Heathcliff – Wuthering Heights Essay
The readers of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights have different views of the character of Heathcliff. His state of mind changes throughout the novel and his personality takes a dramatic alteration during Volume I. This essay will look at the character of the misanthropist, Heathcliff, and how the readers view him at different stages in the book.
In chapter 1 of Wuthering Heights, the character Lockwood meets Heathcliff. Straight away Lockwood has an instant opinion of Heathcliff. Lockwood describes Heathcliff as quite abrupt in his manner of speaking. His tone of voice is described as a ‘genuine bad nature’. The reader, at this point, doesn’t like Heathcliff too much. He is seen as rude and aggressive. The reader views him as unfriendly, brooding character. Lockwood also says that the house looked like it belonged to ‘a homely, northern farmer’. This image is Lockwood’s stereotypical view of Heathcliff.
Heathcliff’s appearance is also spoken about. Lockwood calls him a ‘dark-skinned gypsy’. This term would suggest that Heathcliff is an outsider, some one who has no friends and is left out of everything. However, he is also said to have an ‘erect and handsome figure’. The personal appearance of Heathcliff contradicts with his personality. Heathcliff is a character of many contradictions. By the end of chapter one, the reader sees Heathcliff as a cruel and vulgar character.
In chapter 3, Lockwood reads part of Catherine’s diary. From it he finds out about the traumatic childhood Heathcliff experienced, and his stepbrother, Hindley, had treated him badly. I can see this from a quote that Catherine says, “Poor Heathcliff! Hindley calls him a vagabond, and won’t let him sit with us, nor eat with us”. These are harsh actions from Hindley, as Heathcliff is cast aside as a loner. The term vagabond refers to the tramp status that Heathcliff has attained. By the end of this chapter, the reader has slightly changed their view of Heathcliff. We see love and compassion deep in Heathcliff’s soul that is shown when the name Catherine is mentioned. Heathcliff’s character encourages sympathy and repulsion.
We can tell that Heathcliff is in agony, after the appearance of her ghost. He calls out her name, pleading for her to return ‘once more’. However, we also discover his cruelty and his calculating and manipulative side.
The next chapter shows an important part of Heathcliff. Nelly Dean, the housekeeper, is introduced. She begins to tell Lockwood about Heathcliff and his history. We see the terrible time that Heathcliff experienced as a child. When brought home by Mr. Earnshaw, Catherine welcomes him lovingly. However, the sight disgusts Hindley. Heathcliff is described as a ‘dirty, ragged, black-haired child’ He is also called a ‘gypsy brat’ and is constantly referred to as ‘it’. This use of words dehumanises Heathcliff. The reader now feels sorry for Heathcliff and pathos, due to his upbringing.
Heathcliff is depicted as having a ‘cuckoo’s’ history. This is significant, because the cuckoo bird is known for stealing the nests of other birds. This reflects how Heathcliff usurps the roles of the other people. It becomes relevant later in the book.
Heathcliff and Catherine are seen as really close friends. They are very mischievous together, and the reader can automatically see how much Heathcliff cares for Catherine. Their love for one another seems to go slightly beyond and brother and sister relationship.
The end of chapter 4 shrouds Heathcliff shrouded in mystery. He is known to despise company and society, but enjoy isolation and solitude. The stormy moors reflect the character of Heathcliff with pathetic fallacy. Heathcliff is an outsider. Hindley rejected him, and even Catherine spits at him when she first see him.
In chapter five, Mr. Earnshaw dies, causing the protection of Heathcliff to disappear. Hindley is now free to torment Heathcliff more. The reader can still feel sympathy for Heathcliff.
Chapter six shows the start of the slow separation of Catherine and Heathcliff. Without the protection from Mr. Earnshaw, Hindley treats Heathcliff horribly. There is a lot of evidence for this, but one of the more horrible things Hindley does is when Catherine and Heathcliff are out in the moors at night. Hindley tells the other staff to “bolt the doors” and he made sure “nobody should let them in that night”. This is something wicked that Hindley does, as the children are only young, yet he still leaves them out on the dangerous moors. Heathcliff is essentially victimised by Hindley, who takes every opportunity to exact revenge upon his old enemy. Heathcliff’s words are violent and malicious. This represents his extreme character, which hints at his envy and bitterness towards Edgar, whom Catherine is spending a lot of time with.
An important chapter is chapter seven as it shows the changes that are occurring in Catherine, which eventually cause the changes in Heathcliff. Catherine has been spending a lot of the time with the Linton’s. She has changed dramatically, so that she is hardly recognisable compared to her previous self. From her time with the Linton’s, Catherine had become more mature. She still cares for Heathcliff, but is spending less and less time with him. She has become very shallow and judges Heathcliff on his appearance. Catherine says, ‘Why, how very black and cross you look! And how – how funny and grim’. This shows that Catherine has changed. She is treating Heathcliff differently. From this point, the reader can tell that their love for one another will be unfulfilled.
Heathcliff has lost the one person that he ever loved and will ever love. Catherine alteration is starting to change Heathcliff. He now feels different and wants to fit into Catherine’s new life. He says to Nelly, ‘I wish I had light hair and fair skin, and was dressed, and behaved as well’. This shows that Heathcliff is thinking of his appearance and is letting Catherine’s words get to him.
Chapter eight shows how the whole situation evolves. Heathcliff argues with Catherine about the Linton’s. This is the first sign of a break down in their relationship. Heathcliff says what he truly thinks of the Linton’s. He calls them ‘pitiful, silly friends’. Catherine is mean-spirited towards Heathcliff. This is a big turning point, as it shows that Catherine is starting to become like the Linton’s, and is growing further away from Heathcliff. She says ‘You might be dumb or a baby for anything you say to amuse me, or for anything you do either’. This has shown a completely different side to Catherine.
Another factor in chapter eight is that Hareton, Hindley’s son, is born. Soon after, Frances, Hindley’s wife dies. This causes Hindley to go into an alcoholic state. He becomes more aggressive and tormenting toward Heathcliff. A part of Nelly’s descriptive says, “His treatment of the latter was enough to make a fiend of a saint”. This emphasizes the hatred of Hindley towards Heathcliff, as he says Nelly says that his treatment of Heathcliff could have turned a saint into a fiend. At the end of the chapter, the reader can sympathise with Heathcliff.
In chapter nine, we see that Heathcliff is a vengeful person, and he has a strong desire for revenge, due to the tough times he has been going through with Catherine continuing to see the Linton’s and Hindley still treating him badly.. This transcends any emotion and relationship between any other members of the family. Heathcliff has broken down since losing Catherine. His state of mind is weak, and he is confused. By the end, Heathcliff has left Wuthering Heights.
In chapter 10, Heathcliff has returned after a few years. Catherine and Heathcliff’s reunion is very emotionally painful. It is clear that a darker pain lurks beneath the faï¿½ade. Bronte, here, portrays Heathcliff as sensitively uncertain and almost cowardice. The reader sees this as a tormenting time for Heathcliff.
Nelly is no longer at Wuthering Heights. She is at Thrushcross Grange with Catherine and the Linton’s. This means that Hareton is not looked after properly. He becomes a feral child, which is reminiscent of Heathcliff’s childhood. Hareton’s poor education is part of Heathcliff’s revenge.
Heathcliff has changed since being away. He is described as a ‘tall, athletic, well-formed man’. Bronte’s readers would have found this quite suspicious, considering the state in which Heathcliff left.
Heathcliff has become vengeful and vindictive in chapter 11, more than ever. Catherine vows to starve herself and Catherine’s illness worsens in chapter twelve. Heathcliff becomes angry with her and also for himself. He starts to doubt his plans, which shows a side of Heathcliff that is rarely see. However he still continues with his plans for revenge. In this chapter, he continues to plot revenge. This shows he is still determined, even after his ordeal with Catherine. Heathcliff eloping with Isabella is part of his revenge against the Linton’s.
After Heathcliff’s marriage to Isabella, he shows his true self to her. He is a vicious tyrant. He is neglectful and cruel to her. Another part of his revenge plan comes together, when he persuades a drunken Hindley to gamble Wuthering Heights, to which Heathcliff wins and becomes the new owner of the house. Heathcliff is spiteful and malevolent towards everyone that hated him. He shows no signs of guilt from what he is doing. Heathcliff has turned into a brute and a fiend to get revenge.
The last chapter, Chapter fourteen shows that Heathcliff is now harming is wife Isabella. His actions are brutal and sadistic in his treatment to her, yet he still feels a genuine love for Catherine. The reader now sees him as an ogre.
By the end of volume 1, Heathcliff is seen a heartless and callous man. The reader has, so far, felt some pity and sympathy for him at few stages of the book, mainly toward the beginning, but he changes and becomes and evil being, that plots revenge upon everyone he hates. Bronte has been clever in creating the character of Heathcliff in volume 1.He is vicious, yet he is still more popular with readers than the dour Edgar or the delusional Isabella. Heathcliff and his actions can horrify the reader, yet thy still want for him to get his revenge. Heathcliff is a gripping character that can get away with anything, as the reader will always come back for more.
In volume II, there is a lot of tension between the Catherine and Heathcliff due to their unfulfilled love for one another. This atmosphere that Bronte creates leads to a sense of pathos surrounding Heathcliff, who is tortured by his love for Catherine, yet knowing he can never have her. Heathcliff has trouble to forgive Catherine for what she has done to herself and to him, but Catherine tells Heathcliff, ‘You have killed me – and thriven on it’. Catherine blames Heathcliff and Edgar for killing her; she says it was them that drove her to this. However Heathcliff replies to this ‘You know you lie to say I have killed you’. Heathcliff’s love for Catherine can be seen as destructive. This chapter provides the reader with the emotional climax of the novel. The chapter presents passion, yet it is also melodramatic. However, the main feeling is pathos, as Heathcliff resents Catherine for what she has done. Soon after, Catherine dies.
At the time when Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights, women were meant to be compliant and obedient towards there husbands, so when Isabella runs away from the Heights and away from Heathcliff, in chapter 3, this shows that Isabella must have had a horrendous time with Heathcliff, as she has gone against what was morally right in that time period. Bronte presents this act of outrageous behaviour as an act of self-preservation. When talking to Nelly, Isabella describes Heathcliff as ‘devilish’.
This is a very strong word in Bronte’s time as it relates to hell and religion, which was highly believed. She also says ‘Monster! would that he could be blotted out of creation, and out of my memory’. Isabella hates Heathcliff so much she wishes she had never met him or that he was never born. The strongest thing she says about Heathcliff in chapter 3 is that ‘He is not a human being’. This shows how corrupt and evil Heathcliff has become that he is no longer recognised mentally. The characters are seeing him as spiteful and dangerous. They don’t even think he is human.
Heathcliff is also said to have ‘murderous violence’. This shows that Heathcliff is beating Isabella and taking his aggression out on his wife. Heathcliff is brutal and unruly. The end of chapter 3 shows Heathcliff praying to Catherine who has become a goddess of his blasphemous idolatry.
Heathcliff is still very resolute and merciless throughout this chapter. He treats Hareton as a farm boy and acts violent towards him. This shows that Heathcliff cannot forget the fact that Hindley treated him badly through his childhood and continued through some of his life. Heathcliff sees, now, that the only possible way to get back at Hindley is to mistreat his son, even though his half-brother is dead. Heathcliff is bitter and vindictive. By now, the reader cannot feel any pity for Heathcliff because of what he has turned into.
Chapter 6 shows a development of the character Heathcliff. His son, Linton, is forced to stay with Heathcliff, as Isabella dies in chapter 5. When Linton reaches the Height, he is greeted by his heartless father who laughs mockingly at him. Nelly’s narrative claims that ‘Heathcliff, having stared at his son into an ague of confession, uttered a scornful laugh’. If this cruel behaviour isn’t enough, Heathcliff uses words like ‘it’ referring to Linton. This dehumanises Linton and reflects the exact way in which Hindley treated Heathcliff when they first met. Heathcliff has become something he hates.
Heathcliff is also very sarcastic towards Linton. He says ‘God! What a beauty! What a lovely charming thing!’ This is meant in a sarcastic manner. Heathcliff doesn’t respect Linton or his feelings. He also says ‘Haven’t they reared it on snails, and sour milk, Nelly?’ This is offensive towards Linton, but Heathcliff continue with the mocking taunts.
Heathcliff also insults Isabella, Linton’s mother, by calling her a ‘slut’, even though she is dead. One final thing that Heathcliff does shows why he hates his son. Heathcliff says, ‘Thou art thy mother’s child entirely! Where is my share in thee, pulling chicken’. Heathcliff despises his son because he reminds him too much of Isabella and Edgar. Linton looks too much like a Linton.
Later in this chapter we find out that Heathcliff will use Linton to acquire Thrushcross Grange. He is seen as a contemptuous and resentful father who unscrupulously manipulates his son to achieve his own desires of vengeance and power.
Chapter 7 sees the continuing hatred of Linton from Heathcliff. Although Linton is well cared for at the Heights, Heathcliff hates him. Linton is very weak, both physically and mentally. This is one thing that Heathcliff despises. This weakness reminds him of the Linton. This is another thing that Heathcliff despises. And finally, as Heathcliff blames the Linton’s for Catherine’s death, he blames Linton for Catherine’s death. Heathcliff hates his son too much to attempt to be kind.
Heathcliff starts to emotionally blackmail Cathy in chapter 8. He wants to be the owner of Thrushcross Grange, so he needs Cathy to marry Linton. This is the only way that Heathcliff will get the house, as the property will automatically go to Linton when he marries Cathy, which will be given to Heathcliff, as Linton is close to death. Heathcliff plan is cruel and calculating. His wickedness reaches new heights, as this would bankrupt Cathy, and he doesn’t mind if his son dies, as long as he is in control.
Heathcliff becomes very controlling over Linton, and influences him over the next two chapters, especially in chapter. In effect, Linton becomes Heathcliff’s vassal. He is forced to do unwilling things by his father, one of these being marrying Cathy.
Throughout the next few chapters, we see that the only emotion that Heathcliff experiences is hatred, and any other emotion is seen by Heathcliff as a sign of weakness and humanity.
Chapter 14 is about the corruption of Linton further by his father. He is machiavellian in the extreme. He is shown as having a very deceitful and cunning mind. Another important plot in this chapter is that Edgar is dying. His last wish is to alter his will so that Catherine’s fortune will be placed in the hands of trustees. If Edgar succeeds, Heathcliff’s plan will be ruined, and he will not gain the fortune or the Grange. However, Heathcliff is already one step ahead of Edgar. He has bribed his lawyer, so that he will arrive at the Grange too late. Edgar would be dead by the time the lawyer had got there. Nelly says about Heathcliff, “He said Mr Green, the lawyer, was out when he arrived at his house, and he had to wait two hours for his re-entrance”. This is a very conniving plan and it shows the depth of evil that Heathcliff is prepared to sink into.
Heathcliff is evil and you can certainly see that he is willing to be from the narrative in chapter 16. His son, Linton is dying, yet Heathcliff makes no small attempt to call for a doctor. The reason for this is that Heathcliff thinks that Linton is ‘not worth a farthing’. This, again, shows his cruelty towards his son, even when he is about to lose him forever. Later in the chapter Linton dies, and he leaves everything to Heathcliff. Heathcliff doesn’t care about his son, dead or alive, all he wants is the money and the house. This shows a more greedy side to him and more determined than he has ever been before. However, Heathcliff still amazes the reader by how malicious he is and what he is prepared to do to get higher in life.
In the penultimate chapter, chapter 19, there is a distinct change taking over the Heights. With Heathcliff too weak to do anything, Cathy and Hareton start to take over in their own way. There is a different change in the novel. Lockwood notices this straight away. One of the things he notices is that, “I had neither to climb the gate, nor to knock – it yielded to my hand. This shows that the Heights are no longer locked up like a prison. Another change is, “a fragrance of stocks and wall flowers”, which shows that the horrible ambience is no longer surrounding the place. This must mean that a big change has happened to Heathcliff.
Heathcliff confides in Nelly. We see how he desires death and a release from his ‘earthly hell’. This phrase shows how hanged Heathcliff has become. He considers his life as hell, with no purpose, yet before he considered life as a chance for revenge. However, it is not humanity that is stopping Heathcliff continue with more ruthless plans, it is purely the fact that he is too tired and weak to do any more. This could be another reason for why he wants to die. We found out in a previous chapter that Heathcliff despises weakness, and now he despises himself, as he is weak. He says ‘I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, I am too idle to destroy for nothing’
By the end of the chapter, Heathcliff’s mental health assumes a worrying status. His obsession of Catherine has now entered a supernatural side of things, as well as physical embodiment. He begins to see her image everywhere he turns. The line that proves this is when Heathcliff says ‘her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree – filling the air at night and caught by glimpses in every object, by day I am surrounded by her image.’
He than finishes what he is saying with a strong sentence ‘The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her’. This is quite a sad image, as after everything Heathcliff has been through and every thing that he has done, he still finds it hard to forget his one true love, and how they could never be together. This is a heart-breaking moment for Heathcliff, and the reader can fell sympathetic towards him.
Heathcliff considers death to be a release from his emotional torment. This could be a reason for his vindictive behaviour. His desire for vengeance could be a means to focus his mind on a corporeal earthly target.
In the last chapter of the book, Nelly finishes her narrative by describing Heathcliff’s last moments before he dies. Bronte produces quite a calm and soothing atmosphere, yet Heathcliff is still able to be cruel. He calls Cathy, ‘the other’. Heathcliff may have become weaker and unable to plot against people, but he still carries his mean-hearted spirit.
Eventually Heathcliff dies. When Nelly finds him, she says ‘His eyes met mine so keen, and fierce, I started’. Even when Heathcliff is dead, he still has a determined look about him.
To conclude, Bronte presents Heathcliff as a powerful, yet evil man. Through volume one, the reader will feel sympathy for Heathcliff at some stages in the book. However, this feeling of pathos decreases through volume two and there are fewer stages where the reader does feel sorry for him. Bronte’s character of Heathcliff progresses a lot in the novel. He becomes, to an extent, heartless. Bronte has been clever in creating Heathcliff, because, although he is violent and malicious, he is still the most popular character in the novel. Heathcliff and his actions can horrify the reader; yet still leave them wanting him to get revenge. Heathcliff is a gripping character that can get away with anything in the reader’s eyes, as the reader will always come back for more.