Heathcliff's Motives in Wuthering Heights

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Concerning Heathcliff, the antagonist of Emily Bronte’s masterpiece “Wuthering Heights,” man or monster seems to be the resounding question. Throughout the book Heathcliff is shown to be a bitter fiend, but his story may also draw sympathy from the reader; his battle throughout life to be with the woman he loves is perhaps one of the most wretched love stories in all literature.

Although raised by an upper-middle class family, Heathcliff cannot hide the fact that his ancestry is anything but gentry. His physical appearance is often described as that of a “gypsy.” Had Heathcliff’s physiognomy been fairer he may have been able to ascend to the higher class of the family he was raised by, but ultimately he could not. This forever puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to the woman he loves: Catherine. His status in society makes it nearly impossible for her to marry him.

Although Heathcliff is raised by a family of high status in that area of northern England, he is not given that status himself. However, as his story is revealed, it is clear that he has riches that come from unknown sources and the amount of debt owed to him which eventually leads to his ownership of Wuthering Heights. This lack of family class takes away his ability to have Catherine’s hand in marriage and tears her away from him. Catherine’s upbringing and character combine to make her oblivious to the fact that she keeps hurting Heathcliff. Catherine’s stubborn nature and uncontrolled tongue are one of reasons Heathcliff departs Wuthering Heights for several years.

With the marriage of Catherine to another man, and the burning hatred Heathcliff feels for Edgar Linton, it seems reasonable to infer that he becomes obsessed. These events lead him to plot revenge and suicide, but just the sight of Catherine steals these plans from him. After Catherine’s death, further evidence of Heathcliff’s obsession is apparent when he excavates the mools from over her grave. Since he does not attend...
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