The Character of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights is a notable work by Emily Bronte. Despite being a tragic and dark novel, it is full of engaging characters. The central character in Wuthering Heights is Heathcliff, the orphan whom Catherine’s father brought from Liverpool. Heathcliff is an innocent kid who has lived a difficult life till Mr Earnshaw picks him up. He grows up with Catherine and Mr Earnshaw loves and cares for him. As a child, he is Catherine’s friend whom he starts loving as he grows up. However, he loses the care and love after Mr Earnshaw’s death and feels betrayed when Catherine leaves him for Edgar Linton. These events bring a profound change in Heathcliff and throughout the rest of the novel he remains a sadistic demon. It is also very difficult to peep into his heart. Emily Bronte has given Heathcliff’s character a solid cover which makes it difficult to read his heart and understand his emotions fully. Sometimes readers can feel the presence of a romantic hero in him. However, it seems like the darker side of his personality has grown too strong and takes over whenever he tries to be sympathetic to others.
There are primarily two factors behind the change in Heathcliff’s personality- Catherine whom he loves marries Edgar Linton and Hindley’s harassment of Heathcliff after Mr Earnshaw’s death. While all the characters in Wuthering Heights are unique, it is especially Heathcliff who despite his ill-tempered and cynical attitude engages with his intense and dark emotions. Readers cannot help sympathizing with him for beneath his sinister behaviour they can feel the presence of a romantic hero. His frustration for not finding his love has made him sadistic and evil. At several points, it appears like he uses his vicious attitude to hide his real emotions and his longing for Catherine. However, it also seems that he is authentically bent at punishing others around him. At least it so appears because he does not hesitate to demonstrate through his cruelty that he is truly as cynical as he appears. Still, despite his arrogant attitude it is his longing for his lost love that proves him a hero. However, his pain is what justifies his behaviour to some extent and makes readers sympathize with him. In the initial scenes, he appears as a stubborn, arrogant and inhospitable landlord. People in his family also look just as wild and inhospitable with no sense of manners and civilization. In his initial few experiences Lockwood becomes aware of what kind of person he is. Nelly narrates him the rest of the story and why Heathcliff has become such evil and brutally offensive.
Heathcliff still remembers Catherine and wails like a child for her to be back. Lockwood’s nightmare at Wuthering Heights and the episode that follows shows that the child inside him is still alive. He longs for his love, praying for Catherine to return. He cracks his whip on everyone whom he believes is liable for his loss or is even distantly connected with it. Bronte’s take on love is gloomy, growing so dark at points that it resembles a ghost story. Even the settings of the entire novel appear haunted and repulsive.
Heathcliff himself thinks of nothing but revenge and it has turned him monstrous. Bronte has masterfully carved her characters. Even important are the settings that add to the gloom and bitterness of the story. Set in the Yorkshire Moors, the heart touching story of Wuthering Heights, is just as gloomy as its lonely settings. Caught in the whirlpool of their own emotions, the characters continue to destroy themselves. It is like with the arrival of the little guy from Liverpool, a chain of dangerous events had been set in motion.
Heathcliff is portrayed as a hero who is driven by his desire to avenge. Catherine who betrayed his trust and married Linton and Linton himself are dead. He amuses himself sadistically by punishing Isabella, Edgar’s sister whom he marries to pursue his vengeful intentions. Heathcliff used to be a happy man till he lost Catherine to the good and cultured Edgar Linton. He goes away for three years after which he returns wealthy and dressed as a gentleman. The sequence of his vengeful machinations ends only in his death. Other characters in the novel compare him to a demon and Heathcliff does his best to ensure that he remains a demon in their eyes. Their fear somewhere seems to give him a sense of win and helps him overcome the frustration born of Catherine’s loss. The hatred for the Lintons’ makes him even cynical.
It is his love and longing for Catherine Earnshaw which has changed him forever.
After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Hindley, his son, keeps Heathcliff deprived and ill-treats him. Catherine abandons him to marry Edgar for Heathcliff is not as educated and rich. Heathcliff was an orphan and it was natural that after finding love and shelter at ‘Wuthering Heights’, any kind of deprivation was going to pain him deeply. The pain keeps revealing itself till Heathcliff is alive and he tries to inflict the same pain on all the others who have hurt him. He cleverly gains the ownership of both Heights and Grange. There is a lot about Heathcliff that is not understandable but that is what actually makes him unique. Heathcliff has undergone a major change but then his frustration is well understandable, especially in the light of his love for Catherine. Yet, it is Heathcliff’s pain that makes the novel so interesting and engaging despite all the gloominess in it.
Till, the end readers keep feeling the intensity of love that Heathcliff holds in his heart and which he keeps trying to hide after Catherine’s death. He is also the monster in the novel who is frustrated for he never got what he desired. For this reason Wuthering Heights also appears a horror story where Heathcliff inspires the kind of terror in other characters’ heart that only Dracula would. To other characters he remains it till his death. The stigmatized and victimized orphan had grown up to become the perpetrator and perpetrates as much horror as he can. The melancholic tone of the novel makes the two main characters look all the more romantic even if they are tragic. The novel concludes at a point where readers understand that human emotions can take several indefinite forms.