Wuthering Heights

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How does Emily Brontë make us sympathize with Heathcliff?

Heathcliff is a ruthless character. No obstacle ever gets in his way when it comes to exacting revenge on several other characters in the novel, be it Hindley or Edgar Linton. He will kill or torture young and old to pay back those who have hurt him and deprived him of his love for Catherine. However, among all these atrocities, we still feel great sympathy for him. This is mainly due to the many techniques employed by Brontë and the effect of these in creating understanding and pity for Heathcliff.

Perhaps the most significant factor that makes us sympathize with Heathcliff is his troubled and problematic character. Two particular incidents highlight this point very well. In chapter 4, Earnshaw purchases a pair of colts for Heathcliff and Hindley. When Hindley failed to give into Heathcliff’s blackmail, Hindley beat Heathcliff by ‘knocking him under his feet’. Heathcliff also described the lashings he had received from his step brother as his arm being ‘black to the shoulder’. The revelations of Heathcliff’s problematic and troubled childhood make the audience sympathize with him. Furthermore, the language that is used towards Heathcliff is very explicit. The constant slander is shocking and would hurt anyone. For example, Hindley on several occasions calls Heathcliff a ‘mad dog’ and vagabond’. Furthermore, Isabella compares Heathcliff to a ‘venomous serpent’. Although Heathcliff may have contributed much to his own fate in the later stages of his life, it is his childhood and his end that evoke much sympathy from the audience then any other part of his life.

Heathcliff isn’t born an evil character. His problematic past nurtures him to become a violent and cruel person. In the second incident of his childhood, Brontë gives us an insight into Heathcliff’s inner most feelings. This shows us clearly that Heathcliff is capable of love when Earnshaw dies. This incident is narrated to us through...
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