Heathcliff: Character Analysis in Wuthering Heights

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      The novel revolves round the character of Heathcliff and much of its passionate violence and moving suffering are initiated by Heathcliff. He is an extremely enigmatic figure. He lacks identity: his parentage and nationality are unknown and at various points in the novel he appears almost as a demon or a devil in his unredeemed villainy. The moving and one redeeming principle in his life is his relationship with Cathy.

      Heathcliff is an enigmatic character in English fiction and much controversy centres round Heathcliff's character. Charlotte was doubtful whether it was morally justifiable to create such characters, while G.K. Chesterton felt that "Heathcliff fails as a man as catastrophically as he succeeds as a demon". Later critic have often likened Heathcliff to a Satanic hero—they find in him the same shades of heroism as were attributed to Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost.

Heathcliff's History

      From the outset, his origin is a mystery. Old Mr. Earnshaw finds him starving and homeless on the streets of Liverpool and brings him back to Wuthering Heights. His parents are not known, nor is his precise age. He is named after an Earnshaw son 'who died in childhood', but he never becomes an Earnshaw; his single name—Heathcliff—Nelly says, stands 'both for Christian and surname', So she call him 'Heathcliff'— as a boy and 'Mr. Heathcliff' as a man. Even when he dies his headstone, bears no other inscription but Heathcliff and the date of his death. His name is suggestive of his nature. He is rough as heath and hard as cliff.

His Appearance

      Heathcliff's appearance is very striking and quite uncommon. His black hair, dark skin and bushy eyebrows make him look like a gypsy. Later he acquires the outward appearance of a gentleman but his fierce, almost animal nature does not quite leave him. There is something dark, fascinating and mysterious in his nature.

A Force of Disruption

      Heathcliff arrives at Wuthering Heights as a force of disruption. Mr. Earnshaw dotes on him and this makes Hindley, the real son, hate him. Nelly in fact, consistently calls Heathcliff it as though he were an animal, not human. Both Hind ley and Catherine give him a rough welcome and do not allow him to lie in their bed. Catherine spits at him when she learns that her father has lost the whip she told him to bring from Liverpool, because of his greater attention to Heathcliff. Hindley also cries to find his fiddle broken into pieces. Mrs. Earnshaw too flares up at the sight of little Heathcliff. His entrance in to the household is thus, ominous, disrupting the harmony and peace of Wuthering Heights.

      The Deterioration in Heathcliff's Character. There is no doubt that though Heathcliff does possess inherently a savage violent nature, it is Catherine's betrayal which leads to a steady deterioration in his character. The one thing that Heathcliff values is Catherine's love and approval and when he overhears her confiding in Nelly Dean that she cannot marry Heathcliff as it will be degrading and that she has accepted Edgar Linton's proposal of marriage, Heathcliff finds the only good thing in his life—his love being denied to him because of circumstances created by Hindley. Even at this point, our sympathies are with Heathcliff's sufferings. The withdrawal of Catherine's love is the turning point for Heathcliff and when he returns three years later as a rich gentleman, he brings with him the burning desire to avenge himself, first on Hindley and then on Edgar Linton.

Hindley's Inhuman Treatment

      Heathcliff's bitter feelings are aggravated when Heathcliff becomes Earnshaw's favorite and this prompts him to frequently beat him. But Heathcliff bears his ill-treatment with stoic patience and infinite fortitude and remains uncomplaining. After the death of Mr. Earnshaw, Hindley treats him even more harshly making him work like a servant, depriving him of education and thrashing him severely. All this hardens Heathcliff s nature and makes him vengeful.

Our Initial Impression of Him

      In the early part of the book, Heathcliff appears to be more sinned against than sinning. Our sympathies lie with this dark little foundling who is seen as a force of disruption in the Earnshaw family and is scarcely made welcome by either Catherine who spits at him, or Hindley who spares no effort to torment him at every available opportunity. Until he is sixteen, we are led to suspect him of nothing worse than a hot temper, a proud nature and a capacity for implacable hatred. He bravely puts up with Hindley's ill-treatment and this arouses the sympathies of both Catherine and Nelly Dean. Catherine soon finds in him a comrade who takes her out of the gloom and confinement of Wuthering Heights to the open air of the moorland and slowly this bond of comradeship turns to a love which is spiritual in its intensity.

His Growing Love for Catherine

      During these harsh times, it is Catherine alone who is a ray of hope for Heathcliff. Together they frequently escape the gloom and confinement of Wuthering Heights and ride freely in the wild, open moorland. The atrocious behavior of Hindley towards Heathcliff after his father's death arouses Catherine's sympathy for this boy who bears patiently all taunts and insults but feels them keenly. This sympathy and comradeship develops into a deep and uncommon sort of love between the two — a bond which does not break even after Cathy's death. But Heathcliff's happiness in his love for Cathy is short-lived as there appears a rival in Edgar Linton—young, handsome, wealthy and a gentleman —everything that Heathcliff is not Heathcliff is increasingly jealous of Edgar Linton and is rudely shocked to overhear Catherine says that she will be degraded by marrying him. These words from his beloved Catherine mars his nature and he becomes hard, cruel and revengeful.

      Love Triumphs Over Hate. Charlotte Bronte finds Heathcliff's love to be as savage as his hate. She says "His love for Catherine .... is a sentiment fierce and inhuman a passion such as might boil and glow in the bad essence of some evil genius; a fire that might form the tormented center, the ever-suffering soul of a magnate of the internal world; and by its quenchless and ceaseless savage effect the execution of the decree which dooms him to carry hell with him where ever he wanders"

      It is true that Catherine haunts him after death to an extent that Heathcliff is finds every living moment a hell. He loses all pleasure in eating or sleeping and even in his revenge, although he has both - Hareton and Catherine in his power.

      Ultimately then, the evil that had gripped his soul has been consumed by the pure flame of love. It redeems his lost soul and in his death, he is finally united with Catherine. The ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff haunt the moors and the Wuthering Heights is left to them as Hareton and Catherine, the newly wedded couple occupy Thrushcross Grange.

Heathcliff's Sudden Disappearance

      On overhearing Catherine that it would be degrading for her to marry Heathcliff, he feels so offended and insulted that he leaves Wuthering Heights and simply disappears without leaving any information of his whereabouts.

Heathcliff — Quite Blameless

      Upto this part of the novel, we find nothing to accuse Heathcliff of. He is more sinned against than sinning. Our sympathies in the early chapters are naturally with Heathcliff because he is seen only as a victim of ill-treatment. His defects are not too serious. He has a hot temper and is proud and touchy. The deterioration in his character does however, begin to set in with the death of Mr. Earnshaw. Hindley assigns him a place in the servant's quarters and he is deprived of education. This he keenly feels and after his hard labor in the farms during the day-time, he finds its difficult to catch up with Catherine whose progress in reading and writing is faster, than his. The atrocious behavior of Hindley cuts this sensitive boy to the quick and rouses in him a desire for revenge. He becomes morose and cynical and his vindictive nature, which is to dominate his adult life is glimpsed when after he had been brutally treated by Hindley, he says:

"I'm trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back. I don't care how long I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do".

      The seeds of revenge and hatred are thus, sown by Hindley's inhuman treatment. And this revengeful spirit and misanthropic attitude fully possesses him when to all this is added—the shattering blow he receives from the woman he loves so deeply.

      The deterioration in his character is thus because he receives ill-treatment and we do not blame Heathcliff at this point.

His Mysterious Return

      Three years later, he returns mysteriously, a changed man. He has now grown into a tall, athletic, dignified and well-formed man. He looks intelligent and bears no marks of his earlier degradation, though the ferocity still lurks in his eyes. And, to add to the mystery he is a very rich man now. His outward appearance has improved but his character has only changed for the worse.

His Obsession with Revenge

      On his return he is obsessed by the motive of revenge which he has been cherishing for a long time and in pursuance of it, he reveals the darkest trait of his character. Hindley now a widower lives a dissipated life and needs money for drinking and gambling to which he is addicted. He lends money to Hindley who mortgages with him every inch of the land. At the same time, he exercises his baneful influence on his son Hareton and brutalizes him. Not only does he financially cripple Hindley but inflicts on him physical injury with demonic fury; as for example in the scuffle between them in Chapter 17. Heathcliff not only slits up Hindley's flesh, but kicks him and tramples on him and not being, satisfied with these dashes his head repeatedly against the stones of the floor. He drags his body and spits at it. His brutality is inhuman and his revenge seems disproportionate to the wrongs done to him.

      Catherine herself says (in Chapter 10): "He's a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man" and Nelly describes him as a monster.

      His desire for revenge, however, does not end with the death of Hindley, or with Isabella's escape from the Heights. In his devilish scheme, he pursues his revenge through Hareton, the son of Hindley, and Catherine, the daughter of Edgar Linton. He treats Hareton as he had been treated by Hindley. Hareton is deprived of education and is turned into a mere farmhand, a servant in the place which should rightfully have been his.

      His treatment of his own sick son Linton is no better. He claims rights over his son Linton but has no love for the sickly boy. It is morally reprehensible that he terrorizes and mistreats, even his own son. He forces him to woo Catherine, so that a marriage between them would make Heathcliff the master of Thrusheross Grange, after the death of his son. He is totally callous, and cruel when he refuses to get a doctor for his dying son as he feels that his life is no worth a farthing.

      His treatment of Catherine defies logic. He forgets that she is the daughter of his own beloved Catherine. So consumed is he with hatred and desire for revenge that he has his son lure Catherine and Nelly to the Heights where he has them imprisoned till he can forcibly get Catherine married to Linton. Catherine is deliberately kept in the dark about Linton's grave state of health. Heathcliff violently hits her, when Catherine bites him in a bid to escape and he will not let her visit her dying father. When Linton Heathcliff lets Catherine escape, he punishes the sick boy and makes sure Catherine is back at the Heights, immediately after the funeral of her father.

      All these, indeed make him seem a demon and the reader is inclined to believe that Heathcliff is following "an arrow-straight course to damnation".

His Cruel Treatment of Isabella

      With Catherine's marriage to Edgar Linton, the one redeeming feature - his love for Catherine is frustrated and Heathcliff's deterioration is rapid. He already harbors thoughts of revenge against Hindley and when Edgar refuses to treat him as a social equal his hatred for Linton intensifies. He wreaks revenge on Linton by marrying Isabella, Edgar's sister and cruelly ill-treating her. Isabella writes of him: "He is ingenious and unresting in seeking to gain my abhorrence. I sometimes wonder at him with an intensity that deadens my fear, yet I assure you a tiger or a venomous serpent could not rouse terror in one equal to that which he wakens" (Chapter 13). Heathcliff himself tells Nelly: "I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails". So horribly does Heathcliff treat Isabella that she calls him a monster and feels that Catherine must have an awfully perverted taste to esteem him so highly knowing him so well.

His Treatment of Hareton, Cathy and Linton

      Having ruined Hindley, and made himself master of Wuthering Heights and of young Hareton and having driven away Isabella, Heathcliff has achieved the first stage of his revenge during the life-time of Catherine.

      The death of Catherine exacerbates his evil nature. There is a gap of twelve years while the younger generation grows up. During this time, Heathcliff carries out his plan to degrade and pervert Hareton. He deprives Hareton of all refinements and education, just as he had been deprived of it by Hindley. He exults in ill-treatment Hareton and says:

"He has satisfied my expectations. If he were a born fool I should not enjoy it half so much. But he's no fool; and I can sympathize with all his feelings, having felt them myself. I know what he suffers now, for instance, exactly; it is merely a beginning of what he shall suffer through. And he'll never be able to emerge from his bathos of coarseness and ignorance. I've got him faster than his scoundrel of a father secured me, and low'er, for he takes a pride in his brutishness. I've taught him to scorn everything extra-animal as silly and weak...He had first-rate qualities and they are lost, rendered worse than unavailing, and the best of it is, Hareton is damnably fond of me"

      Even his own son Linton is not spared from the cruel and brutal treatment. Heathcliff terrorizes his son and makes him a pawn in his game of revenge. To eventually grab the property of Thrushcross Grange he forces his son Linton to write letters, meet Catherine and woo her. Finally, he forcibly imprisons Catherine and gets her married to the sickly Linton who is to die very soon. On finding that Linton has allowed Catherine to escape he severely beats the boy. Heathcliff is at his worst when even on Catherine's request, he refuses to send for a doctor for his dying son Linton for he says: "His life is not worth a farthing, and I won't spend a farthing on him."

      His treatment of Catherine, the daughter of his own beloved Cathy is inexplicable. He is diabolic in his desire for revenge and nothing matters to him — not even Cathy's daughter. He lures her to the Heights on false pretense, keeps her imprisoned, hits her severely and has her forcibly married to his sickly son Linton. I does not let her attend to her sick father and gets her back to the Heights, immediately after the funeral of her father.

      Even at the end, though he gets over his feeling of hatred and revenge, he does not express any repentance. Nelly tries to make him send for a priest but he wants none of it. He happy that in his death he will be reunited with Catherine.

Heathcliff — Devil or Demon

      The opinion which the various characters express about Heathcliff in the course of the novel all point to his being a friend rather than a human being. It is Nelly who first suggests such a sinister connection," Is he a ghoul or a vampire....? Where did he come from, the little dark thing, harbored by a good man to his bane?" (Chapter 34). Physically Heathcliff's features display attributes of the Devil: in the first chapter Lockwood observes his black eyes and dark skin; the motif of darkness is constantly used with reference to him. Mr. Earnshaw himself introduces Heathcliff to his family as 'a gift of God', "though it's as dark almost as if it came from the Devil" (Chapter 4). Nelly describes his eyes as a "couple of black fiends" and compares them to 'devil spies' (Chapter 7) and Isabella talks of them as the "clouded windows of hell" (Chapter 17). Nelly frequently refers to the young Heathcliff as 'it'. Hindley, as a boy calls him an 'imp of Satan'.

      Though much of this image is reinforced by the superstitious Nelly, undoubtedly he is a soul possessed by violence, hatred and desire for revenge, which lead him to destroy not only the Earnshaws and Lintons but his own son too. However, such evils do not give us the whole picture of Heathcliff's nature.
Heathcliff's Love for Catherine

      It is his one redeeming quality. It is a love of unique intensity strengthened by sympathy and comradeship. It has in it a sort of primordial and elemental strength and does not grow out of a mere mutual liking fostered in the warmth and coziness of a drawing room. It grows during their rambles in the wild moors and thrives on their common hatred of Hindley. It is an intense, passionate love which does not abate even after her death. The barriers that separate the lovers during their life-time are removed after their death, so that there is no obstacle to the union after his life. Heathcliff tells Nelly, that on his death "No minister need come; nor anything be said over me. I tell you I have nearly attained my heaven, and that of others is altogether unvalued and uncovered by me."

      The diabolic intensity with which Heathcliff pursues his revenge indeed, makes him seem a demon. He sets out deliberately to ruin Hindley, lending him money to gamble and drink and then getting him to mortgage the Heights to him so that he eventually becomes the master of the Heights. His treatment of Hindley may still be morally justifiable as something which Hindley deserves, but nothing can excuse Heathcliff's brutal treatment of Isabella, Edgar Linton's sister. He deliberately uses Isabella's infatuation for him and gets her to elope with him, though not before indulging in a deliberate act of cruelty when he kills her pet puppy. He delights in reducing her to a slattern at the Heights and his horrifying and cruel treatment lead Isabella to wonder whether he is a monster or a devil. She sees him as a friend and writes to Nelly, "... I assure you a tiger or a venomous serpent could not rouse terror in me equal to that which he wakens". Heathcliff himself admits at this point, "I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms write, 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."

In Defence of Heathcliff

      In fact, before he disappears, though his verbal threats are evil, Heathcliff's actions are scarcely blameworthy; we do not regret his tussle with Skulker outside Thrushcross Grange, nor the hot apple sauce poured over the priggish Edgar; his natural instincts are not essentially evil for despite his hatred of Hindley he saves little Hareton's life. It is Catherine's betrayal — her marriage to Edgar — that changes words into deeds and when Heathcliff returns after three years of bitter struggle to improve himself he is passionately driven by the desire to avenge himself against both the Lintons and the Earnshaws. It is with this purpose that he schemes two marriages - One of himself and Isabella and another between his son — Linton and Catherine, the daughter of the elder Catherine. Even then he had redeeming traits: he is not a drunkard like Hindley; his passionate love for Catherine has remained constant.

      Secondly even at his worst Heathcliff retains our sympathy because there is a rough kind of moral justice in whatever he does. We may not approve of what he does, but we understand the deep and complex issues which have made him inhuman. Emily Bronte has shown Heathcliff to represent in some ways at least a superior moral position to what the Lintons stand for. When Nelly tells Heathcliff that Catherine is going mad, Heathcliff makes the following comment:

      You talk of her mind being unsettled. How the devil could it be otherwise in her frightful isolation? And that insipid paltry creature attending her from duty and humanity! Prom pity and charity! He might as well plant an oak in a flowerpot, and expect it to thrive, as imagine he can restore her to vigor in the soil of his shallow cares!"

      The words "duty", "humanity", "pity", and "charity" in the above-quoted speech have a tremendous force. Heathcliff is asserting with a strong emotional conviction that what he stands for, the kind of life he had offered to Catherine is more natural, more social and more moral than the world of Thrushcross Grange.

      Thirdly, the novel does not end with the death of Edgar Linton and the marriage of Cathy and Linton; if it had, it Would have been a somber and depressing book where evil triumphs. However, Heathcliff when he does finally have Hareton (the Earnshaw representative) and Cathy (the Linton representative) in his power, finds that he no longer has the desire to destroy them. He loses the will to continue the destructive process and says, "I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing."

      And he goes on to speak of the younger Catherine and Hareton, the latter a personification to him of his own youth. Hareton reminds him of his own immortal love, of his wild endeavor to hold his right, of his degradation, his pride, his happiness and his anguish. Catherine and Hareton symbolize the continuity of life and human aspirations, and through them, Heathcliff comes to understand the hollowness of his own triumph.

      As discussed above, Heathcliff frequently wins our sympathy, especially in the earlier part of the novel. He is much wronged against. Even Nelly states that Hindley's treatment was so inhuman as "to make a fiend of a saint". When Heathcliff returns and carries out his revenge against Hindley, he retains our sympathy because we instinctively recognize a rough moral justice in what he does to his oppressors. We may not approve of what he does, but we understand the deep and compelling passions that motivate him to wreak such horrible vengeance.

      There is also the fact that Heathcliff, in the novel, stands for a more natural way of life and ultimately a more moral one than the social conventions of the Lintons. Emily Bronte is able to convince us that what Heathcliff represents is morally superior to what the Lintons stand for. The moral feeling behind Heathcliff's denunciation of Edgar is clear in the words he uses to describe Edgar's love for Catherine: "duty, humanity, pity and charity". All this leave Catherine in more "frightful isolation" in the seemingly civilized and gentle world of Thrushcross Grange, than in the natural, wild setting of the Heights.

      Apart from Heathcliff's great love for Catherine which redeems him, there are his other acts of kindness which are frequently overlooked: He calls on Mr. Lockwood when he is sick, talks with him for an hour and sends him a 'brace of grouse'. He bears a rough kind of affection for Hareton and Hareton returns this, for Hareton is the only one who really grieves for the dead Heathcliff, sitting by the corpse all night and kissing the savage face. He is then, definitely human, in the hurt he felt as a child who is ill-treated, in the great love he bears for Catherine, in his agony at the loss of that love first by Catherine's marriage to Edgar and later by her death.

      Ultimately his tormented soul finds release in death and he achieves eternal togetherness with his beloved Catherine.

Heathcliff's Redeeming Feature

      However, even in his worst moments, Heathcliff has one redeeming trait and that is his love for Catherine. Of that, there is not the least doubt. It is the one governing passion of his life and his agony when she marries Edgar is what warps his nature. When he meets her for the last time before she dies we sympathize with his feelings as he puts these heart-rending questions to Catherine, "Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your heart, Cathy?; you love me — then what right had you to leave me! What right—answer me - for the poor fancy you felt for Linton?" When she dies, his grief is immense, and he exclaims "Oh God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!" He is mad with grief and dashes his head against a knotted trunk of a tree howling like a savage beast. Nelly is moved and so is the reader. The desire to see Catherine is so irresistible in him that he bribes the sexton and opens the lid of her coffin to have a look at her face. His love triumphs over even the separation of death. So unquenchable is his desire to meet his beloved that he is haunted by Catherine’s ghost. He spends sleepless nights, abstains from taking food, and is found dead one morning apparently reaching out to Catherine's ghost across die window.

Heathcliff: The Central Figure

      The center and core of Wuthering Heights is the story of Catherine and Heathcliff. Catherine has almost as important a role as Heathcliff himself. It is their love which dominates the first two sections of the novel. Catherine is Heathcliff's partner in rebellion as a child. Like Heathcliff, she enjoys riding in tire wild moors. However. Catherine's death at the end of the second stage removes her from the center of the novel, though she continues to haunt Heathcliff. It is Heathcliff who remains physically present till the end of the story and there is hardly any incident or episode in the novel which is not determined by Heathcliff's will or action. It is thus, Heathcliff who is the center of the novel.

      Heathcliff Dominates the Action of the Novel. The story as told by Nelly begins in chapter four of the novel and Heathcliff is introduced to us as a dark little foundling (orphan) picked up by Mr. Earnshaw in the streets of Liverpool. He comes as an intruder and brings with him the forces of disruption, breaking the harmony and peace of Wuthering Heights. The affection between him and Catherine grows while Hindley becomes bitterly hostile to him. From this point on, it is Heathcliff who totally dominates all action in the book. When he disappears from the Heights on overhearing some of Cathy's remarks about him to Nelly, the story too skips over the three years when Heathcliff is away from the Heights: Nelly resumes the story with Heathcliff's return, three years later as a much changed man. It shows the importance of Heathcliff to the story.

      Heathcliff—Responsible for the Main Crisis in the Novel. It is Heathcliff, who is responsible for Catherine's death and the events which follow. Had Heathcliff stayed away, Catherine might have continued to lead a happy life with Edgar but Heathcliff comes back to disrupt her life once again. Heathcliff's return makes Catherine jubilant and Edgar resentful. A serious quarrel between Heathcliff and Edgar leads to Catherine's serious illness. Heathcliff's passionate avowal of his love for Cathy drives her to the brink and unable to bear the strain of being married to Edgar and yet having Heathcliff as her personal friend and lover, she dies giving birth to the younger Catherine. Thus it is Heathcliff's action in coming back and continuing his passionate declaration of love for Catherine that leads to the strain in the marital life of Edgar and Catherine, eventually resulting in her death. Heathcliff is thus, responsible for the principal crisis in the story.

      Heathcliff—Responsible for Wrecking Isabella's Life. It is Isabella who sees and experiences the worst part of Heathcliff's revenge. It is Heathcliff's revenge on Isabella which reveals the almost inhuman and monster-like quality of Heathcliff's character. Heathcliff marries Isabella only to acquire the property she will inherit and through her to avenge himself on Edgar who had not only stolen away from him, his beloved Catherine, but had also refused to mingle with Heathcliff on equal terms. Heathcliff makes Isabella's life miserable, brutally insulting and humiliating her all the time. Her escape from Wuthering Heights and her account of Heathcliff as an inhuman monster contribute greatly to the portrayal of Heathcliff as a villain.

      Heathcliff's Revenge upon Hindley. The two important themes of Wuthering Heights are love and revenge. And Heathcliff is the principal character responsible for both the theme of love and the theme of revenge. While, the first two parts of the novel are dominated by Heathcliff's love, the final two parts of the novel are dominated by Heathcliff's revenge as a result of his thwarted love for Catherine. Heathcliff's desire for revenge on Hindley dates back to their childhood when Hindley had treated Heathcliff cruelly, depriving him of all kinds of refinement including education. The death of Catherine embitters Heathcliff even more and the desire for revenge becomes all-consuming. He deliberately lends money to Hindley who has become a drunken and chronic gambler and gets him to mortgage his property. Thus at Hindley's death, Heathcliff becomes the master of Wuthering Heights.

      Heathcliff's Influence on Hareton. Heathcliff does not spare Hindley's son Hareton from his diabolic plan of revenge. He brings up Hareton as a brute, deprived of education, never rebuked for bad habits and never encouraged to cultivate good habits because Hindley had treated him (Heathcliff) in the same way years before. Thus, Heathcliff's influence can be seen on every character and incident in the novel.

      Heathcliff's Dominance in the Second Part of the Novel. Heathcliff continues to dominate the action of the story even after Catherine's and Heathcliff's death. He controls the life of his sickly son Linton completely. It is Heathcliff who manipulates the relationship of Linton and the younger Catherine. He arranges the initial meetings between Cathy and Linton, forces Linton to write love letters, morally pressurizes Catherine to return Linton's love and to pay him ritual visits and finally even resorts to trickery to get Nelly and Catherine into the Heights and holds them prisoners. He forcibly arranges the wedding of Catherine to his son Linton so that he may acquire the property of Thrushcross Grange on the death of his son, Linton who is seriously sick. Catherine believes she loves Linton but fails to see that the entire relationship has been manipulated by Heathcliff to secure his revenge on Edgar.

      The Helplessness of the Other Characters. Heathcliff dominates the novel, as all other characters are merely pawns in his hands. None of the other characters have the grit, spirit or personality to stand up to Heathcliff's dominating nature. Linton is especially helpless and so is Edgar. Edgar is unable to prevent first his wife and later his daughter from falling prey to Heathcliff. Nelly too finds herself helpless in the face of Heathcliff's tricks and devices. Heathcliff prevails upon her to carry a secret letter from him to Cathy and also to admit him secretly into Cathy's bedroom. He browbeats her into going to Wuthering Heights with him and then keeps her as a prisoner there for five days. Linton is totally under Heathcliff's control. It is the younger, Catherine alone, who shows some spirit in standing upto Heathcliff' but she has to eventually give into his machinations and is forced to marry Linton.

      Heathcliff—the Focus of Attention till the End. Heathcliff dominates our attention even after he has lost all interest in avenging himself on Hareton and Catherine. The last two chapters trace in detail the change that has come over Heathcliff. He has no desire for revenge and is completely possessed by thoughts of Cathy whom he sees everywhere and in every object. He behaves strangely and he hardly eats. He has no desire to repent and wishes to have only two people at his burial—Hareton and Nelly. Finally, his death is as dramatic as his entire life had been. After a night of stormy wind and rain Heathcliff is found dead in Catherine's bedroom with the windows open and the rain water soaking through the bed clothes. Apparently, he has been united with his beloved Catherine—the open window—a symbol of the breaking of the barriers which separated the two in life. After his death the novel ends with the report of the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine roaming the moors together indicating their union in death

      Heathcliff, thus is seen to dominate every character and action in the novel. Catherine shares with him their passionate love but she is no part of the theme of revenge which is equally, if not more important in the novel. Catherine has an equal share in the dramatic scenes between them, but she dies quite early in the novel. Though she lives on in Heathcliff's mind and soul, it is Heathcliff who physically dominates the events in the second half as he did in the first half. It is Heathcliff who control and determines the entire course of the story and it is not wrong to say that there can be no Wuthering Heights without Heathcliff.


      Heathcliff is the central figure in Wuthering Heights. A paradoxical character, he is identified with natural forces; he loves and hates always passionately. He is not conditioned by society or civilization, he gives a robust, natural response to every challenge, an affirmation rather than a rejection of the humanity within him.

      The portrayal of Heathcliff is one of the most remarkable features of the novel. There is no doubt about Heathcliff's villainy but Emily Bronte manages to win some of our deepest sympathies for him. His revengefulness and cruelty, his acquisitiveness, his savagery in pursuing his revenge all make him a demon as Chesterton says and it seems he is heading towards damnation. Yet, it is love which triumphs in the end and Heathcliff finds his "heaven" in being reunited with Catherine in death. He is definitely not an unredeemed villain. His claim to be a hero rests upon his great and undying love for Catherine. Much of his cruelty and savagery are the result of his thwarted love for Catherine and his ill-treatment at the hands of Hindley apart from Edgar Linton's social contempt. Thus, though he is demoniac in his hate and revenge, he emerges as a hero in his love for Catherine. Our sympathy for him is akin to the compassion we feel for those who are fated to work out their doom in torment and despair, characters such as Satan himself, Marlowe's Faustus and Mephistopheles. We may not approve of Heathcliff's actions or even condone them but Emily Bronte definitely succeeds in arousing our sympathies for this lost soul inspite of his damnable actions.

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