irritability, his fierce attachment to Catherine, his limit for hatred; however he has a way to make people to sympathise with him. The adult Heathcliff, who returns to Wuthering Heights after a three year absence, is a powerful villain driven by revenge, distorted by the sense of the wrongs done to him and made emotionally unstable by Catherine’s marriage. This later Heathcliff is characterized by a coldness, by an incapacity to love and ultimately by consuming passion for revenge against those who have abused him. Just as he begins life, he ends life as an unloved, lonely outsider.
In the first part of Nelly’s narration, she begins by telling how Heathcliff comes about the house. ‘We crowed round, and, over Miss Cathy’s head, I had a peep at a dirty, ragged, black-haired child.’ Such language explores that he is no ordinary child. The other children – Hindley and Cathy, couldn’t believe what their father had bought home. ‘Mrs Earnshaw was ready to chuck it out of the doors…asking how he could fashion to bring that gipsy brat into the house.’ Such a phrase would imply that if they were seen with the ‘gipsy’ they would be looked down on. They don’t understand Mr Earnshaw’s reason to bring him home. Cathy and Hindley rejected Heathcliff ‘they entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room..I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it might be gone on the morrow’ Nobody wanted it to be part of the household. This first introduction to Heathcliff already explores the view he is socially beneath the other inhabitants of Wuthering Heights. He is typically described as outside of the family structure. This would make him self conscious about himself and could be a reason for his actions later on in his life.
Heathcliff’s presence in Wuthering Heights put the Earnshaw family in turmoil. Family relationships soon become unpleasant and hateful. It seemed Heathcliff was a trouble maker. ‘Miss Cathy and he were now very thick; but Hindley hated him…we were plagued.’ This suggests that Hindley grew jealous of Heathcliff because he was practically taking his sister away from him. This caused Hindley’s actions towards Heathcliff to be more abusive and physical. Heathcliff is unarguably cruel. He is detestable and vengeful, spiteful and mean, but I would say that there was means to the madness. It all started with Hindley and the way he treated him. He treated him as a servant, no better or no worse than the horses that drew their luggage. That kind of treatment would turn anyone sour.
But the real catalyst in the situation is Cathy. He loves her. She is saving his grace in a life that is miserable and hard, and without her, he would be completely alone. He trusts her and he alone, having grown up with her and gotten to know her spirit – the real things that matter is loving someone. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, his life turns upside down. When Cathy begins to spend time with the Linton’s, she edges Heathcliff out completely, almost without warning, and seemingly without a care. She goes about her business as if nothing really happened and as if it doesn’t affect her one bit. We know, as the reader that she does indeed still love Heathcliff, but he doesn’t know that. He is betrayed but the only good thing he had in life, torn from the fairytale that he thought he was living and loving.
Heathcliff often falls back on violence as a means of expression, both of love and hate. Having been beaten by Hindley for most of his childhood, Heathcliff is the classic victim turned bad. His rage is tied to the revenge he so passionately seeks, but he also undertakes small acts of violence, like hanging Isabella Linton’s dog. Whether he is capable of sympathy for anyone but Catherine is highly questionable. As Nelly recounts: Heathcliff seized, and thrust Isabella from the room; and returned muttering – “I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails! It is a moral teething; and I grind with greater energy in proportion to the increase of pain.” That pretty much sums up his attitude – and he’s talking about his wife! He treats his son, Linton, no better. Linton’s sickly demure is a contrast to his father’s strong and healthy physique, and Heathcliff has no tolerance for the little boy.
Though Heathcliff expresses and often enacts violence against just about everyone in the two houses, he would never hurt Catherine. However, his love for her is violent in the sense that it is extremely passionate and stirs a brutal defensiveness. Importantly, by the end of the novel Heathcliff admits to Nelly that he no longer has any interest in violence. It’s not so much that he is satisfied with that, more that he is just over it. As he tells her: “It is a poor conclusion, is it not . . . An absurd termination to my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready, and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished! My old enemies have beaten me; now would be the precise time to revenge myself on their representatives: I could do it; and none could hinder me. But where is the use? I don’t care for striking. I can’t take the trouble to raise my hand!”
Through the duration of Heathcliff’s life, he encounters many tumultuous events that affects him as a person and makes his rage deeper. Bronte repeats the idea of Heathcliff being a devil which makes the reader associate with evil and everything bad. Bronte also makes a point of including pathetic fallacy when Heathcliff is around and it is nearly always raining, creating a dreary atmosphere. To everyone but Catherine and Hareton, Heathcliff seems to a monster but his character is both is both despicable and pitiable and he hates as deeply as he loves. In my opinion Heathcliff never went looking for opportunities to get revenge; opportunities came to him. Heathcliff never tried to make Isabella loved him; she did it all on her own. Heathcliff just took advantage of the opportunity. Heathcliff didn’t force Hindley to become a drunken gambler but he did so, and Heathcliff used this to his own benefit.
“You want me to be the hero of a romantic novel. I am no such thing.”
Personally, I feel bad for Heathcliff. I think that pain like that is real, It’s such a pain that you cant think or breathe because everything, everyone, and every moment reminds you of what you’ve lost, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. Heathcliff was severely wronged by the family that took him in to give him a better life, and by the women who he loved with every inch of his body. I think Catherine approached love as though it is easily threatened, but not easily lost, and proved this statement to be correct. You could argue that the hurt in his life drove him insane, so the Earnshaw’s are actually the true monsters trapped in innocent bodies.
In all respects, though, as well as I feel for him, I think that he could have not partaken in the actions he did, driving others to the madness he felt as well. There’s a lesson to be learned here, that if you’ve been wronged, you should make certain not to pass on the pain and misery to others, even if they did help ruin you, and especially if they were completely innocent.
If I were in a situation, where the one I loved left me for someone else without warning, with words still wringing in my heart and head, with promises of trust and devotion still tied around my mind, I would walk away and let them see their own mistakes. It might take them a while, but vengeance never does justice, it only lasts as a bitter satisfaction for a short time. Rather, recover from the blows, continue life even get away from it all if necessary. But I would never hurt others purposefully just to spite them in the pain they inflicted on me.
But then again, I’m not Heathcliff, I’m Annabel Smith, and I wouldn’t act just for spite.
‘Is Heathcliff a man, if so he is mad, and if not is he a devil?’